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> Writing Sheet Music For Symphonies, some questions
Fsgdjv
post Jul 7 2009, 08:10 PM
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Hello, I've lately become interested in writing some symphonies, nothing fancy, I just want to try and see how it's done, even though it might just be a few bars or whatever. I thought of ways to write, when I write rock music or whatever I usually fool around with my guitar and then write it into guitar pro, and then add drums etc from there.

But for writing a symphony, I thought about guitar pro for a while, but the classical composers didn't have access to guitar pro so I suppose they just wrote the sheet music. Are you supposed to have an instrument and try out the melodies etc on and then write them down? For example, did Wagner (for instance) sit by his piano and write or did he just hear melodies in his head and write it out on paper without playing and figuring out wich notes it was etc? And how on earth are you supposed to listen to it all together, do I have to be able to look at everything and just imagine it all coming together in my head? Or is it just enough to know the theory so you can see that it doesn't sound overly dissonant unless where you want it to sound dissonant and then hope for the best?

Lots of stupid questions, but if anyone has any tips on this I'd love to hear it


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Kaneda
post Jul 7 2009, 08:37 PM
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There are really no more actual rules for writing classical music than for writing rock.

Instrument... It varies. Most classical composers would use a piano, but yes, some often didn't use one. I'm quite sure Paganini used a violin. In some cases, the composer refrained from using any instrument to "check". Prokofiev, for example, wrote his first symphony without any instrument. But he did that as an exercise, as most composers would (if they ever did), because he was a pianist and likely felt that his music tended to turn out "pianist-like" rather than idiomatic for each instrument.

Software like Sibelius is much easier for writing contemporary orchestral music than Guitar Pro, but obviously it's not free. smile.gif Most composers today wouldn't work without a computer for notation, unless they went through most of their career without one. Although some will obviously insist that they work better writing it down by hand. If a computer works for you in rock writing, it'll work for you in orchestral writing - and you'll be in good company.

As for listening to it all together, you can do mockups with General MIDI (a software synth or some built-in synth on your sound card if you have e.g. a Soundblaster card). It will give you a good idea of what works, but not really how it actually ends up sounding. Since none of the instruments on a simple MIDI synth sound real... how they blend, their volume relative to each other etc. will be impossible to tell from such a mockup.

Also, obviously, such a MIDI mockup won't tell you if you've just asked the oboe player to play 5 notes higher than is physically possible, or play a phrase that would require enough lung capacity to hold his breath for 10 minutes. But then, Beethoven didn't always care about such minor details wink.gif

The most common way of composing orchestral music, I think, is building up chords/harmonies and melodies on piano - but guitar would work just as well - and then start to arrange and orchestrate it into different instruments, instrument sections etc. So you have a good idea of how things work structurally, melodically and harmonically, before having to deal with the colours of each instrument.

Actually, to get rid of all the non-orchestral work also, a really good exercise is to arrange and orchestrate a piano piece that already exists. It's something that's been done by lots of composers through the ages (although they also often did the opposite, since it was easier to set up a performance on a piano than gathering together a symphony orchestra).

If you're really into theory, here are two recommendations, that are rather similar to learning guitar:

Study the works you like, listen to them and compare to the scores (a lot of which can be found legally and free on the internet, if they're from before 1925 or thereabouts). Find out how different composers achieve different effects. A really effective piece to learn a lot of great orchestration from is actually Ravel's Bolero, because it's pretty much a study in how to apply different colouring and dynamics to the same basic theme. There are a lot of really advanced orchestrations inthere too, where he pretty much creates new instrument sounds by emphasising an instrument's harmonics (yes, like guitar harmonics) using other instruments.

... and get the orchestration bible, which is stuffed with great examples, and lots of useful tips on spacing between different voices, doublings etc. etc.: "The Study of Orchestration" by Samuel Adler. It's not perfect, and it's not cheap (especially if you also want the CDs, which are very handy), but it's the best there is.

As a side note, the actual study of "classical" composition involves an immense amount of theory, a lot of which helps, but as always, theory won't teach you to be brilliant. smile.gif Just to mention some typical areas, though: Counterpoint, harmony, instrument theory and practices, arrangement (or instrumentation), orchestration etc.

And feel free to ask. I'll check back, if this email notification on the thread works - it doesn't always...

This post has been edited by Kaneda: Jul 7 2009, 08:44 PM
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Fsgdjv
post Jul 7 2009, 09:08 PM
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Wow, thanks for that awesome reply Kaneda.

Yes some kind of software seems like it would make most sense, I've thought about getting Sibelius before but it's to expensive for me right now.

The Study of Orchestration seems like a great book, I'll try to get it as soon as I can afford it.

As for the theory things, I'm not super good at it, but I'm working my rear of to improve at it. Right now I'm only learning individual things from all over the internet, maybe I should try to get some kind of all knowing theoretical bible aswell since I feel that I have many big holes in my theoretical knowledge.

And about what you said about that if a computer works for me in rock writing, it would probably work for me in orchestral writing. Thing is, one of the major reasons I want to try writing orchestrations and things is because I want to try to get away from my usual way of writing and see new things, so I'd love to try new ways or writing in general. But I still definetly see the advantages of using a computer, it would probably be a waste of all the great technology we have if I started writing it on paper.

Anyways, thanks a lot for that great reply, I feel I know a little bit more about this now. smile.gif


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Kaneda
post Jul 7 2009, 09:23 PM
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Glad it helped. smile.gif And yeah, Sibelius isn't cheap... Haven't scoured the web for open source scoring tools lately, but last I did, there weren't any. tongue.gif That's usually how things are with open source and creative applications. Either they suck, or they're non-existant.

Software vs. "freehand": I know I'd get frustrated and give up if I decided to write more than 10-20 bars of music without a computer smile.gif Haven't used Guitar Pro lately, but I think it'll work fine to start on. Should be relatively easy to get it into another scoring tool when/if you need it.

As for theory, there is such a thing as too much. You can end up overplanning your development and get nothing done. So I'd say work on the two side by side. Can't really think of any all knowing theoretical bibles, though, although Adler covers a lot of non-orchestration stuff sporadically also.

Counterpoint and harmony are the two things that I know scare a lot of people away, because they're deeply theoretical edging on mathematical -- and often you'll get by with improvisation and experimentation, even if counterpoint-geeks will frown at you (again, they frowned at Beethoven... hmmm... actually Beethoven is a great example of just about everything - also obviously wrote without an instrument the last many years of his life, considering he was pretty much deaf).

I'd say, a lot can be learnt (to get away from the way you usually do things) by writing themes/melodies etc. with your voice instead of, say, the guitar. Good for woodwinds too, because you get a lot of the phrasing and special qualities of those instruments quite naturally, because of the nature of the voice smile.gif Works for most other instruments too, though, because voice phrasing is simply pleasing, whether the actual tune is played on guitar, piano or sung. There's a reason we say some artist "makes the guitar sing" etc.
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Ramiro Delforte
post Jul 7 2009, 10:00 PM
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QUOTE (Fsgdjv @ Jul 7 2009, 08:10 PM) *
Hello, I've lately become interested in writing some symphonies, nothing fancy, I just want to try and see how it's done, even though it might just be a few bars or whatever. I thought of ways to write, when I write rock music or whatever I usually fool around with my guitar and then write it into guitar pro, and then add drums etc from there.

But for writing a symphony, I thought about guitar pro for a while, but the classical composers didn't have access to guitar pro so I suppose they just wrote the sheet music. Are you supposed to have an instrument and try out the melodies etc on and then write them down? For example, did Wagner (for instance) sit by his piano and write or did he just hear melodies in his head and write it out on paper without playing and figuring out wich notes it was etc? And how on earth are you supposed to listen to it all together, do I have to be able to look at everything and just imagine it all coming together in my head? Or is it just enough to know the theory so you can see that it doesn't sound overly dissonant unless where you want it to sound dissonant and then hope for the best?

Lots of stupid questions, but if anyone has any tips on this I'd love to hear it


Well, this is a quite interesting topic.
One thing that's very important and nobody mentioned is the form. In a symphony there's a typical form (if we're talking about the kind of symphony of the XVIII and XIX century, and I think we are because usually the people wouldn't refer to the Symphony of Sorrow as a traditional Symphony). So, you can check that out, maybe some wikipedia would help you to know how's the construction of it. There's also an amazing book about the sonata form by Charles Rosen that describes that form (and you'll see that every 1st movement of a symphony it's a sonata form, the allegro sonata). Also there's a good composition manual by Marx (not the one that wrote the Comunist Manifest) that you can find on www.imslp.org. You can find there also harmony manuals (there's the Tchaikovsky's), and some more.
I wouldn't recommend the Samuel Adler orchestration book but instead some older, and probably cheaper, like the Walter Piston or the Casella. Also could be the one that wrote Rimsky Korsakov, it's a good one.
As Kaneda said you can learn a lot from the great composers. One thing it's for sure, you cannot write what you don't know. So, to begin you can start by analyzing one symphony, I'd say one of the 9 of Beethoven's could be a great example. Choose one that you really really like and listen to it until you know it backwards then you can try to analize it.
They way to approach the composition is different from any composer but you have to know that the most important thing are not the chords but the internal voice movements that each instrument does, once you've understood that the chords will form when you have the harmony really clear in your head.

This topic is really huge and we can write for hours discussing this but I think this could be a good beginning.

Just let me know if this helped you and if you need more help wink.gif


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Kaneda
post Jul 8 2009, 09:34 AM
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Form, of course smile.gif I'll just agree completely with Ramiro on that one - including the recommendation of Charles Rosen, although his points in the parts on the history of the form are dubious at best - the analysis itself is insightful, though. Knowing the principles of the sonata form is also great inspiration for rock writing (even if I don't expect you to write a rock piece in sonata-allegro form wink.gif)

Piston I can somewhat agree with for orchestration. Casella is, to me, not comprehensive enough. Kennan was the first book on orchestration that I read, but I learned little from it (his Counterpoint book is much better, and good for beginners).

Rimsky... The man was probably the best orchestrator in history, and Principles of Orchestration is a classic, but not for beginners. It also emphasizes a style (because it goes a lot into subjective points about what you should do) of orchestration that is rather limited to the tastes of Rimsky-Korsakov's period. The examples are all Rimsky-Korsakov's own, which means they're great - but you won't get a sense of different composers' styles and the palette you have available. I'd say it's a very good book to read in addition to (after) Adler (or Piston), but not instead of.

And yes, refining the internal voices of each instrument is a very important lesson to learn, rather than "writing in chords" (for which no musician will thank you). I.e., each instrument should have a purposeful melodic line, rather than "random notes that when combined with the other instruments turn out to be chords". That's a rule, though, with exceptions. smile.gif And once again it makes sense for rock music too, but it's usually easier in rock music, because you have less instruments to deal with smile.gif

And finally, yes, this topic is so huge that it could have an entire forum dedicated to it. So this will never be anything but general pointers.
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Pedja Simovic
post Jul 8 2009, 11:09 AM
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You can get some great Berklee books for scoring and writing. The beauty of these books is that they all have theory part (explanations and ranges) followed by practical application (example how they would score it provided on CD that comes with a book!) and finally ASSIGNMENTS !
So you basically get a work book where by the time you go trough each chapter you will learn how to correctly write and scores. Composing part and musicality - you need to have that in you smile.gif

I recommend getting THIS book for starters.


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Emir Hot
post Jul 8 2009, 11:32 AM
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Writing such piece of music can be fun and sound great on your computer until you give the score to the real orchestra. I recomend Sibelius for this. There are many rules you need to follow. Like Pedja said, there is theory involved and some other things. For example, be careful that you don't write long notes for trumpet as the guy might die on stage smile.gif Also you need to know the range of every instrument so you don't write lower or higher notes than an instrument can produce. Many of those instruments don't use treble cleff. There are several cleffs for different instruments to keep the notes on the score lines as much as possible for easier reading. The tuning of instruments can vary a lot. You have trumpet in B, in C etc... For 16 correct bars of such music you might spend a whole day but it's a great practice and learning system while working on a real project. If you manage to compose something please upload with the score. I am interested to see that smile.gif


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Fsgdjv
post Jul 8 2009, 12:30 PM
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Thanks for all the great pointers guys, like everything that has to do with music, there is so much to learn. I saw you can download a trial version of sibelius, so I'm gonna do that and just see what I can accomplish, even me trying to write something like this feels like a frog trying to fly, but since frogs can jump I should be able to get something done.

That was a horrible analogy laugh.gif


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Muris Varajic
post Jul 8 2009, 01:06 PM
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You should start to mess around with VSTs ( Miroslav Philharmonic is a cool one )
and do some Midi tracks for violins, wind instruments etc.
And if you're up for real scores then learn more about those
instruments, ranges, techniques etc, it is fun. smile.gif


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Kaneda
post Jul 8 2009, 02:10 PM
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QUOTE (Muris Varajic @ Jul 8 2009, 02:06 PM) *
You should start to mess around with VSTs ( Miroslav Philharmonic is a cool one )
and do some Midi tracks for violins, wind instruments etc.
And if you're up for real scores then learn more about those
instruments, ranges, techniques etc, it is fun. smile.gif


I'll also second Muris here, although even Miroslav is relatively expensive. If you're serious about orchestral composing, though, it's really worth checking out - you'll get much closer to hearing what your work actually would sound like with a real orchestra.

I'm still in favor of Vienna Symphonic Library, and its dry samples which I can do with whatever I want to, but that's much more expensive -- and much more daunting to work with at first.

This post has been edited by Kaneda: Jul 8 2009, 02:12 PM
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Ramiro Delforte
post Jul 9 2009, 04:04 AM
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Well, I think it's pretty expensive but many of the cheap budget multimedia studios that cannot afford a real orchestra are using Eastwest samples.

I liked the EWQLSO (Eastwest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra) Gold or Platinum.

http://www.eastwestsamples.com/static_page...-pr-EW-177.html

Project Sam released also Symphobia that's very cool

http://www.projectsam.com/Products/Symphobia/

I leave you the links to hear some samples of those samples tongue.gif

Oh!, and the choirs are the best
http://www.eastwestsamples.com/details.php?cd_index=963


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Daniel Realpe
post Nov 30 2009, 07:08 PM
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Eastwest Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra is amazing, you could sit there for hours writing material,

I'm sure Wagner would have used something like that if he was living in this time


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Medieval
post May 6 2012, 03:12 AM
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Start off with some Four part writing a basic string ensemble, Violins, Violas, and Cello. Use your violins for the melody and the rest for the Harmony. Pick a key signature lets say the key of C. Create flowing lines for the melody.

You can pick up used books on orchestration on amazon and theory books also.

Music is fun so have fun with it. The more you do it the better you will get. And if you are using software remember to back up your work.
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Todd Simpson
post May 6 2012, 04:38 AM
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Some AMAZING replies so far! Just to keep it simple at first, I'd say before writing a "Symphony" try starting out with an Etude or just some small piece to get you started. Wagner and Bach wrote quite a bit in their head before they put pent to paper, and Beethoven would heard entire Symphonies in his head and have to rush to get it down on paper. But without significant theory training, that may be a bit outside your reach for now. But you can still do generally what they did smile.gif

1.)Sit in a quite space and try to write/hear a piece of music just in your mind. Close your eyes and start with a melody, then add in some counterpoint, rythmic elements etc. You can write/rewrite very quickly using only your mind. Once you have something, get some software and try to get some of it down via midi.

2.)Some great suggestions for software already mentioned. Depending on your daw, you may have something you can use already. Apple Logic and Garage Band have tools built in to get you started but if you are on a PC, there are still wads of tools available and some are very reasonable as far as price. Here are two that would get you started.

-Miroslav Philarmonic is great and not crazy pricey. The "Classic" Version is about 100 Euro
http://www.ikmultimedia.com/philharmonik/versions/

-Native Instruments Session Strings is another great option and is also about 100 Euro
http://www.native-instruments.com/#/en/pro...ession-strings/

So for about 100 Euro you can have your own starter String section etc. All you need to do is pony up a bit of cash and start writing!

Todd


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