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Sound and layering tips for orchestral composers and Finale users.

Posted by Quagrunner on Oct 29th, 2013

Timbre by Doubling

I'm getting a growing feeling that I'm one of the few people in the world who like to write orchestral music. Anyway, in case you are one of the few, this is intended as a guide to finding just the right sound for your composition. For starters, the title can be summed up a little more clearly: Finding and Applying an Appropriate Timbre for a Subject/Theme by Doubling or Layering. Starting out as an orchestral composer, the number of instruments available might be a bit overwhelming at first. The best thing you can do, at any stage in your composing journey, is to listen to samples of the instruments. Pay YouTube a visit and listen to a trumpet solo or a shakuhachi band (what?) just to get an idea of what they are capable of. Less well-known instruments could have just the right sound for a major part in your piece; e.g. a double-bass in a solo, or a piece written with the timpani as the lead instrument (who'd have thunk).


Here are some doubling techniques I have often found useful:

- Doubling flutes with oboes (same or separate octaves, with oboes below); this produces a very sharp, sweet sound, perfect for climaxes in a quiet piece. Example: Princess Leia's Theme (about half-way through)

- Doubling violins with piccolo (same octave); this method reinforces the strings when in a slightly more emotional section of the music. Example: Cutthroat Island Theme

- Doubling harp and piano (same octave); when repeating a harp solo section, the second time round can be emphasized with the help of the piano. Example: -/-

- Doubling bass with tuba (various octave combinations); perfect for more aggresive sections that require a lot of oomph in the bass. Example: Let the Games Begin (Sinbad - Legend of the Seven Seas)

- Doubling trumpets/cornets with horns (same octave); when both are played fortissimo, the effect can be utterly stunning in majestic pieces. Examples: Syracuse (Sinbad), Into the Sunset (Sinbad)

I may write some more articles on other aspects of timbre, but that's it for now. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions concerning the orchestra or Finale (software), and I will do my best to answer them.

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