It’s Symphony Time! Developing and Working with the Young Full Orchestra

Why create a full orchestra?

  • Play music of the world’s greatest composers
  • Play music to sound as the composer intended (most of the time)
  • The most well-known classical music ensemble
  • Collaboration among band & orchestra
  • Create a unique experience
  • Challenge students

When should I start?

  • NOT in the first year! Anytime after…
  • Generally in the 3rd year is adequate
  • Some repertoire geared at 2nd year players
  • Rehearse wind & strings separately, then combine

Working with your School’s band director

  • Collaborative, collegial environment
  • Join forces
  • Share strengths, learn from each other
  • Sectionals
  • Ask him/her to conduct the ensemble too
  • Switch roles for a day!

Benefits to the band program

  • Increased musicianship for those in the ensemble
  • Band students learn to play in sharp keys!
  • increased self-confidence
  • new awareness of balance, blend, and tone
  • Benefits for the band students who aren’t participating


  • During the school day
  • Top orchestra and band meet at same time
  • Before school
  • After school or evening rehearsals
  • Should be regularly scheduled, because it takes time to develop


  • If necessary, “sell” it to your administration.
  • Get their full support
  • Will need to purchase additional music, instruments, etc.
  • Take both wind & string students to a symphony concert

Warm-Up and Tuning

  • Tune strings first
  • Wind instruments are preparing reeds, putting instruments together
  • Be sure to tune wind/brass players when they are warm!
  • Allow winds to get used to tuning A440, but also have them tune to the pitches they are accustomed to
  • Scale based on literature, helps tune around a base pitch, key familiarity


  • Being out of tune is often mistaken for bad tone
  • Bad tone quality is impossible to tune
  • Good warm-ups that focus on sound are important
  • Tetrachords or 5 note patterns, ascending and descending
  • Address the notes less familiar with students
  • Use the strength of each instrument to reinforce each other


  • Must have:
    • Knowledge of all notes & fingerings
    • Good tone & intonation
    • Varied use of bow – the ability to alter tone colors, attacks, use all parts of the bow, and shape sound

Wind & Brass

  • Instrument transpositions. Must explain “why is it like this??”
  • Must explain the differences to the students
  • Be empathetic and kind!
  • Compare/contrast use of the bow and air use
  • Articulation, Movement, etc.
  • Be sure sound is supported with fast, warm air


  • Must be sensitive to the music, explain the differences from band percussion
  • Dynamic markings
  • Should generally play different than in concert band (perhaps softer, perhaps louder, depending on how percussionists were taugut)
  • Timpani are a must!
  • Be particular in regards to mallet type, area of the drum head struck, etc.  These tone colors make a huge impact on the overall sound.

What, No Bassoons?

  • Doubling wind parts is okay – this isn’t the NY Philharmonic!
  • Be flexible and creative
  • Re-orchestrate – add parts in when others are resting
  • Substitute missing instruments
  • Bass clarinets
  • Saxophones on horn parts
  • More lower sounding instruments will make the group sound more full

Score/Rehearsal Preparations

  • Good score prep a must, particularly with the new instruments
  • Write in concert pitches / analysis where necessary. Very helpful and makes you more efficient.

Repertoire selection

  • Finding the right balance of difficulty levels for wind & strings
  • Down time
  • Musically and educationally worthwhile
  • Technical issues
  • Orchestration/doublings

Resources to find Repertoire

  • Lucks Music
    • Offers transposed parts for some standard repertoire
    • Has organized lists of full orchestra music
  • Check state lists (OH, FL, GA, TX) – lots of “standards”
  • Reference recordings/scores are sometimes more difficult to find

Full Orchestra Gems!

  • Michael Allen Warm-ups for Full Orchestra (Hal Leonard)
  • Arrangements by Sandra Dackow
  • Alfred “First Philharmonic” series
  • “Old” arrangements (like Isaac, Alshin, Matesky, etc.)
  • Look at smaller publishers for new pieces


  • Full orchestra is awesome!!
  • Great benefit to all students, music department, and school
  • Allows everyone to work as a team for a common cause
  • Provides performer & audience appeal