Orchestra and Big Bands

I got an email the other day from a talented young guy who wanted to know the “rules” about writing for big band and orchestra. The following is my email response:

Based on your questions I would suggest that you look at classic lit. Buy yourself a pocket score to LaValse by Ravel and a good recording. If you are really motivated do a 6-10 stave piano reduction of the score. Use your ears and really listen to how the sections interact. There are no hard and fast rules…each situation is different which means you have to look at it from a different perspective. Never forget you are writing music to generate an emotional response from the listener. I’d say look at rules as a way to approach learning…not an end all.

Big band has its own classic literature
Duke Ellington-Sophisticated Lady, Mood Indigo, Satin Doll
Benny Goodman-Sing Sing Sing
anything by Count Basie in the late 50-s early 60’s preferably billy byers or quincy jones arrangements
Thad Jones/Mel Lewis of the late 60’s early 70’s.

you have to remember that benny goodman and swing was the heavy metal cutting edge music of its day.

Listen to all of it.

Identify rhythm,melody and harmony. Musicians play music from left to right….not vertically. A flute player is concerned about the line/counterpoint they are playing….not so much what chord it is.

Do takedowns of what you hear.

This could easily take you 1-2 years but after a while you’ll begin to see the relationships.

My education was similar to this approach but mostly listening to great music and trying to figure out what everyone was doing.

You asked…so there it is.

I’m open to emails from all so fire away.


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