Percussion Orchestration Tips

A photo of percussion instruments.This article contains a collection of tips & techniques for percussion orchestration & instrumentation. Develop your palette through listening and imitation!

Establish goals

  • Idiomatic interpretation is the primary musical objective
  • Program objectives
    • recruitment and retention
    • player development (know your ensemble)

Topics to master

  • Indoor vs. Outdoor setting
    • acoustic parameters and limitations
    • spacial relationships
  • Indoor medium is conducive to exploring the low end of the dynamic spectrum
  • Tuning ranges
    • SATB for battery
    • Concert Percussion Ensemble for Pit
    • Pit has contributed to higher ranges
  • Creating effect (use of contrast)
  • Implement mallet section
    • definition and projection
    • blend and sonority
  • Length of sound/articulation = dampening techniques
  • Segmental scoring
  • Unison scoring
  • Contrapuntal scoring
  • Creating a texture
  • Notation (clarity, legibility, detailing)
  • Use of dynamics (contouring, contrast, coordination with wind score)
  • Playability
    • impact drill and movement
    • dynamic extremes = fewer notes
      • louder more people
      • softer less people
    • tempo marking
  • Understanding the impact of tempo (scale)
  • Drill and staging considerations for effect (antiphonal, split ensemble)
  • Coordination of pit and battery voices
  • Use of accent
  • Frequency of accent can imply a dynamic level
  • Visual effect
    • use of sequence
    • drum movements
    • high sticking
    • backsticking and stick flips tosses twirls
  • Rim shot — a sound, not a dynamic
  • Hand cymbal section, or not
  • Orchestral influences… rhythmic vocabulary, sustain qualities

The Phrase Chart – creating a plan

  • identify phrases
  • define their function
  • tempi, dynamic shape
  • establish the lead voice

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