Arranging by Kenny Graham

Many books in as many languages have been written on the subject of orchestration – yet it is practically impossible to find a single book that will give you all that you need to know before you sit down to write your first score. This is understandable when you realise that everybody has an individual style of orchestration and therefore if a book is written on the subject it will naturally be biased toward the style of the individual writing it.

Obviously, the thing to do is to read as many books on the subject as possible and take from each what is good to develop your own style of orchestration. Very well, you say – but how do I know what my own style will be? How do I decide what to study and what to omit?

If you ask these questions at all I would advise you to stick to whatever you were doing before you had the idea that you wanted to write orchestrations. You must first have the ideas in your mind’s ear. That is to say you must have some idea how you want the group of musicians to sound.


This is important. There is not a single book written that can give you an original style of writing. The books can only tell you how to put the ideas you have got into practice.

So I must assume that ou want to orchestrate in a particular way and that you have the ideas. Now you want to put these ideas into practice. What books do you go out and beg, borrow – or perhaps even steal?

To help you eliminate some of the many books on the market I have asked several of my colleagues what books they have found on their shelves and have found useful. Tubby Hayes goes for the Henry Mancini Method. This also includes a recording of the sounds of the scoring that appear in the text. It is quite expensive and I haven’t been through it myself. But I am assured that it is well worth the money.

To my mind this seems an excellent method because the whole thing about orchestration is the transferring of ideas to paper so that musicians can turn the written notes into audible sounds. Obviously the sooner you get used to seeing sounds written down the better.

Jimmy Deuchar finds The Walter Piston book on orchestration a ‘must’ as does Don Banks. Both Jummy and Don have found this book a help in the past and, indeed, in the present as a reference book.

Eddie Harvey suggests the following books : “Harmony” by Walter Piston, “Form in Brief” by Lovelock, “The Professional Arranger” by Russ Garcia and “Orchestration” by Forsythe. All these he has found a help in this study of putting sounds to paper.

My own choice includes the Piston books – two volumes of ‘The Orchestra’ by Prout, “Instrumentation And Arranging For the Radio and Dance Orchestra” by Norman Ellis (this book is a little dated in style but includes the ranges of all instruments and slide positions for trombone, etc.), “Orchestration For The Theatre” by Francis M. Collinson and “Instrumentation” by Prout.

All these books have told me many things that I haven’t needed to know. As yet, anyway. It is possible for the ophicleide to make a come-back, I suppose.

So there you go: a great list of books that just a few arrangers have found useful in learning their craft. All of them, however, have to admit (myself included) that it doesn’t matter how many books you have and study – there is nothing to beat having a bash and seeing how it turns out. If it sounds as you heard it in your mind’s ear when musicians play the notes you have written, you are well on the way to winning. If it sounds nothing like you expected, don’t be too disheartened. Try again and again and, if necessary, still again. If it was all easy going it wouldn’t be worth doing in the first place.

So remember – by all means study, take lessons, ask questions, have a go – but keep going until you can put down your ideas onto paper. And then still keep going. You’ve still got more to learn.

Show me the man who knows it all and I’ll show you a man who knows nothing.

Kenny Graham Crescendo August 1964

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