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MUS2068 : Orchestration

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Christopher Tarrant
  • Owning School: Arts & Cultures
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 10
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module aims to develop students’ theoretical and practical skills in terms of reading, understanding, and creating orchestral scores. By the end of the module, students will have studied orchestral music in a range of styles and will have the skills to analyse orchestral scores and apply what they have learnt in a series of creative tasks. The art and craft of orchestration is a separate skill from composition and it is necessary to teach it in its own context. That said, the module is not only aimed at students interested in composition, but is designed to benefit a wider cohort of performers, conductors, historians and analysts, as well as creative practitioners from diverse backgrounds.

The module aims to complement students’ other activities as composers and performers as well as their wider academic work. Core skills such as score reading, score presentation, knowledge of instruments and transposition are covered alongside more creative skills to do with timbre, texture, and interpretation.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module introduces the topic of orchestration and provides students with a framework for approaching the subject and some of the basic skills of score analysis. The module will typically involve a series of segment (normally of 2 weeks each) , which cover a different composer and draw attention to different aspects of orchestral style. These individual segments will typically cover topics such as:

Mendelssohn: natural brass instruments, pairs of wind instruments, register and tessitura, combinations of instruments within a family, combinations of families within the orchestra, translation of pianistic textures into orchestral ones.

Weber: writing for trombones, using 4 horns, ‘dramatic’ orchestral effects, blending effects, soloistic writing.

Dvorak: writing for tuba, piccolo, untuned percussion and cor anglais; creative doubling and special effects; colouristic orchestration.

Ravel: special orchestral effects, translation of idiomatic piano textures, use of unusual instruments, combinations of sustained and percussive sounds, use of the harp.

Mozart: accompaniment textures, orchestral energy levels, piano vs orchestra in the concertos, writing for limited forces, the role of the sustaining pedal.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion164:0064:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture112:0022:00PIP lecture or online lecture material with associated tasks in case of lockdown.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00Seminars - PIP or online and synchronous in case of lockdown.
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1103:00103:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The student learning pattern is built around a series of alternating lectures and seminars in which a series of orchestral and thematic archetypes and their associated technical components are introduced and practised. The early stage of the module establish foundational ideas and techniques on which students can draw as the module progresses through case-studies that introduce more complex themes and techniques.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Portfolio1M40Portfolio of orchestration work presented in full score. Should be in a style sympathetic to stylistic conventions of sem 1
Portfolio2A60Portfolio of orchestration work presented in full score. Should be in style sympathetic to stylistic conventions of sem 2
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Students are presented with a choice of excerpts of piano repertoire which they are required to orchestrate. Work has to be presented in full transposing score observing the normal conventions of the common practice era.
There will typically be fortnightly exercises on which students will receive formative feedback. The skills built-up across these individual pieces of work are cumulative, and contribute towards those necessary for the completion of the summative portfolio assignments.

Reading Lists