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Woodwinds in Epic Themes? Virtual Instrument Plugins
Old 10th March 2014
  #1
Woodwinds in Epic Themes?

Hi,

I'm an amateur composer looking to expand my understanding of orchestrating Epic Themes. I do know how to use woodwinds when writing slow, emotional, romantic pieces to some extent, but when I'm writing "Epic" themes I just struggle on how to use them.

Is there anyone who happens to know any articles regarding this? I've searched to no avail. Or if anyone would care to give some starting tips on how to incorporate woodwinds into this kind of music.

Thank you in advance, and sorry if my question is very wide, which I know it is.
Old 11th March 2014
  #2
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oceantracks's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Boberg View Post
Hi,

I'm an amateur composer looking to expand my understanding of orchestrating Epic Themes. I do know how to use woodwinds when writing slow, emotional, romantic pieces to some extent, but when I'm writing "Epic" themes I just struggle on how to use them.

Is there anyone who happens to know any articles regarding this? I've searched to no avail. Or if anyone would care to give some starting tips on how to incorporate woodwinds into this kind of music.

Thank you in advance, and sorry if my question is very wide, which I know it is.
In orchestration of large symphonic pieces, there is a thing some call "masking" where instruments are felt more than heard. They are "masked" by other elements of the score.

Often you will hear a piece and love the "great brass lines" only to find out...should you ever see the real score...that along the brass there are winds and strings playing as well in unison, but you just can't hear them because of the brass, percussion, and dynamic levels and ranges of the various parts.

So you might first check out some large scores in print to see what I mean, it will be enlightening I'm sure, it was for me when I started studying orchestration.

TH
Old 11th March 2014
  #3
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muziksculp's Avatar
 

Woodwinds can be used to alter, enhance, the timbre of strings in epic themes. They don't stick out in the mix, but they are part of the overall timbre quality you hear, especially when doubled, or dovetailed with Strings.

I also feel that it depends on the composition of an epic score, woodwinds can be a focal point to contrast a larger group. kind of a take a break from the big epic phrases, and listen to some woods to calm your ears a bit, then the epic stuff takes off again.

Also don't forget that the Piccolo can reach some super-high pitches, so it will be heard

Cheers,
Muziksculp
Old 11th March 2014
  #4
Thank you guys, great responses giving me a general idea.

I've, for some reason, been afraid to let instruments play in unison. I know there needs to be interesting things going on in orchestral scores, but maybe I shouldn't be all to focused on having the different instrument play unison. I'm currently writing a part, where I have the brass do the melody all in unison (might change to have the trumphets do some coloring), then the strings playing in the background (cellos & violas do quick notes, 1st violins & double bass doing the same melody as the brass but not in unison, 2nd violins doing some other highpitched notes). How should I go about the woodwinds in this case? I understand that it can differ and is hard to say just from my description, but maybe I could be given some general ideas?

My thought is to divide them. Have some play the melody while some stick to the staccato notes the cellos/violas do. Or should I keep them all to one thing? Sorry for the wide questions, but the general ideas given in the last 2 replies helped me a lot to get a clearer view.

Thank you.
Old 11th March 2014
  #5
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muziksculp's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Boberg View Post
Thank you guys, great responses giving me a general idea.

I've, for some reason, been afraid to let instruments play in unison. I know there needs to be interesting things going on in orchestral scores, but maybe I shouldn't be all to focused on having the different instrument play unison. I'm currently writing a part, where I have the brass do the melody all in unison (might change to have the trumphets do some coloring), then the strings playing in the background (cellos & violas do quick notes, 1st violins & double bass doing the same melody as the brass but not in unison, 2nd violins doing some other highpitched notes). How should I go about the woodwinds in this case? I understand that it can differ and is hard to say just from my description, but maybe I could be given some general ideas?

My thought is to divide them. Have some play the melody while some stick to the staccato notes the cellos/violas do. Or should I keep them all to one thing? Sorry for the wide questions, but the general ideas given in the last 2 replies helped me a lot to get a clearer view.

Thank you.
Hi Boberg,

Well.. How about adding some Flutes, and Oboes/English Horns to your 2nd Violins high-notes to give the strings a thicker, more rounded timbre. They can play more staccato if you wish, since woodwind players blow harder when they play stacc. , which makes the woodwinds more pronounced, and louder, than if they were playing legato lines.

You could also (depending on your 2nd violin line, add a counter melody or some type of arpeggiated phrase using flutes, Oboes, and even English Horn to add more movement to the high-violin register. Maybe Piccolo on some of the accents to add add some rhythmic syncopation, and possibly lower the trumpet dynamics to a mf or use muted trumpets, to balance the overall mix.

look into other possibilities, as to where you might feel is a good point to add woodwinds to your composition, this is only one suggestion. I'm just giving you some rough/general ideas, which might, or might not work for your composition .

So, don't forget to experiment, and feel free to make some non-traditional, or popular orchestration techniques. Your ears will tell you if it works or not.

I would also recommend studying/reviewing some orchestration books, which can give you a good base to use in your orchestraion work, but... as I mentioned earlier, experimenting is imho. a key ingredient in learning, also.. Listening carefully, and trying to analyze what is going in various Classical, and film music recordings, will surely help you develop your mind's-ear

Cheers,
Muziksculp
Old 11th March 2014
  #6
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Sam Watson's Avatar
Let's take a look at an example from a supreme orchestrator: Igor Stravinsky. In particular I'm going to grab the last few bars of the Firebird because it is a big brassy finish to a fantastically colorful ballet with every instrument playing (a tutti in musical parlance). I've uploaded a PDF of that last page of the score and an mp3 of a bit of that section. 11 seconds into the mp3 matches this last page of sheet music.

You'll see that Stravinsky's approach to get a big sound is very standard. Each ensemble/consort is playing pretty much a self contained copy of the musical idea. As such the woodwinds, brass & strings are all treated in similar fashion.

Incidentally, the orchestration for this page (if it is hard to tell from the abbreviations at the edge of the page):
Piccolo. 3 flutes. 3 oboes. English Horn. High Clarinet (in D) 2 Clarinets (A). Bass Clarinet (Bb). 3 bassoons (two playing the upper staff). Contrabasoon.
4 Horns in F. 3 Trumpets (A/Bb). 3 trombones & Tuba.
Timpani. Triangle. Cymbals. Bass drum.
Strings - Violin 1 & 2. Violas. Celli. Contrabasses.

Definitely pick up a copy of this piece or any work that you love. $11 in full score from Dover publishing for an in depth lesson with a master. Obviously this brief example is just an approach when everyone is playing and trying to achieve maximum volume & intensity. For a great example of using the winds & brass in alternation and for excellent fast flourishes in the strings/high winds check out the opening theme from Superman. Very instructive.

Cheers,
Sam
Attached Files

Firebird-FinalMeasures.mp3 (1,021.3 KB, 260 views)

File Type: pdf Stravinsky-TheFirebird-lastpage.pdf (4.25 MB, 168 views)
Old 12th March 2014
  #7
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Sam Watson's Avatar
Example number 2 - Part of the main theme from a movie that could have been named AwesomeGuy (who can fly). You know... the one with the red cape. When you listen to the amazing Theme (track 1 on the CD from the movie) it is everything that we think of as superhero! Brassy, melodic, sparkling, & larger than life. Here is one page from that full score. This is the last few bars of *THE* main theme idea just at it concludes and goes into the more processional string part. (1:07 - 1:14 in the soundtrack.)

What are some things that Mr. J.W. does?
* It isn't so different from Stravinksy. He is mostly using the complete harmonized material in each consort/section: woodwinds, brass & strings.
* Flourishes!! Wonderful zippy upwards ascending flourishes. Every time the main melody holds out a note in the brass, the upper woodwinds have some fancy fingerwork. Notice that he alternates the winds & the violins in the first few bars. He saves the biggest collection of combined upper woodwinds, violins, violas PLUS harp for the final flourish.
* Also worth noting: They are octaves/unisons. It helps cut through the intensity of the brass. More specifically: the piccolo & flutes are an octave above the rest of the winds in this arrangement which is most common. All the violins are unison but it wouldn't be unusual to have Violin 1 up there with the flutes. The Violas are an octave below everyone else adding some heft.
* Glockenspiel on the main melody. He is a big fan of this technique in many of his scores. Instant sparkle for a melody.
* Notice all the bass instruments - wind, brass, strings, and timpani too - have the same part.
* I'm a little surprised the Horns aren't playing here. I am sure he has reasons.
* Huge orchestral forces don't hurt. Doubles of all winds plus piccolo & bass clarinet. 4 horns, 3 trombones and tuba are standard fare. But 4 trumpets! (In Bb. I would have expected C trumpets since they are a little brighter and the piece is in C. But maybe he wanted more stability for the low notes during the intro.) Harp and even piano. Percussion including timpani, bass drum, cymbal, glockenspiel and vibraphone.

Once again - seeking out the full scores to your favorite works is the best way to learn from the masters! It is the blueprint for the marvels that your ear is hearing.

Cheers & happy composing,
Sam
Attached Files
File Type: pdf AwesomeGuy (who can fly) excerpt.pdf (215.8 KB, 149 views)
Old 21st March 2014
  #8
Here for the gear
Thank you Sam! This is so helpful.
Old 27th March 2014
  #9
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Fred Story's Avatar
 

Artists know that combining blue and yellow gives you green. No trace of the original color...it's a new and different color. Same with orchestration. Doublings expand the aural color palette exponentially. There are some excellent examples already given.

One of my favorite examples is the ostinato line that begins John Williams' "Dual Of The Fates" from the first Star Wars prequel. I couldn't for the life of me nail down the instrument combination. A look at the score revealed the answer...viola and clarinet. Maybe my ears aren't sophisticated enough, but when I hear that line, I don't hear violas or clarinets...I hear a new color.

I love orchestration.
Old 27th March 2014
  #10
Sorry for not replying, I've been so busy lately.

Thank you for the well thought out replies, I'll certainly study them well when time allows. It's very appreciated!
Old 29th March 2014
  #11
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NetworkAudio's Avatar
Study Wagner, Mahler, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel and Strauss.
Maybe also some Puccini and Verdi.
Don't forget about Symphonie Fantastique while you are at it.
Listen with a score and analyze the stuff that speaks to you.

A few orchestration books would not hurt either.

This will answer all your questions
Old 29th March 2014
  #12
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Woodwindy's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Boberg View Post
Thank you guys, great responses giving me a general idea.

I've, for some reason, been afraid to let instruments play in unison. I know there needs to be interesting things going on in orchestral scores, but maybe I shouldn't be all to focused on having the different instrument play unison. I'm currently writing a part, where I have the brass do the melody all in unison (might change to have the trumphets do some coloring), then the strings playing in the background (cellos & violas do quick notes, 1st violins & double bass doing the same melody as the brass but not in unison, 2nd violins doing some other highpitched notes). How should I go about the woodwinds in this case? I understand that it can differ and is hard to say just from my description, but maybe I could be given some general ideas?

My thought is to divide them. Have some play the melody while some stick to the staccato notes the cellos/violas do. Or should I keep them all to one thing? Sorry for the wide questions, but the general ideas given in the last 2 replies helped me a lot to get a clearer view.

Thank you.
I'm not a serious composer, but I am a woodwind player.
Unisons are where it's at. Infinite color possibilities. If the players can't play in tune, they've got no right to complain when they get replaced by sample libraries.
Keith
Keith Felch | Music Educator, Woodwind Performer, Recording Artist
Old 22nd April 2014
  #13
Gear Nut
 

More threads like this, please! Excellent thoughts here. Orchestration is one of the most fascinating aspects of writing music to me. So many possibilities and combinations. I really like the artist's color palette analogy!

I'd seriously love to read more of these types of conversations in this forum. I mean, discussing the business of things is interesting and all but.....yaaaawwwnn
Old 22nd April 2014
  #14
Quote:
Originally Posted by tomorrowstops View Post
More threads like this, please! Excellent thoughts here. Orchestration is one of the most fascinating aspects of writing music to me. So many possibilities and combinations. I really like the artist's color palette analogy!

I'd seriously love to read more of these types of conversations in this forum. I mean, discussing the business of things is interesting and all but.....yaaaawwwnn
Agreed! As I'm not doing this for a living (hopefully I will in the future though) I do not have much interest in the business related threads. But I do understand why they are important.

It was very enlightening for me to get these great responses in this thread. I've been playing around with it lately, and have gotten the general idea. Obviously, it's an art in itself considering the huge amount of possibilities, but I've gotten off to a good start in my opinion. This thread helped me very much with that!
Old 20th May 2014
  #15
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I'm still learning myself, but I can tell you this: you got a part, you listen to it, and you know if that's it or is it something missing here. If it does miss something, you add another instrument in unisono, the one you think will add the right missing timbre to it. But for that you got to memorize instruments timbres first.
Old 20th May 2014
  #16
Thank you Mikolajh, that is a good and simple tip. These are very valueable to me as a beginner.
Old 26th May 2014
  #17
Gear Head
Don't feel like you have to use woodwinds in a big in-your-face "epic" cinematic cue. Take the orchestration for Elysium, for instance: strings, brass, percussion, period. And no trumpets! Of course, this is a more modern sound. For classic action cues a la John Williams, there's plenty of room for woodwinds etc. It really just depends on the style you're shooting for.

But the take-away here is, don't feel you have to throw in every instrument. If it doesn't have a place, then it doesn't have a place.

PS: or do something unique in your epic cue. Make it take a break and drop down to nothing but pulsating woodwinds and some other accompanying instrument.
Old 26th May 2014
  #18
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Jeff Hayat's Avatar
 

Sorry - I must ask....

Quote:
Originally Posted by MDesigner View Post
Take the orchestration for Elysium, for instance: strings, brass, percussion, period.
Where exactly are you getting that from?
Old 26th May 2014
  #19
Gear Head
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeff Hayat View Post
Sorry - I must ask....



Where exactly are you getting that from?
To be a little clearer, it was the action cues I was referring to. And I know the orchestrator on the film.
Old 27th May 2014
  #20
Quote:
Originally Posted by MDesigner View Post
Don't feel like you have to use woodwinds in a big in-your-face "epic" cinematic cue. Take the orchestration for Elysium, for instance: strings, brass, percussion, period. And no trumpets! Of course, this is a more modern sound. For classic action cues a la John Williams, there's plenty of room for woodwinds etc. It really just depends on the style you're shooting for.

But the take-away here is, don't feel you have to throw in every instrument. If it doesn't have a place, then it doesn't have a place.

PS: or do something unique in your epic cue. Make it take a break and drop down to nothing but pulsating woodwinds and some other accompanying instrument.
Thank you MDesigner, this was a good reply. What you said, has been one of my problems that I'm trying to address currently. I've felt the need to use all instruments, when they in fact do not have a place. Good to get confirmation from someone much more experience that this is the way to go.
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