Music Orchestrator

Who is the Orchestrator?

An orchestrator is a trained musical professional who assigns instruments to an orchestra or other musical ensemble from a piece of music composed by a composer. The training is done by orchestrators varies. Most have completed formal postsecondary education in music, such as Bachelor of Music (B.Mus), Master of Music (M.Mus.), or an artist’s diploma. 

What is Orchestration?

Orchestration is the assignment of different instruments to play certain parts of a musical work. In the older days, composers used to orchestrate their own music, for example Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, etc.

But nowadays orchestrator that work in Film, TV or even the game industry used to have a tight deadline, therefore the workloads spread out between the composer and orchestrator. So that the composer can concentrate on composing music, and let the orchestrator do the job for the live players in the ensemble or orchestra settings.

Being said, the job description changed in the modern days. In Film, TV, and Games Industry, the orchestrator requires to take composer sketches (MIDIs) from Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and orchestrate for the live players to a playable standard. 

What are the skills required for an Orchestrator?
  1. Music Theory
  2. Music History
  3. Understanding of the Orchestra Instruments
  4. Able to use Notation Software and Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) *For Film Orchestrator*

I would say the skills are pretty much the same as a composer.

The term orchestration in its specific sense refers to the way instruments are used to portray any musical aspect such as melody, harmony or rhythm. Orchestrators have to know the best register of each individual instrument and assign the particular lines (melody, counter-melody, etc) to the instrument.

Understanding of the Orchestra Instruments

As an Orchestrator, you must at least understand and know everything about the common instruments in Woodwinds, Brass, Percussions and Strings Family, so that you can play with a variety of “colors” in your orchestration.

What should you think when you want to orchestrate? Questions to ask yourself
  1. What is the best combination of the instruments?
  2. What is the best range of this particular instrument?
  3. What are the possibilities or limitations that this instrument has?
  4. What is the effect if I combine this instrument with another instrument?
  5. Any substitute ways to achieve a certain effect?
  6. Will the players get tired of playing your orchestration? For woodwind or brass players.
Famous Orchestral Works that every Orchestrator should know
  1. Mahler – 9 Symphonies
  2. Beethoven – 9 Symphonies
  3. Shostakovich – all Symphonies
  4. Tchaikovsky – 6 Symphonies
  5. Stravinsky – Firebird Suite, Rite of Spring, Petrushka, Symphony of Psalms, Symphony in Three Movements.
  6. Mozart – 39,40,41 Symphonies
  7. Prokofiev – All Symphonies, Romeo and Juliet Ballet
How should one dissect/analyze the orchestration?
  1. How is the melody presented? (unison doubling)
  2. Which instruments play or double the melody?
  3. Which instruments carry the harmony or rhythm?
  4. What techniques are they using? (closed or open voicings, in which register)
List of Film Orchestrators
  1. Conrad Pope
  2. Jeff Atmajian
  3. Pete Anthony
  4. Jon Kull
  5. Tim Davies
  6. Jeremy Levy

In the Film Industry nowadays, Orchestrators will receive midi files or DAW files from the composer. Before they orchestrate, they will clean the midi notes before they import them into the Notation Program. Then they only start orchestrating in a notation program. After they finish the orchestration, they will send it to the music copyist to do the part score and proofread, and lastly print it out for the players to play during the recording session.

Hope you learn something! 

5 3 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x