Songwriting Techniques 7: Instrumentation and Orchestration

In the latest article from the Songwriting Techniques series we will be looking at ‘Instrumentation and Orchestration’. Before we move on to this weeks 5 points to consider lets clarify the difference between instrumentation and orchestration.

Instrumentation is the term used to describe which instruments are used in a track. This could be a list of the instruments used, or they may be grouped into common ensembles such as ‘string quartet’ and ‘rock band’.

Orchestration is the term used to describe where each instrument or group of instruments is used in a track. For example, the piano may be played throughout the duration of the track, with strings and guitar only added during the chorus sections. Varying the orchestration throughout a piece gives the music a shape, keeping it interesting for the listener.

1. If you have written an idea on one instrument, why not try playing it on another instrument? That guitar riff you just wrote might sound epic on the piano!

2. To create a piece of music that keeps building up gradually try starting a song with a single instrument, then add a new one for each section or loop (eg. every 16 bars). This technique is common in post-rock instrumental music, here is an example by Mogwai:

3. The chorus is usually the most important part of a song, particularly when writing a pop song. To draw focus and attention to the chorus, try having more instruments playing in this section in comparison to the other sections of the song.

4. Many musicians have argued that a good song, no matter how complex, can be stripped down to just a couple of instruments such as acoustic guitar and melody and still sound powerful. This technique works particularly well with rock and pop bands. Here is an acoustic performance by Noel Gallagher of the classic Oasis track Supersonic.

5. Leave space in your tracks and arrangements, minimal instrumentation and orchestration can be just as powerful as complex layers.