Whether you’re composing for real orchestrations, scoring films or games, teaching, or just learning more about how the orchestra works, there’s never a time when you stop learning about orchestration. That’s why a new free, online version of a classic Russian orchestration guide, complete with new interactive examples, is good news.

Sample designers Garritan Library, the folks behind the popular orchestral library Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO), have begun releasing portions of their free guide to orchestration (see my previous story). The full text and examples are straight out of the classic Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration text, the landmark guide to orchestration that has taught many master composers. The Rimsky-Korsakov is a must-read for composers, but it’s still one perspective and hardly perfect, so it’s even better to discover the text has been fully annotated in this version.

The result is a community-driven guide to orchestration that’s really unlike anything I’ve seen before. The whole course is designed for self-study, with plenty of examples and illustrations. The professors who edited and annotated the text are discussing the results, turning the Garritan forums into a kind of interactive classroom. When the whole set of lessons are done, they’re even holding an orchestration contest. (Now that’s something I never got in my orchestration classes — not just grades, but genuine competition.)

The examples have been fully rendered in Garritan Personal Orchestra, so the project also shows what a virtuostic GPO orchestrator can do. It’s admittedly not quite the same as healing the excerpts played on a real orchestra, which is potentially problematic for someone learning orchestration. But it’s still interesting to follow the scores interactively, and if you’re a composer trying to learn GPO orchestration so you can make better demo recordings so you can convince real orchestras to play your scores, don’t miss the power tips interspersed with the lessons. (And, hey, the GPO sounds are good enough for U2!) The people on the GPO forums really know this product inside and out, including how to make it work with notation software.

It’s exciting to see something new in music learning. The first four lessons are out now, with many more coming. I’ll keep you posted — now, go practice so you can win the orchestration contest!

Principles of Orchestration Online

Garritan update: Gary Garritan reports that there are more products in the pipeline, if you’re waiting on new Garritan libraries like the first-ever Steinway-authorized piano. He says he’s just waiting on the 2.0 release of Kontakt Player. Stay tuned here.