Scoring Chords

The overtone series has traditionally been used as a model for spacing and doubling in voicing chords, thus providing a balanced and stable sonority. The upper partials appear in close position, with more distance between the lower tones. Of the first sixteen partials, five are roots, three are fifths, and two are thirds. Unless a unique, striking sonority is desired, avoid top-heavy or bottom-heavy chords, and place the majority of the instruments in the middle range.  Be certain to provide sufficient weight on the third of each chord to avoid the hollow sound that results from emphasis on octaves and fifths.

Fig. 7.1 Scoring chords for orchestra: (a) moderate, (b) bright, (c) dark


Consider the sound space as though it were a landscape. There should be peaks and valleys, analogous to pitches in the extreme upper and lower ranges. When there are several instruments in the higher range, an anchor should be provided with a strong low bass to avoid a brittle sound. Differentiate the foreground and background by varied tone colors, dynamics, and degrees of intensity. A good orchestration creates dimensions in the sound space in a manner that enhances the musical ideas presented.