How to Write & Arrange Pieces for a Full Beginner Orchestra

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This guide gives you a format to write/arrange effective pieces for your beginner orchestras!

Writing/arranging pieces for your full beginner orchestra is trickier than you might think! Beginner musicians are defined by the limitations in their technical and theoretical understandings and most beginner groups have players with a wide variety of skill levels. Some students choose to learn an instrument, whilst others are pushed into it. Some students will practise lots, whilst others will barely pick up their instrument during the week. Some students will be passionate about music, whilst others will struggle with motivation.

One of the most difficult aspects of being an orchestra director can often be choosing the music. There is plenty of music on websites of the major publishers for intermediate and advanced groups, but very little quality stuff for our beginners! Often the music is either too easy or too hard. Sometimes the key, rhythms, techniques, range and overall feel is not appropriate. Sometimes the music comes from a method book that just feels super ‘beginner-y’!

So, at Beginner Orchestra, we want to encourage music educators to write and arrange their own pieces that are in line with the pedagogical concepts that we use every day in class:

1. Differentiation
2. Engagement
3. Quality

We want to have our beginners engage with music that is appropriate for them, so that’s why our whole collection of pieces is based on these 3 ideas above.

Differentiation
We write an ‘easy’ part for most instruments. This can be used as a stepping stone towards a main part, but sits nicely in the overall arrangement. We try to steer clear of the idea that Violin 1 is “better” than Violin 2 (because in a pro orchestra it just isn’t the case - I love Violin 2 parts!), so we use the terms Easy, Intermediate and Advanced instead.

Engagement
We write original pieces at Beginner Orchestra so that students can take ownership of the stories and ideas within the pieces. They can make connections between the musical themes and the titles of the pieces. This shows students that their pieces are special and uniquely written for them. Of course, it’s worth dropping in some arrangements of more popular numbers to help engage students, but a mix of familiar and fresh can help to inspire students with a diversity of musical ideas and contexts outside of their immediate world.

Quality
We all know that playing in an orchestra is a special and profound experience! Collaboration, spatial awareness, peripheral vision, internal pulse and fine pitch recognition are just some of the high level skills that are developed by beginner orchestra players. With this in mind, our pieces must be of high quality! If we want intermediate and high level players in our schools, we have to ensure that the beginners are given quality stuff to play.

Soooooo, check out the framework that we use for our full orchestra pieces below. Feel free to use this framework as you write/arrange your own stuff. Check out our
free piece here so you can see it all in action or have a look through the website at all of our pieces - each of them has a score preview that you can check out.

Happy composing/arranging!

(Oh yes, and we usually go with the key of G major to cater for both winds and strings!)

Instrument

Range

ROLE

Flute

G (2nd space) and up two octaves.

Often takes the melody. Rhythms can be more complex. Wide range. Include slurs for phrasing.

Easy Flute

Centred around B A and G on the staff. Can go down to E or above to G above the staff.

Simple rhythms, plenty of space for breathing, accompanying role, with some melodic passages if well spaced. Small jumps between notes. Can include slurs for phrasing.

Clarinet

Below the staff down to G and up to A (before the break).

Can take melodic/counter-melodic passages, more complex rhythms. Include slurs.

Easy Clarinet

G Below the staff and up to D below or E on the staff.

Simple rhythms, accompanying role, small jumps between notes.

Alto Sax

G Major on the staff, starting from G second line.

Simple rhythms and some melodic passages.

Trumpet

Middle C to C on the staff. Can also play B/Bb under.

Melodic passages and more complex rhythms.

Easy Trumpet

Middle C to G on the staff.

Simple rhythms and accompanying role. No melodies or short melodic passages if so.

Trombone

(Bass clef) Bb on the staff up to Bb above the staff. Strong around D and above.

Avoid B natural staff (7th position) and large jumps that require difficult position changes.

Percussion

A wide variety of parts for differentiation based on quarter/eighth notes. Usually always a drum kit part.

Semi-quavers for more advanced players, however, mainly focused on quarter/eighth note patterns.

Piano

A simple piano part that may be played by a teacher to accompany the orchestra, or by a more competent student.

Strong outline of the chord structure and supporting various melodies within the ensemble.

Advanced Violin

More advanced with potential shifts to third position.

Advanced beginners, often taking the melody with syncopation or advanced rhythmic phrases. Include slurs, bowing, fingers.

Intermediate Violin

1st, 2nd and 3rd finger.

Intermediate beginners, simple passages with counter melodies or interesting harmonic role. Include slurs, bowing, fingers.

Easy Violin

Open strings and 1st finger (sometimes 2nd finger).

New beginners, simple rhythms with space to change strings. Include slurs, bowing, fingers.

Viola

1st, 2nd and 3rd finger - similar part to the Intermediate violin.

Simple passages with counter melodies or interesting harmonic role, doubling the easy or intermediate violin part.. Include slurs, bowing, fingers.

Cello

All strings, with 1st, 3rd and 4th fingers, plus possible shifts to second position.

Mainly playing the bass part, with some melodic passages. Include slurs and bowing.

Easy Cello

Open strings and 1st finger (sometimes 3rd finger).

Simplified bass part.

Double Bass/Electric Bass

Usually first position only.

Simple root notes and or I-V movements to help provide a solid foundation.

We find this guide super useful when composing pieces for Beginner Orchestra. We hope you do too!

If you are keen on writing your own pieces, but just not sure where to start (or if like most of us you just don't have the time!), then why not check out some of the pieces on our site to get you started?! Our pieces are ready-to-go using the format above. We have a large catalogue of pieces that are split into 3 beginner levels to help you plan your programme in line with how your musicians will develop throughout the year.

The pieces come as completely reproducible PDF's for your school, with high quality digital guide tracks for your students to play-a-long with. They will be a wonderful starting point for you to help you get some ideas on how to get your own pieces written and ready.

Want this guide as a PDF? Drop us your details below and we'll send it straight to you:


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