Orchestration is the practice of writing or adapting music for an orchestra or any other musical ensemble such as a concert band according to The America Film Market’s (AFM) Basic Theatrical Motion Picture Agreement (AFM 2002b) and Basic Television Film Agreement (AFM 2002a). It is also the process of assigning a composition that is harmonically, melodically, and rhythmically complete. This process involves all the instruments that are part of a musical ensemble. Arranging represents any alteration of or addition to the structure of a composition.

Modern Orchestration

Modern orchestration has a lot to do with the way that the musician makes sense of something that the music producer wrote with the help of samples. Eventually, these samples translate into a real orchestra environment. In general, modern orchestration involves choosing, translating, and transcribing a MIDI file and then refining its content. If the programming is complete, orchestration usually requires a transcription process. Musical education helps in film-score orchestration, although it is not a requirement.

Orchestration and the Film Industry

Although the existing relationship between orchestrating, composing, and arranging is complex, there are general standards regarding the film industry. Transcription, for instance, is a fundamental part of the process. Orchestration and arrangement are closely related but have different tasks. They also have the same level of importance. However, in some cases, the greater compositional element of arrangement might place it above orchestration.

You have to arrange music before it’s orchestrated. This enables an alternative reading of arrangement as a critical step for orchestration.

The Orchestrator

The orchestrator must write the music pieces for the ensemble to perform it. This figure has to arrange and orchestrate these musical pieces—and the process might vary. Grosso modo, the orchestrator’s job is to take and refine the single-line music written by the composer. After this part of the process is complete, s/he must adapt the pieces of music for each member of the orchestra to perform. 

Some composers orchestrate their own scores without using another orchestrator. Others offer specific information about how they want their scores accomplished. In addition, they can suggest the way that each instrument should perform and which notes each member needs to use. When this happens, the composer only organizes the music on different sheets of paper. But he doesn’t add a unique spark to the ensemble (as the orchestrator would).

Some other composers provide less information and let the orchestrators add their own creativity. The orchestrator must make sure that each instrument performs the music as written. In many cases, it is quite impossible for the composer to complete all the required tasks within a specific time frame. Nowadays, many orchestrators work with a specific composer, which translates into a very rich connection.

Orchestration: Conclusion

As a final note, once the orchestration process is complete and the sheet music is printed, the performance is ready to start.