X. Orchestration

Orchestration (or instrumentation) is a large and unwieldy topic that not all music theory textbooks cover. Here, in a few short chapters, we provide a very quick introduction to some useful principles for creating orchestral scores. Students can refer to other sources for basics such as multilingual terms and instrumental ranges.


This section assumes a familiarity with some topics covered in the Fundamentals and Diatonic Harmony parts, especially concerning the spacing and voicing of chords.


The three chapters focus on:

  1. Core principles of orchestration, organized into matters of succession (what follows what) and simultaneity (what goes together at the same time).
  2. Subtle color changes, taking a closer look at some more detailed aspects of those core principles.
  3. Transcription from piano, beginning with a discussion of how to adapt piano music for orchestra in principle, and then turning to four case studies.

Throughout this section, we will also address:

  • Skills and techniques associated with writing effective and idiomatic music for orchestra.
  • Enhanced familiarity with and understanding of the orchestral repertoire.
  • Repertoire from the 18th century to the present day, with a focus on late 19th- and early 20th-century repertoire, and primarily on tonal music.


Each chapter features many examples of repertoire to explore. Images will be included to illustrate short, summative ideas; for longer works, there will be links to the relevant page on IMSLP.org. All works receive a full title except symphonies which are often abbreviated by symphony number (Arabic numeral) and movement number (lowercase Roman numeral): e.g. Beethoven 4/iv.


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OPEN MUSIC THEORY Copyright © 2023 by Mark Gotham; Kyle Gullings; Chelsey Hamm; Bryn Hughes; Brian Jarvis; Megan Lavengood; and John Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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