Author Topic: Finding the right balance  (Read 610 times)

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mjf1947

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Finding the right balance
« on: April 11, 2020, 11:41:13 AM »
As I work through my 5th orchestral work -  I continue to "struggle" with balance: How much is too much and how little is too little and/or how do different ensembles project within the totality of the orchestration. 

Do you build volume/intensity through additions or dynamics?  What about the effect of moving from winds to brass to strings in various combinations to maintain interest and development?

I know that each of these questions require years of study; however, let's start with a simple concept of "balance" when composing.

Thoughts? 

Or am I as a novice composer asking questions that just show my ignorance and lack of training on the subject matter?

One more thought ... playing in the orchestra all these years definitely helps ... you sit there and hear everything as it occurs.  Plenty of moments to observe the composer's hand in action.

Mark

flint

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2020, 12:13:15 PM »
It depends on context.

If moving to a tutti section, it tends more effective to gradually add instruments or otherwise change the orchestration. If adding intensity and volume to a passage, changing dynamics can be very effective.

This is one of the key things that many composers spend a lifetime working out (in a method that pleases them), so don't be worried if you find it difficult to begin with.
"Music is like wine; the less you know about it, the sweeter you like it." - Robertson Davies

Jerry Engelbach

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2020, 11:31:23 AM »
Mark,
 
I think all art is a balancing act.
 
A little too much here, a little too little there, and then you have to take away some and add some.
 
Doubt, indecision, and experiment are built into the process.
 
I was taught to get everything down, then whittle away to find the shape.
 
Cheers,
Jer
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mjw58

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2020, 01:07:16 PM »

I agree with Flint and Mark. It depends.

I’m no seasoned composer so I feel that listening to other compositions has helped me. What do other composers do to achieve something? What instruments or combinations to use?

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sandalwood

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2020, 08:05:36 AM »
This thread looks reasonably relevant, I hope you don't mind my asking here.

I'd appreciate hearing opinion of our woodwind specialists about a couple of short passages in the attached excerpts. In the excerpts please do not think of the written dynamics as unchangeable. Each may be moved up or down a level or so to obtain the right balance.

Excerpt 1:

- are the mm.1-7  high staccati too tasking or energy wasting for the bassoon player?
- in mm.10-14, would the high bassoon not be able to project over the low oboe and other accompaniment?

Excerpt 2:

- would the 1st octave flute be unable to project over the accompaniment?

RJB54

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2020, 12:34:28 PM »
I would think that it would be difficult for the bassoon part to be played p or mp in that range, but its been a vary long time since I actually played bassoon so take that with a grain of salt.

The flute part I would expect to need to be played at least f to have any chance to be heard. That range of the flute sounds excellent, however it doesn't project all that well. You have all of the other instruments in more or less the same range as the flute. Dropping the horn and bassoon an octave would help to thin out the texture in the octave you have the flute playing which would give the flute more of a fighting chance.
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
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sandalwood

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2020, 02:41:29 PM »
Thanks, Robert!

So, in Excerpt 2 what I understand is, with no instrument changing pitch or register, the  flute is able to project and be heard, provided it is played with high enough dynamics.

As to the high bassoon passages in Excerpt 1, I'm seeing passages written and played in this register both at soft and high dynamics but nevertheless wanted to hear your view about these particular passages I've written.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2020, 03:02:31 PM by sandalwood »

RJB54

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2020, 03:07:07 PM »
Well, the flute in its lowest register has little power so one needs to have a very thin environment for it to be heard. In a small ensemble like a woodwind quintet there aren't many instruments so the issue is leaving space for the flute to come through. Space is achieved by not placing other instruments in the same range as the flute and having any accompanying figures be as thin as possible because the flute in this range can't overpower anything else because it doesn't have any power in this range.
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
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sandalwood

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2020, 04:57:23 PM »
Not quite the lowest register of the flute: it is G4 or higher 95% of the time and D5 or higher 25% of the time.

Do you think the melody wouldn't be heard clearly enough, even  if not as clearly as in the attached snippet?

RJB54

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2020, 05:08:14 PM »
I was referring to the range below c4. The flute doesn't project as well there as it does above that, especially say like g4 and higher where it really starts projecting. So, as I said, it in its bottom range the flute really has to be given a lot of space.

As always, don't go by the sonic projection coming from the computer. The samples don't really give a good impression of what would be going on for real (unless your using one of those super expensive libraries that cost tens of thousands of dollars).
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
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sandalwood

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #10 on: May 18, 2020, 05:48:18 PM »
Of course the computer sounds can not be the arbiter, I only posted the snippet to provide context, especially on the timbres.

To clarify, what I mean is, C4 being the middle C, the flute passage is almost wholly G4 (a fifth above middle C) or above and a good part pretty higher. So, the flute would not be constricted in dynamics as when it is below the treble clef, am I wrong?

RJB54

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #11 on: May 18, 2020, 06:29:19 PM »
OK, that was my mistake. I thought of middle C as C3 not C4, so move all of my references up an octave.
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
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sandalwood

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #12 on: May 18, 2020, 06:37:09 PM »
Not a mistake! In many places, middle C is called C3. Thanks a lot for the expert view, I appreciate it :)

Michel.R.E

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #13 on: May 19, 2020, 01:15:48 AM »
a quick note: the entire lowest octave (from C to C) on the flute is unusable in any but the most lightly orchestrated/accompanied passages. As it approaches the C one octave up from middle C it gains in strength, but is still easily covered. It doesn't really gain strength and projection until it starts into that 2nd octave up.

as for those high bassoon notes, they are not going to sound like a bassoon. they are difficult of intonation, and difficult of volume control.
it's not for nothing that the bassoon solo at the beginning of Sacre is considered by many to be one of the most difficult passages for bassoon.

Avoid writing music where each instrument has a different dynamic.
If an instrument is to be heard above the others, then write it so it will be heard, don't just ask that instrument to play louder.

Remember that a soft note and a loud note don't only have volume as a difference. the timbre of the instrument changes with the volume as well.

add to that the difficulty of having multiple musicians with different dynamics, who are expecting to play as a group, they can't be guessing what volume the other members of the ensemble are playing.
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sandalwood

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Re: Finding the right balance
« Reply #14 on: May 19, 2020, 07:28:08 AM »
Thank you Michel :)