What does an Orchestrator do?

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  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2019
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An orchestrator is someone who prepares music for performance by an orchestra. Orchestrators can work in many different settings such as opera houses, concert halls, and movie studios, and may apply their skills in different ways. This type of work requires a number of skills and years of experience and training. People who are interested in careers in orchestration can receive training through colleges and universities with music programs, or institutions which focus specifically on training musicians and composers.

Some composers are also orchestrators. They develop a piece from scratch, starting with the framework they want to use, developing themes, thinking about how they want the piece to feel, and gradually creating a score for full orchestra. Some composers like to do their own orchestration because they want total control over the piece and the way in which it will be performed. This includes everything from determining how instruments will be used for texture to establishing tempo.

In other cases, an orchestrator works with a composer to develop a rough composition into a fully finished piece for orchestra. Orchestrators can also take existing pieces of music and arrange them for orchestra. For example, on a film, a composer might develop themes which introduce characters and ideas, and an orchestrator can expand these themes into a full orchestral piece, and play with the themes as the story progresses and the characters change.


There is a distinction between transcription and arrangement when it comes to orchestrating. When a piece is transcribed, the orchestrator keeps it as close to the original as possible. When pieces are arranged, they can be altered to make them more suitable or to bring out different desired features and traits. Both require similar sets of skills, including an ability to hear the orchestra in one's head while work is done on the piece, because it is not practical to keep an orchestra on standby to test out pieces of the composition as they are developed.

Not all musicians are capable of developing pieces for orchestra. An orchestra can be difficult to manage and use effectively, and poor orchestration skills can cause a composition to suffer. Instruments may sound at odds with each other, for example, or the tempo may be off. The texture of the piece can also feel thin and half finished if the instruments are not used properly. The skills of an orchestrator are an important part of bringing a piece of music to life.


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Post 4

@Emilski - I would be interested to hear if there is a program, too. Along those line, whenever an orchestrator finishes a piece and the orchestra plays it for the first time, is the orchestrator usually there to "proof" the music? Do they do things like listen for problems with harmonies or notes and then make changes?

I know most musicians are what I would consider to be underpaid given their rare talents and their product. Unfortunately, a lot of people take orchestral music for granted and aren't willing to pay a lot for it. That being said, how much would an orchestrator expect to make? What would the difference be between someone working for a well known group like the Boston Pops or Disney compared to a smaller venue?

Post 3

@matthewc23 - I think it would probably just depend on the school where the person got their degree. I know I went to a university with a big music program, and they had different degrees depending on if you wanted to be a composer, arranger, or orchestrator. At other places, though, they might just have a composition degree that covers a little of everything.

I am curious, do they make anything like an orchestrator program, where someone could put in the sheet music and have a program simulate what the music would sound like with that arrangement? If it wasn't too time consuming, it seems like that would be a good way for someone to test out their final product before putting it in front of a real orchestra.

Post 2

What sort of degree would an orchestrator have? Do colleges offer orchestration degrees, or would the person just have a music conposition degree in most cases?

I remember watching a documentary on Disney music one time, and they spent a lot of time interviewing one of their orchestrators and talking about how they go through the process of creating music that will fit the movie. Whenever they get to the final recording process, the conductor actually watches the part of the movie the music will go with and conducts to orchestra to fit the movie.

Post 1

I agree with the article, I think it would be really difficult to be an orchestrator. I love music and have been involved in different concert bands for the better part of my life, and it still amazes me how people can make a piece sound good given a certain band arrangement.

I think one of the most fun jobs someone could have would be an arranger for marching band music. It is always interesting how someone can turn a mainstream rock or pop song into something that sounds good with normal concert band instruments.

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