The orchestra is like a living, breathing organism. It has been alive for hundreds of years and developed significantly over that time – in every aspect of its being. Music technology also had to accommodate the evolution of this human organism and develop accordingly.
It’s hard not to attribute the orchestra’s origins to Bach. He was a musical genius and his legacy lives on in our orchestras. Bach was a really prolific composer and it’s easy to see him as being the equivalent of the commission-based media composer in his day. He made a lot of music for order throughout his career, creating many different musical styles that remain influential to this day.
An orchestra arrangement has more to it than just positioning the instruments according to their size. Seating players in a certain way also produces a sound of the highest quality possible for that piece or arrangement.
What is the Basic Orchestra Arrangement
A full orchestra is organised into four sections: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. Each one of these sections has a distinct timbre and articulation style – this is because they all deliver different sound types.
The word orchestra comes from the Greek (“orchestra”, meaning “the place in a theater where the performers were situated”) and it wasn’t until 17th century that Claudio Monteverdi pioneered the instrumentation we know today.
Take a look at these considerations for the arrangement of musical instruments in an orchestra. For example, if you’re carrying a minimalist instrumentation then you’ll need to change up your arrangement plan.
The volume of each instrument in the ensemble is an important factor and should also be taken into account when arranging the tempo. Besides size, the venue where the performance will take place can have a significant impact on how parts are arranged.
1. Strings: The First Row in an Orchestra Arrangement
There are a lot of string instruments in a classical orchestra and most people don’t consider them to be noisy. They may not be the loudest instruments in the orchestra, but they make up for it by being able to play a wide assortment of notes.
Strings always have to be placed in front, near the conductor. They are much more likely to be overtaken by other louder instruments and might not be recognisable.
String instruments include the violin, viola, cello, bass and harp. They come in a variety of numbers; orchestras usually have 10-20 string players from what I’ve seen.
How are strings arranged in an orchestra?
Orchestras are usually arranged from left to right. This diagram shows the general layout for a traditional orchestra, with first violins in the front and cellos in back.
Within this section, there are first and second violin parts. The first violins play the melody while the second violins provide harmony, sometimes singing their own emphasized melodies.
In between the violins and violas is a larger instrument called the cello. It has a rich, fuller sound than the violin and needs to be played in the same way. When playing it you need to play above or below what was originally played.
The cello is the most versatile instrument of the string family. It’s known for having a similar sound to human voices so it’s typically positioned furthest to the right. That way it doesn’t overpower any other members of the string family.
The cello needs to be played while sitting upright between your legs, as it is bigger than most other string instruments to create its lower sound.
Finally, behind the cellos are the double basses. They’re the lowest-pitched strings, and they provide a powerful bass sound and strong sonic foundation for the group. Unlike the cello, you have to stand up or sit on a high stool so it doesn’t hurt your back.
How about the harp?
Harpists play while sitting, plucking the many strings while resting the instrument on their right shoulder. There can be up to 2 harps in an orchestra and they’re played by 1-2 people.
Fun fact: Traditionally, the second violins were positioned opposite of the first violins. This allowed players to face each other and interact.
It’s common practice to change the order of string instruments. You swap out the cellos and violas, for example. It all depends on your conductor’s style, as well as what arrangement sounds best for that composition.
2. Woodwinds: The Second Row in an Orchestra Arrangement
In the second row, there are the woodwind players. They are placed there because of their slightly higher volume. Woodwinds include piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinets and contra-bassoon.
The clarinet family includes 3 instruments – the B-flat clarinet, E-flat clarinet, and bass clarinet. These once were all made entirely of wood but now a combination of wood, metal and plastic is used.
All brass instruments are played by buzzing your lips into a circular metal mouthpiece. Playing style will determine where your lips end up on the mouthpiece, but all styles require you to position your lip right in the middle of it.
Some instruments, like the French horn, have players using their mouthpieces – but that’s not just what valves are for! They can also be used to control different notes that are played.
It’s common to see around ten woodwind players in an orchestra. Each instrument is played by using breath rythmically and rapidly over a mouthpiece or blowing over holes. The pitch is adjusted by opening and closing finger holes.
3. Brass: The Third Row in an Orchestra Arrangement
Brass instruments are very vital in the orchestra production because of their timbre. Their name is also related to the metal they’re made from. In sharp contrast, brass instruments are still made out of metal. This means they don’t wear as easily, which is great news for orchestras full of brass players. Most orchestras contain thirteen brass instruments in total.
How are brass arranged in an orchestra?
Brass instruments are trumpet, French horn, trombone and tuba. Brass instruments sit at the back of an orchestra so they don’t overpower other instruments.
Trombones and tuba are placed together with the other low instruments. On the other hand, trumpets are lined up with more higher-pitched ones like violins and clarinets.
French horns are not one of the ‘lower brass’ so they are usually placed right next to the trombones, which points the sound towards the audience.
4. Percussions: The Last Row
The percussion section is the most diverse of all the musical instruments. Anything that can be hit, shaken or scraped to produce sound falls into this category.
It’s important to know the right amount of force for playing percussion instruments- for example, in drumming, you have to be able to go harder on cymbals and softer on drums. Rhythmic timing is something you’ll develop through practice too.
There are all sorts of different percussion instruments you find in an orchestra, from cymbals and triangles to gongs, maracas and tambourines. Drums come in all different sizes, but the three most popular ones are bass, snare and timpani. Bass drums are typically used to accentuate beats or create a dramatic effect.
The number of instruments in a percussion section can be different from the number of people playing them. This is because some players will also give off vocals and do woodwinds. Most orchestras have about six percussionists to round them out.
Though percussions are typically used in rhythmic ways, they often have octaves (chromatic usage) and can also sound melodic. Marimbas, xylophones and glockenspiel are a few examples of this.
Fun fact: A piano is a percussion instrument as its sounds come from hammers hitting metal pulls. Unlike the other instruments in the percussion family, pianos are usually much closer to the front.
An orchestra arrangement typically has 4 sections: strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, but there are many other factors that can affect which instruments are used. For instance, the hall size or the music piece itself.
FAQ for Orchestra Arrangement: How is it Arranged
What is an orchestra arrangement?
An orchestra arrangement is a musical score of an orchestral piece, written in the form of sheet music. The arrangements are performed by orchestras and other musical groups.
What is the difference between an orchestral score and an orchestral arrangement?
An orchestral arrangement is a musical arrangement for an orchestra. It is often used to complement the original orchestral score and give it more depth.
An orchestral score is a musical composition that has been created for an orchestra.
What is the difference between a conductor and an arranger?
A conductor is the person who directs a musical performance, such as an orchestra, choir or other musical group. An arranger is someone who adapts a given musical work for a particular style of performance.
An arranger is someone who adapts a given musical work for a particular style of performance while a conductor leads the musicians in that performance.
What are some of the most common instruments in an orchestra?
The orchestra is a large group of musicians who play different instruments. The most common instruments in an orchestra are the violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, and oboe.
Why are there so many instruments in an orchestra and how do they all work together?
The instruments in an orchestra are tuned to the same note so that they can play together. This is because each instrument has its own range of notes it can produce and some notes overlap with other instruments.
For example, a violin’s lowest note is C3 and its highest note is C6, whereas a cello’s lowest note is C2 and its highest note is D7. If the violins were tuned lower than the cellos, then when they played together the violins would sound too loud and drown out the cellos.
Does one need a musical background to arrange an orchestra?
It is not necessary to have a musical background to arrange an orchestra. It is a skill that can be learned and improved over time.
What is the general process of an orchestra arrangement?
An orchestra arrangement is the process of taking a song and expanding it to be played by a full orchestra. This involves adding instruments, changing the key, and writing new parts for certain instruments.
What is the purpose of an orchestra arrangement?
The purpose of an orchestra arrangement is to provide a more complete and satisfying listening experience.
Orchestra arrangements are created by orchestrators who have the skill to take a classical piece of music and make it more accessible, enjoyable, and understandable for listeners.
These arrangements can be performed on their own or as part of a full symphony performance. They are also played in concert halls, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and other venues with orchestral instruments.
Who decides what instruments to use in an orchestra arrangement?
The arranger is the one who decides what instruments should be used in an orchestra arrangement.
What is the difference between a full and reduced orchestra?
A full orchestra is a symphonic ensemble that typically consists of strings, woodwinds, brass instruments, and percussion. It can also consist of piano, harp, and/or celesta.
A reduced orchestra is a symphonic ensemble that typically consists of strings and woodwinds only.