Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Music Theory- Quartal and Quintal Harmonies


QUESTION: Hello there,

    I came across this site and saw your name and was considering asking you a question or two about Orchestration. I'm a young composer that plays both classical and jazz oriented music and want to eventually, well do what you did from what your biography stated or write music for film/television. I was wondering, what are some general tips for writing music for orchestras and the process in which I should continue my studies as a composer? As with this, what software would be recommended to acquire for my home studio? Thank you for your time.


Joshua N. Kattner

ANSWER: Hi Joshua:

Writing for orchestra ( or any combination of studio /jazz ensemble plus strings /horns /and woodwind doubles ) first of all  you will  requres a good idiomatic lnowledge  of many musical styles you will be asked to write in both academically and commercially. Three core texts you should absorb and have it hand are:

Complete Arranger ( Sammy Nestico ) . . . commercial and jazz orchestration.
The Contemporary Arranger ( Don Sebesky ) ..similiar to Nestico in content -be sure and get the second updated edition.
Orchestration ( Sam Adler ) ...the best academic text on the market. Be sure and get the companion workbook as well.

Second, writing for live ensembles is NOT similar to writing for sequencers and samplers - regardless of the quality of the sample libraries!
DAW arrangments don't take into consideration factors like:

breathing for wind players
changes in timbre  between dynamic levels  and registers..
relative strengths of the various instrumental families ..
idiomat writing for instrumental families ,bowing, and playing styles.

These issues can only be addressed by hearing your scores played back by HUMANS regardless of the method you use initially to score them.
I use Finale for composing and orchestration and their internal sound banks are more than sufficient for any "polaroids" or "roughs" I need to do.I used to use sequencers for writing pop and hip hop charts back in the 80s /90s, but I still preferred to write them out and have a
cybermusic programmer realize the scores for me.

Obviously,  in the current market the first area you're expected to master is DAW production since 90% of todays TV work is done in that manner.  Qquestions about high end gearand samples are best answered by someone well versed in this type of production. ( All I know is whatever hi end stuff you want, it'll cost some serious money! )

Having said that, I've had good results with East /West strings and Broadway Horns in a ProTools environment.

good luck with your career!

Phil Kelly

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hello there, again,

    Thank you for answering my question about orchestration and the needed books to study to further my needed studies in composition and orchestration! I had one other question that is on my mind and that deals with my current jazz studies. I've been studying quartal and quintal harmonies for quite some time now and I was wondering if you had any tips on the application of these chords, and if so are there any new exercises I could practice to further my studies? I know about superimposition and the qualities of differentiating bass harmonies (ie. without root, 3rd and 7th harmonies, ect.) and I know about the certain implications that can be used when finding 9th, 11th (sus), and 13th's. Thanks again for your much appreciated time!


Joshua N. Kattner

Hi Joshua:

Your question regarding quartal voicings got a little vague towards the end with all the mention of the extended chords, but I'll try and
address the initial question:

pure quartal voicings ( perfect fourths - C D G speeled down and their inversion which consist of a combined fourth ,fifth, and major second
D G G and G D C  )Are quite prevalent in modal settings where they often are employed move freely in a planing fasion over a pedal or ostinato of some sort.

other applications involve the use of  "modified " quatal formations:

augmented fourths ( tritones ) plus a perfect fourth - i.e: ( speeling down: A E Bb ) this "shell voicing" implies both a C dominant 13 and a
Gb sharp 9 chord to which other extension tones be added ( i.e Gb-Db ) and resolved ( G- C ). this same three note shell voicing when moved down chromatically forms the basis of a set of cycle of fifth changes ( again with a large choice of added tones moving in cyclical fashoin )

Another common parallel voicing is a stack of perfect fourths with a major third on top ( spelled down : E C G D A  ...D Bb F C G etc. ) This structure moves easily in a parallel planing motion-or  to other similar pitch collections quite easily .

I hope all this is clear - I wish I had the capability to attach notated examples of these voicings to make it easier )

suffice to say, I personally tend to use mixed quartal voicings quite often - especially in woodwinds and strings - I like the open quality of these voicings which allow the overtones to come through much more than traditional triadic "stacked donut" voicings which tend to
sound a bit "cheesy" to my ear  :)

I hope you find some of this useful.

BTW: Two more book sugesstions:

Twentieth Century Harmony -Persechetti
Modern Harmonic Voicings -Berklee Press.

Good Luck !

Phil Kelly  

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Phil Kelly


I`m a semi-retired professional music arranger with over thirty five years in all phases of the commercial music production business. I can try to answer questions regarding music arranging, theory, orchestration , and/or composition for most acoustic ensembles .( jazz band or orchestral ) I can try to offer suggestions about studio music recording procedures and some basic MIDI applications , too. In the course of my career I`ve worked with such artists as Doc Severinsen and the old Tonight Show Band, Bill Watrous, Buddy Greco, John Gary, Mel Torme, Julius LaRosa, as well as the Pop programs of the Fort Worth, Dallas, North Carolina, and Houston Symphonies, as well as library music material for ABC, ESPN, and NFL Films.

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