Making a Start: Writing for Orchestra

I thought it was about time that I attempted my first orchestral piece. And so I present to you… “The Sweet Shop”.

So far this piece has gone through two iterations: the original piano composition, and the above orchestral demo. Each one took me about a week to write. However, the orchestral demo is not the finished version.

The orchestral demo has 12 instrument parts, but I’m not sure how many players will be needed on each instrument. One problem with writing orchestral music is that the size of an orchestra can vary greatly. When writing for film, then the size of your orchestra very much depends on the budget, and the size of the orchestra, impacts how you write the music. There are certain techniques in orchestral writing that require a larger orchestra and so employing them with a smaller orchestra won’t deliver the sound you’re after. These issues are to do with orchestration, an area where my knowledge is pretty limited. However, I’ve just started a home study course on the subject, which coupled with some rewriting will allow me to further shape and develop my piece.

Can I Call Myself A Composer Now?

I hit a milestone last week; after four months of solid learning I’ve finally reached the stage where I’ve begun to compose. I wrote two pieces last week and have started writing a third this week. The first one is a demo for one of the bands that I’m in (we’ve yet to give ourselves a name) and the other two are simple themes for piano. Today I’m going to focus on the band track.

Whilst at band practice a few weeks ago I started to play one of the tunes I’d written for my accordion. The tune was incomplete and felt more like the middle section of bigger piece, but the band liked it and wanted to develop it into a song. I worked out an introduction and thought through some ideas of where I wanted the piece to go. Then the week before last, we started to develop it. I explained the structure of the piece and what instruments should come in where and tried my best to describe what they should play. We spent a good couple of hours working through the song and looping some sections to try and develop them. At the end of the night I recorded the whole song and listened back to it the next day. The song wasn’t quite going in the direction that I wanted, but hearing it had helped me see clearly where I wanted it to go. Therefore I spent the next three days working on a demo of the song. I recorded my accordion part and then played in the other band members parts using my keyboard and the software instruments that come with Logic Pro X. So here it is, the first proper composition I have done since I started my quest to become a film composer.

There are a few things missing from the track, such as the vocals. Our singer wrote some lyrics to the piece but I’ve represented his part in the piece with a flute, since he wasn’t available to record them. I’ve also left out guitar strums as this isn’t something I could simulate very well on my computer. And my EQing, mixing and mastering skills aren’t up to scratch yet so I haven’t optimised the track for the best listening experience, that is something I am yet to learn. But seeing as it’s just a demo, I still have time to learn this.

Once I’d finished the track I sent it to the rest of the band to listen to and we went through it for real at this weeks practice. I’m pretty pleased with the end result. We’ve named the track “Hard to Find” because of the lyrics and we’re going to be playing it live at an open mic night in the middle of May, along with two cover songs. I’m pretty excited to perform it live actually and to see what an audience think of it. And I’ve got plans to write lots more tracks for the band, but for now I need to practice my accordion part to this one and get my playing perfected.