If you’re a beginner looking to delve into the world of orchestration or a seasoned professional looking to complete your collection of orchestration reference textbooks, here are my top five orchestration textbooks that you should own.
The Study of Orchestration — Samuel Adler
Samuel Adler’s The Study of Orchestration is the perfect book for both the beginner and the expert. The book covers all western modern symphonic instruments, their tone color and ranges, special technique notations, and even how they blend with other instruments. The book also covers instruments’ inherent flaws and how to deal with that when orchestrating.
While The Study of Orchestration does not come with companion CDs, they can be purchased separately. I highly recommend these CDs for the best experience when going through this book.
Orchestration — Walter Piston
Walter Piston’s Orchestration is perhaps the most concise and focused book on the topic of orchestration. While this book doesn’t go into extreme detail, it offers a broad overview of different orchestral instruments and their roles in classical orchestration technique.
Orchestration is a great book for a beginner looking to get their feet wet. This book consists of two major sections. The first section is an overview of instruments and their capabilities, while the second section consists of score examples and analysis.
Principles of Orchestration — Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration is a great book for more advanced orchestrators, as you won’t find too much information on instrument basics. It assumes you know the basics of orchestrations. What Principles of Orchestration focuses on are advanced topics including tonal resonance, doublings, tutti effects, and voice and orchestra integration.
Readers of Principles of Orchestration should be very familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov’s work, as all the orchestration examples in the book are from his personal compositions.
Orchestration — Cecil Forsyth
Cecil Forsyth’s Orchestration is a great choice for orchestrators who want to get a historical understanding of the instruments he or she is writing for. Compared to the more clinical style of other orchestration textbooks, this one takes a much more livelier and fun approach making for a much easier read.
While some people are concerned with the age of the text (it hasn’t been updated since 1935), the truth is that almost all of the concepts in Orchestration still hold true today. The examples may lack a more modern perspective, but the information is still perfectly valid.
Essential Dictionary of Orchestration
The Essential Dictionary of Orchestration is the perfect book for teaching orchestration in a classroom setting. It includes essential details of over 150 instruments, and some scoring tips. While this book is not an in-depth orchestration guide, it excels at being a quick reference resource for practical orchestration information.