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How to Break into Film Scoring: Study Orchestration Online

By Edited Jun 17, 2015 0 1

If your dream is to work as a composer in film scoring, a solid first step is to study orchestration online. Orchestration, the art of scoring for musical instruments up to a full symphony orchestra is a critical, important, and valuable skill to have in L.A. Why? Every musician with dreams of going to Los Angeles and breaking into Hollywood as the next blockbuster film composer has studied or has experience with at least some instrumental playing, some basic music theory, songwriting, and likely even some music composition. But if you have serious skills in music arranging, or have applied yourself to learn music orchestration, you will stand out in the crowd.


It’s not enough to know basic music production, or music copying with programs like Sibelius, or to just understand simple harmony and chord voicings. Knowing and mastering orchestration, the highest order of

music arranging, means that you understand how each instrument in a symphony orchestra sounds, and how it functions best. This doesn’t just mean looking this information up in orchestration masterpieces like Samuel Adler’s awesome reference “The Study of Orchestration.” You need to know this information -- and have a real sense of how it works. This means understanding every instrument’s range, timbral characteristics, its agility, and how it responds at all dynamic levels. The sonic character, for example, of a clarinet in its lowest register played loud and strong (forte), is completely different than the middle register of the same instrument played moderately soft. It is much more than volume -- it really has to do with tone color, resonance, and the sheer physical nature by which each instrument produces sound. You must have all this working knowledge at your fingertips.

After a composer orchestrator learns the basic properties of the individual instruments, they must learn about the families or ‘choirs’ of instruments. For example, the clarinet is part of the woodwind family that includes flutes, oboes, and bassoons as well. In large orchestras this can also include piccolo, alto or bass flute, English horn (the oboe’s big brother), alto and bass clarinets, as well as the contrabassoon. Wrting for all these winds means understanding the colors, combinations, ranges, and blending characteristics of the woodwind section as a unit. This can be learned by studying scores and writing chamber music for winds where there are only single players per part -- rather than winds by two as in most orchestras. Orchestrators do this not only for winds, but for the brass, percussion, and string sections, as well as all other possible instruments used in an orchestral setting.

In films, the same melody with a different orchestration -- a different setting, scoring, or treatment -- has a completely different emotional effect. Controlling these musical moods through orchestral color -- without disrupting the flow of the film -- is the whole job!

In Film Scoring: Orchestration Jobs Might Really Be the Best Way to Start

With the advent of technology that makes every songwriter a composer, and every composer think he’s Jerry Goldsmith, Hans Zimmer, or John Williams -- really knowing instrumentation, arranging, and the art of orchestration is the perfect way to break into film music work in Hollywood. Why? The composers who work on blockbuster movies, with marquis directors, and A-list stars, are always under incredible deadlines from the major motion picture studios to meet the film’s premiere and release date. What this means is that even though many of L.A.’s best film composers could do the entire project themselves -- they realize that producing ninety minutes or two hours of original music for full symphony orchestra, often with added soloists, chorus, and more under an impossible deadline requires help. If you pause the credits of the next movie you watch on Netflix, you will often see that a film’s music department has hired a contractor to hire all the necessary professional musicians, copyists to prepare the parts, and often two, three or more orchestrators to flesh out the composers ideas to their fullest. It’s a key role in a film’s music department.

Demand for New Films, Content, Means Work for Film Music Composers and Orchestrators

This is an incredible time for content providers. If you look on IMDB (the internet movie database) at the number of people required to produce just one film, you will be astounded at the opportunities in movie and television production. As an unknown musician and composer you can probably score a few independent films before you realize the scope of the competition in the field. As a fully trained orchestrator, you can get work now in film scoring -- eventually working closely with Hollywood’s best and brightest composers AND being paid to assist them, that you might enjoy working on the team much more than the solo writing work of indie films. If you can be the professional orchestrator who can transform the composer’s melody into a huge brass scoring for the action flick, and take a sweet single note piano melody and expand it into lush full string writing -- then your talents are needed. New, fresh films are in such demand because of the public’s unending appetite for new content on countless new outlets and new platforms - from traditional movie theaters, 3D and IMAX cinemas, indie festivals, literally thousands of cable channels, to streaming sites like Hulu, Netflix, iTunes, YouTube, and more -- seen in theaters on TVs or on tablets.

Study Orchestration: What Would You Do to Learn Film Scoring?

For example, it is one thing to love the classic Star Wars films by George Lucas, and really love the music of film composer John Williams, but have you ever studied the score: Star Wars (Suite for Orchestra) - Deluxe Score

Star Wars score
. Yes, the full orchestral score of Star Wars -- wouldn’t it be fascinating to see how all the parts come together to create that rich, exciting texture -- those soaring melodies, counter melodies, and backgound parts. Everyone knows the catchy melodies to one of the most beloved sci-fi movies of all time, but what is the orchestral support and background to that material. It’s hard work -- it’s work that requires attention to detail -- but this is an amazing time to work in film.

Yes, learn music theory, study music composition, even master an instrument (or at least learn guitar or piano really well as a writing tool), and you’re on your way to a career in the music industry. But to compete in film scoring, study orchestration - online, or with lessons, or some independent study -- but know music arranging and instrumentation so well that you are the most skilled musician in the room when it comes time to work on a film.



Feb 19, 2012 8:52am
Interesting info and all very true. Orchestration is fascinating and following a score while listening to a recording even more so - and a great way to learn to be able to pick out the minor instruments that can be hard to distinguish without practice.
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