Summary: What is good orchestration?

We are now ready to provide a checklist of criteria for good orchestration, complementing our list, given earlier, of the characteristics of poor orchestration.
Good orchestration must:

  • Make formal sense: Changes of orchestration must arrive at appropriate places, with appropriate degrees of contrast.
  • Supply sufficient variety and freshness of color to maintain interest.
  • Enhance the phrasing.
  • Ensure clarity of the various musical elements: Every element should be audible.
  • Ensure that every element contributes something individual, allowing for what Richard Strauss (referring to Wagner’s polyphonic style, in the preface to his revision of the Berlioz treatise) calls  the “spiritual participation of the players”.
  • Be as easily playable as possible, always using the simplest means to create the desired effect.
  • Be aurally rich (usually through multiple planes of tone).
  • Express a clear character.
  • Use the whole ensemble effectively.


Introduction: Why this book?
Preliminary considerations

  • Remarks on instruments
  • What is poor orchestration?

Basic notions, part 1

  • Orchestration and form
  • Rate of orchestral change
  • Degree of continuity/contrast
  • Interpreting the phrasing
  • Orchestration and dynamics
  • Register
  • Color
  • Sustained vs. dry sound
  • Fat vs. thin sound; unison doubling
  • Balance: simultaneous and successive

Basic notions, Part 2

  • Musical lines vs. instrumental parts
  • Planes of tone
  • Contrapuntal orchestration
  • The tutti

Orchestral accompaniment
Summary: What is good orchestration?
Appendix: some pedagogical ideas

  • Examples from a character glossary
  • Outline sketches as a teaching tool
  • Learning orchestration from the repertoire
  • Scales of contrast

Conclusion, acknowledgements, bibliography
Character glossary