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Notation

Stating the obvious, why say it twice?

Over the years I have noticed that people have developed a habit of saying the same thing twice, often combining an articulation with a text description of said articulation. Some of these are standard conventions that I just think are a little silly, others are things I have seen people do without thinking. A lot of my approach has to do with thinking like a player and trusting them. A wavy line up to a note means to rip into the note, that is all…
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How to Score

Scores should look good and be easy to read. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been sent scores by students or hopeful orchestrators using terrible layouts. The notation program's default layout settings are no excuse. Session scores are different to concert scores for several reasons. While concert scores have been typeset for centuries, session scores were done by hand until about fifteen years ago and a lot of the 'look' is still based on how things were done in that style.…
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In Touch with Harmonics

There are lots of places to learn about harmonics; all of the books have little blurbs on them and there are plenty of guides online. They all say that you can do this or that, but they all seem to talk about things in isolation, as if the only time you play a harmonic is as a whole note with a rest before and after it. It is very similar to the information, or lack thereof, on double stops. In fact there are many similarities…
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Swell Enough

As I keep pointing out, there is a lot of phrasing that will happen naturally. However, we often need to indicate when to swell. 1. Conventional wisdom is that in this case (Ex.1), they will go up one dynamic. I have found that more often than not, all sections of the orchestra go up almost two levels. The lack of a target dynamic may also lead to a question from the orchestra so I find it is best to put one…
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A Trilling Experience

Trills and fingered/keyed tremolos are the same thing, an oscillation between two notes. If the interval is a half or whole step it is called a trill, and if the interval is larger it is called a tremolo. It is common for players to think of them all as trills, the tremolo description appears to be an academic one based upon the notation. Trill notation is easy in tonal music with key signatures. The default is to trill to the next note in the key.…
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Tremolo and the abstract truth

Tremolo is a great effect that can be used to add tension and weight or a shimmering texture. Tremolo is a fast oscillation of the bow, unmeasured by default. Tremolo, like harmonics and pizzicato, is a technique where the use of samples in composition has given composers a false sense of reality. For some reason, just like sampled timpani rolls, sampled tremolo is performed way faster than I have ever heard it in the real world. In reality, the speed is related to the dynamic,…
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What You See Is Not Always What You Get

Make sure you have read dynamic relationships before this article. What information do we have here? Three things: a pitch, a duration, and a dynamic. Pitch is not important to this discussion so let's not worry about it; everything we talk about applies for any pitch that is considered to be in the standard range. If we give this information to a computer, it would give us a waveform that looks like this: A rectangle. But what does…
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Guide to a good bow job

There are many cool French and Italian terms for different bowing techniques. The texts have explanations of each of the different bow strokes, but these explanations range from excellent to confusing to plain contradictory (just google détaché). These terms refer to things the section does 'under the hood.' As an orchestrator, it is important to understand these, as they are the rudiments of string playing. Remember that in the end, though, the important thing is to know how to notate your intent; the section will…
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Double [stop] Trouble

The double stop is the most misunderstood (by orchestrators) and ignored (by players) orchestration device EVER! I know that is a bold statement, but after many years observing the orchestra from the podium and seeing what they play and what they don't, I can say it with assurance. Keep in mind, we are talking about writing for the orchestra here, not for soloists or chamber music. There are three things you need to think about before you decide that you need to write a double…
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Divide and Conquer

There are five sections in the string orchestra, playing five parts, but quite often we need more than five notes at once. There are two ways to get the extra notes, use double stops or divide sections, divisi. In 90% of situations you should choose to divide. There are issues with double stops that I will explain in the next article. So how does the string section divide? The default behavior is to divide on the stand. This is also called 'inside/outside' as the outside…
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