When I'm done with my orchestration and look over the final score, I'm sometimes surprised how complex the final product looks since every step on the way is fairly simple. It serves as a great reminder of why sketching is such an important part of my process, Having that basic framework of my piece already done in sketch form serves as a safety net, enabling me to freely experiment with the orchestration/arrangement without worrying about getting lost.
I've mentioned this before but if you're having trouble with your orchestrations, go back and make sure that your piece works on the basic level of just melody/harmony/rhythm.
Here's my sketch:
As you can see it's very basic, and that's sort of the point. It's also much easier getting started writing when you know that you're not really going for a huge finished product yet. You're just trying some things out, no big deal, and before you know it you'll have something to build on. Getting that momentum going is a big part of composing for me. As a recovering perfectionist, it's a recipe for disaster to go for the details from square one.
Here's what one of my favorite composers, Alan Silvestri, had to say about it:
If you’re a painter and you make a choice as to the medium you’re going to work in, after you’ve decided the subject, that wipes out tremendous numbers of possibilities. Same thing in music. The moment you begin, every time you make a choice, you cancel a tremendous number of other possibilities. So then, the creative process as I experience it becomes this kind of following along and I think when people get bogged down in trying to do too much too quickly and I’ve actually tried to short-circuit my process, what’s come to be my process.
When I see a scene and I’m actually going to begin to write, I work on incredibly sketchy pass. The mission, the goal, the aim of that particular stage of the process is to get a very, very overall view of the music. I find that if I try intentionally to be more specific than this threshold that I’ve come to discover for myself, it cuts the energy off and I’m stopped and then I have nothing, because then I’m not doing the task at hand. The task at hand is to develop the overall view. Once that’s there, then a tremendous number of possibilities have just been removed, a tremendous number of sandtraps have just been removed from the course. They’re not there anymore, I don’t have to worry about that anymore. Now I have this here and now within that what I’ve experienced is that it’s almost as thought a different part of my brain is called upon to do these different aspects of this.
It’s more difficult for me, always, to derive that first very vague version of the music. The first thing I work on is a four-line sketch. Sometimes I may only write one line, it’s just very vague. But that’s always the most taxing. That’s what I feel is the essential creative part of my job. Once that’s done, I feel that I can unplug that part of my brain and then I plug in another part that starts to elaborate and chisel and highlight and bring this into some kind of relief and make it happen. It is far less painful, for lack of a better word, than this original. And it stands to reason, in a sense that, the first process is something coming from nothing. There’s blank paper — there’s nothing there. I have to come forth. Once you come forth with something, it is no longer something from nothing. There is something there.
The very fact that it’s there now has all of its own life. It’s got things that it can do, it has things it can’t do. I mean if I’ve established key relationships, those are there, they will be adhered to. I don’t have to worry about all the other keys now — they’re gone. It’s just from here to here to here — whatever it is, harmonies, a melody — that becomes the law and it’s not every other melody that could be written I have to be taxing my brain with. That choice has been made. It’s done. Not that you won’t refine it and do things, but something exists now, so it’s a whole different energy to work on something that exists, I guess is what I’m saying, as it is to work on something that doesn’t exist.