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  • I don't read music. Am I going to struggle?

    Hi everyone.

    I am looking for some books/cd's/tuition to help me with arranging percussion. I have never explored percussion before and I am having real difficulty with applying the right percussion instruments and the right rythm to my melodies. I am desperate for some guidence.

    Though I see many posts with recomendations of orchestration tuition, I do not know if these resources are writen for people who do read music. Can someone please enlighten me? Also, is there any form of tuition that teaches orchestration (particularly percussion) without the need to read music? I have always managed to play electric guitar successfully without being able to read and I can create orchestral compositions by using my ear.

    Listening to the mass of orchestral music I have is great, but when I try to pick out the percussion instruments I just can't make out the actual types of drums and the articulations that are being used. I particularly listen to the big movie sountracks and try desperately to emulate those big sounds i.e. Gladiator/Lord of the Rings. There just seems to be so many instruments going on at once and I become confused.

    I have the pro percussion for gigastudio but not the knowlege to use it - yet!

    Any help will be much appreciated.


  • Hi James, in my opninion there is NO WAY of writing big scores ,like you mentioned, without the skill to read music. But this is just my opinion. Best regards, Stephan

  •  I read music, but 99% of what I do just gets thrown onto a piano roll in my DAW, so I don't think the skill is completely necessary. A good ear [i]is[/i], however.

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    @B.C.Johnson said:

    A good ear is, howeve
    I agree to that (of course), but he mentioned scores like lord of the rings and I´m pretty shure you will not get too far without some basical technical skills... like reading... I mean you have to be trained very well in harmony and counterpoint to write scores of this kind and how far will you get in counterpoint without reading???? Best, Stephan

  • I work with a very talented composer (orchestrating/mockups) who doesn't read hardly at all and I've been surprised at how well he does with orchestral cues. Over the last three films we've done he's improved substantially. That being said, reading music is a must for any kind of real depth or at least variety in composing, so the sooner you make it part of your daily regimen the better.

  • Thanks for all the replies so far.

    It does seem very possible to be able to write impressive stuff without the need to read music. I performed as a session guitarist and live performer for years, and I was able to get to grips with writing full pieces of orchestral music on a PC i.e.sampler/sequencer.

    However, I seem to be stuck in a comfort zone. I feel that I am limited to what I can achieve now. I know that constantly experimenting and experimenting will eventually lead to knew results but it takes a long time. Because I want (desire) to compose big scores like the movies mentioned above, I can see that learning theory is a must. I will make that task a priority as I felt it was comming sooner or later.

    For the time being I want to improve my knowledge of basic percussion. Does anyone know where I can access a midi score that demonstrates the use of the Vienna Pro Percussion, so I can actually see which instruments are being used and get an idea of the structure. When I produce my own rythms I use a bass drum, timpani, snare and field drum but I can't acheive a really good exciting feel. When it comes to cymbals and percussive instruments I just make it all sound cluttered and end up scrapping it. I am searching for live recordings of orchestral percussionists online but not finding anything helpful. It's the military/marching rythms I am interested in.

    Any suggestions will be very appreciated.


  •  Hello James,

    While I agree that one can make great music without reading it, two thoughts (three, actually) :

    1. From what I understand of your immediate needs (improve your knowledge of basic percussion, interested in the military / marching rythms), I would say that, indeed, knowing how to read music would have help you to get there faster : all you'd have to do is go to the nearest score shop and just take a look at how it's done. Military / marching rythms scores are for the most part basic stuff. They also are pretty common and affordable.

    Think of it this way : reading english allows you to look for a cooking recipe on the web. After that, you can adjust to your taste, improve your own recipe etc. Who knows, maybe after a while you will feel like taking some cooking classes to go further ! (that would be the harmonie / contrepoint etc.)

    2. Reading music, and learning how to do so is easy. Children can do it ! That means that not only can you do it, but you can do it fast. It is a fairly basic, logical and effective language. Once you understand the principles, your skills will grow with your needs as you naturally put more effort into it.

    Why not begin with rythm if you wish ! It will be instant gratification. I garantee you that with as little time as 15 minutes a day it won't be long before you're able to look at a non-melodic percussive score and understand what's going on, thus being capable to reproduce it or adapt it to your taste.


    3. Meanwhile, going to (decent !) live concerts will help a lot. Watching at the percussionists at play while you're listening will help you distinguish the differents instruments better, along with the way they interact together. It's easier on live than on record when you're not familiar with it. Try and go to some (real !) musical school, see if by any chance the percussions teacher would let you assist at some classes. Watch the student work. Meet them. Ask questions. You will definitly learn a great deal of things. Also, I would consider rehearsals a place to be. Loads of things to learn there too.

    Hope this helps [:)]



  • I Agree 100% with what Alexis said.

  • Thanks again for all the advice. Now I am all clear about the direction I need to take.

    I have booked my first lesson with a studio Producer (orchestral percussion basics) and I am searching for a music theory teacher right now, so I can learn about harmony and counterpoint. It seems that I will need to start off at grade 1. Luckily I have a yamaha clavinova so I can practice on that. 

    I very much appreciate the time everyone has taken to help me make a decision.


  • Thanks Alexis, I think you have just sold the idea to me!


  •  You're welcome !

    Glad I could help [:)]

    All the best with your studies, I'm sure you will find it to be a wise decision in a middle to long term.

    I happen to play and teach the classical percussion myself, therefore am very familiar with orchestral and contemporary repertoire, so should you have specific questions along the way you can't find the answer for, you're welcome to try and ask me. Please also note that I'm not always around, and I happen to have little to no time more often that I'd like, so don't be offended if by any chance I didn't come back to you immediatly [:P]



  • Here's a good resource for the interweb.

    And like my previous reply to your other thread, get a piano / theory teacher. Try a couple of 'em, find somebody who is on the same page as you. When I first started writing I could only read notation rythmically (I had studied percussion in my youth) but once I got a theory teacher she began to teach me the fundamentals of music theory, and she usually blew my mind at least once during each lesson.

    Also, buy sheet music of compositions that you like, and listen and try to follow along.


  • This is intrigiung to me. I have two disticnt approaches to this topic:

    First, I started with a similiar question for myself:

    How much "score reading" you need for orchestration. Yes, I started myself with no reading capabilities at all.

    Second, since I have a lot of business as a writer (books etc) I asked myself, if someone, like myself, would ak me:

    Can I do storytelling without writing skills?

    First thing that comes to my mind is "1001 arabic nights" . Would she ever dare to WRITE someting? Would not TELLING be the better part of the story?

    I would say that the same is valid for scoring:

    If you could make yourself HEAR and TELLING, the value of your story, or song, would be the proving point.

    But, (thinking in termsf of TELLING) would anyone mentioned Sherezade if no one has ever WRITTEN DOWN the story?

    So, who is the artist? The one capable of TELLING or the one capable of WRITING?

    Too old for Rock n Roll. Too young for 9th symphonies. Wagner Lover, IRCAM Alumni. Double Bass player starting in low Es. I am where noise is music.
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    @Holgmeister said:

    So, who is the artist? The one capable of TELLING or the one capable of WRITING?

    I think that's a false dichotomy; it's not either/or, because story-telling and writing are essentially orthogonal skills.

    For example, thinking back to the science fiction I read in my youth: I think Harlan Ellison and Stanislaw Lem are wonderful writers but pretty ropey story-tellers, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke were great story-tellers but couldn't write a shopping list between them, and Kurt Vonnegut and Alfred Bester had a decent balance of both skills.

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    @kingjamesuk said:

    Any suggestions will be very appreciated.

    Just to chime in here; I don't know how much time and money to have to dedicate to learning, but if you can afford it, I cannot recommend the Open University course  A214: Understanding Music highly enough. It blasts you from scratch to harmonizing Bach chorales in nine months, teaching you (amongst many other things) how to read orchestral scores along the way. The residential summer school was worth the price by itself, and it's definitely one of the best academic courses I've ever taken. 

    Although it starts from scratch, it's not just for musical beginners; many of the students on the course in my year were professional musicians who simply felt that they were missing some basic underpinnings to their conceptual grasp of what music was about.  If anything, they were able to get more out of the course because they knew a lot of the bigger picture already because of their experience.

  • Many thanks Alexis. No doubt I will be in touch in the near future.


  • Wow! That site has really got me started BW. I am racing through it. It's so basic and easy to follow. This is a brilliant introduction for an absolute beginner. I am shocked at how logical and 'graspable' music reading is - well at this early stage anyway.

    I wonder why I have avoided it for all these years?

    Already questions that I have asked my-self are being answered for me i.e. phrases and Cadances. Anyway, I've gone back to the start and I'm memorising each lesson at a time.

    Writing purely honest and 'unlearned' music is great, but having real theoretical knowledge must allow a persons' talent to evolve tenfold. Thanks BW.


  • No problem. Music notation is just another language (and easy to learn when compared to English!), and it really just takes some time to get proficient at it. A good way to think about it is, right now as you are reading this, you're reading each word, and not stopping at each letter. Each of these words are so familiar in your mind that you don't need to R-E-A-D L-I-K-E T-H-I-S. The same goes for music. It's just a bunch of lines and dots just like what you are reading now! At first you'll have to say "Good Boys Do Fine Always" and eventually you'll go GBDFA, and then you'll just know that's a G, that's an A, etc.


  • That does look good fcw. I am gonna request some info on that course shortly. Thanks for the info. The cost seems reasonable too.


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    @fcw said:

    [...] I think Harlan Ellison and Stanislaw Lem are wonderful writers but pretty ropey story-tellers [...]
    You DARE calling Lem "ropey" on these pages!!!!


    /Dietz - Vienna Symphonic Library