Appendix: Some Pedagogical Ideas
EXAMPLES FROM A CHARACTER GLOSSARY
It will be obvious by now that artistic orchestration expresses and enhances musical form and character. To help the student think about musical character, it can be useful to compile a “character glossary”. The idea is to list every orchestral resource which can contribute to creating a given character. While no individual passage will use all of them, this method encourages thinking about musical character when making orchestral choices.
Here is an example of such a glossary.
OUTLINE SKETCHES AS A TEACHING TOOL
A problem in teaching orchestration is that transcription of existing music never gives the student the opportunity of creating a complete orchestral texture on his own. A useful solution, as an intermediate step between transcription and composition, is to use outline sketches (“skeletons”), which the student must elaborate, often in more than one way. A skeleton consists of a melodic phrase or two and a figured bass line. The student has to decide on the character, tempo, dynamics, where to place the melody, how to fill in the harmony, what sort of accompaniment to add, etc.
LEARNING ORCHESTRATION FROM THE REPERTOIRE
In studying the orchestral repertoire, the student needs well graduated models to start with. Composers like Mahler and Ravel, wonderful orchestrators though they are, are not suitable for beginners since their textures are often very rich and complex.
An excellent starting point is Mendelssohn: His orchestration is classical in spirit, economical, simple, and always effective. Mendelssohn’s part-writing is straightforward, his orchestration perfectly balanced, and his figuration imaginative without being overly elaborate.
Tchaikovsky is a logical next step, similar in technique to Mendelssohn, but with a larger orchestra. Again, his orchestration is effective, clear, and easily understood.
Bizet’s Carmen is a basic text for orchestration with voices.
Mozart, although he uses an orchestra smaller than Mendelssohn’s, has more complex and refined methods of part-writing, and therefore should follow, rather than precede the latter. Beethoven introduces many novel orchestral ideas, and, properly understood, his approach to the orchestra will greatly increase the student’s sophistication.
More advanced orchestration begins with Wagner, in particular the richness of his orchestral polyphony as a norm, and the way he uses the enlarged orchestral families.
After these models have been assimilated, the student will be prepared for the more complex orchestration of Ravel, Mahler, Strauss, etc. Twentieth century extended instrumental techniques can be useful, but their use still follows the principles enumerated here.
SCALES OF CONTRAST
An important pedagogical tool in teaching all musical disciplines is the use of graduated, aural “scales”. By this, we mean encouraging the student to rate the effects of various musical effects, in order of intensity. This encourages fine distinctions and refined hearing. For example, instead of just saying that a particular timbre is “too dramatic a change”, compare it to other possibilities and try to grade them all on a scale of timbral contrast. Even a scale with only four or five levels can be very useful. Try to determine which elements determine the force of the effect; this also helps in making aural distinctions which are useful beyond one particular style.
- Remarks on instruments
- What is poor orchestration?
- Orchestration and form
- Rate of orchestral change
- Degree of continuity/contrast
- Interpreting the phrasing
- Orchestration and dynamics
- Sustained vs. dry sound
- Fat vs. thin sound; unison doubling
- Balance: simultaneous and successive
- Musical lines vs. instrumental parts
- Planes of tone
- Contrapuntal orchestration
- The tutti
- Examples from a character glossary
- Outline sketches as a teaching tool
- Learning orchestration from the repertoire
- Scales of contrast