I have always found it challenging to work with a full orchestra composition. There are two challenges in particular:
Navigating around the music, maintaining one’s bearings. If you zoom the music to a size easy to work on a part, most of the other instruments are off-screen, so it is hard to maintain the context.
Similarly if you listen to a full score playback, it can be hard to hear the parts you have been working on to make sure they are accurate.
I am working on an orchestration of a piece that has full orchestra plus a gospel choir. I have evolved into a workflow that very elegantly solves both of these problems. A key to this solution is plenty of screen real estate. I have two monitors that are each about 30 inches, plus a third smaller monitor where I can stash VSTs, the mixer and other odds and ends.
The key to my workflow is to take advantage of Dorico’s brilliant ability to offer any number of layouts, and to keep them all in sync during playback.
I keep the full score open all the time on the monitor to my right. It is zoomed to the extreme so that I can see all instruments. I can’t read notes and certainly can’t edit at this zoom level. But I can see who is playing, which makes a huge difference. This window is always in galley mode. Moreover this window serves a powerful role in playback. See below.
On my central (main) monitor, I have 5 tabs open in this case. These tabs are custom scores for woodwinds, brass, strings, percussion and vocals. In galley mode, I can see all the instruments and edit very conveniently without any zooming. For this particular project, there is a rhythm section, so each of these custom scores includes the piano and electric bass part, complete with chord symbols.
A key part of this workflow is that I can quickly jump from one tab to another with no significant delay, and I never have to re-zoom in order to get instruments within view. If I am writing woodwind parts, I can glance at the full score to see what the strings are doing. I can’t read the string pitches from the full score, but I can see the rhythms more or less. It is really a very reassuring way to operate.
The real bonus that I didn’t expect is that this workflow gives me a choice between section-level playback and full orchestra playback. It is simply a matter of clicking the section-level scores or the full score. My typical mode of operation is to write a few bars and then play back the section to make sure all the pitches and rhythms are correct. At the section level, you can easily hear all the instruments (including the piano, bass and chord playback that I included in each custom score.) After I think I have a passage completed for e.g. the brass players, then I click on the full score to play back the full orchestration for that same passage. The brass custom score automatically scrolls along with the full score, so I can visually check the brass parts while hearing them in the context of the full orchestration.
I can’t really express how powerful this workflow is. You really have to experience it.
I’d welcome any other ideas or observations related to scoring for full orchestras and other complex scores.