Sunday, July 24, 2016

Handbook of Instrumentation

 Orchestration and instrumentation are two inter-related musical skills.  Orchestration is the art of combining and balancing instruments and voices in ensembles large and small.  Instrumentation concerns the capabilities of the individual music components that make up these ensembles.

Andrew Stiller's Handbook of Instrumentation is an outstanding reference book on this subject.  In this handbook he covers all the instruments employed today in the major instrumental families (woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings and keyboards).  He also devotes space to the voice, electronics and to early music instruments.

His introduction as well as passages throughout the book are devoted to the physics and acoustics of these musical forces.  He often explains how sound is generated by each instrumentalist.  One particularly enlightening passage is his discussion of the voice, where he addresses the various registers and timbres and the acoustic properties of vowels. 

A discussion of a given instrument will typically detail the entire instrument family.  For instance, he provides illustrations and explanation for seven members of the clarinet family (the Ab, Eb, Bb, alto, bass, contra-alto and contrabass clarinets).  For each member he provides its written range, an understanding of how loudly and softly it can be played, an explanation of its transposition.  He also gives a sense of the instruments availability - the Bb clarinet is ubiquitous, the bass clarinet is common and the Ab clarinet is rare.

The section on percussion contains a very wide array from instruments -- from those of a classical orchestra, to the trap set, Latin percussion and mallet percussion.  He also describes the effect of the various sticks and mallets used on these instruments.

Every section has gives the instrument's "performance characteristics," fingering and trill charts and related tools, techniques or specialized notation.  At the end of the discussion of every instrument there are also musical examples that highlight the instrument.

The information in this book is aimed primarily at the student or professional composer or arranger.  It also serves as a handy reference for instrumentalists (and librarians) because of the fingering and trill charts included for every instrument.

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