With the Acquisition of the Spectrotone Chart, Alexander Publishing Changes the Game for Learning Orchestration

Film Music Magazine • January 27, 2010

The Spectrotone Chart™, created by four-time Academy Award® nominee Arthur Lange, and former head of the MGM Music Department, has been taken over and revised by Alexander Publishing. With its inclusion in Alexander Publishing’s Professional Orchestration™ Home Study Series, the company offers the first complete orchestration series to come out of the Hollywood scoring stages which combines learning orchestration with compositional insights, MIDI mock-up skills, and now recording and mixing. The Professional Orchestration series of books has been endorsed by winners of the Academy®, Grammy®, Emmy®, BAFTA®, and G.A.N.G. Awards. The instrumentation notes in Volume 1 were edited by leading film session players. “The end result of this training is that someone can learn the steps for writing and producing their own music to 21st Century standards with learning materials logically organized in one place,” explained CEO Peter Alexander, a Berklee graduate.

Spectrotone Chart Background
Arthur Lange was a highly successful self-taught composer. Besides songwriting for Tin Pan Alley, Lange fronted a very successful jazz band, and recorded extensively for Cameo Records in the 1920s. Lange was so successful with his band that he sold it to another bandleader, Roger Wolfe Kahn.

Lange wrote many stock orchestrations during this period and in 1926, wrote Arranging For the Modern Dance Orchestra. According to jazz trumpeter and historian, Richard Sudhalter, author of Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945, Lange’s book was the, “arranger’s bible.”

Drawing on this extensive practical background in writing and recording, Lange created the Spectrotone Chart which displays an individual instrument’s range broken down by colors demonstrating intensity and timbre change by specific pitch and range. The chart is organized by woodwinds, saxes, horns, brass, percussion, harp and chimes, and strings. At a glance, an arranger, composer or orchestrator can use the chart to work out specific instrumental combinations within an instrument’s family, and by combining instruments. At the bottom of the chart is a piano keyboard with keys numbered 1 to 88. Instrumental color breaks are coordinated by specific pitch using the numbered keyboard.

Alexander Publishing’s revision to the Spectrotone Chart was three-fold. First, it was redrafted to be printed on a standard 18 x 24 poster printer found at many quick printers. Second, the chart was relabeled for faster implementation. And finally, Hz frequencies were added below the piano keyboard to further its use in recording and mixing.

Application to Learning Orchestration
In the Professional Orchestration home study bundles, learners get the 800-page Professional Orchestration Volume 1 (Solo Instruments and Instrumentation Notes), an extensive downloadable MP3 audio package, the 2010 PDF Professional Mentor workbook, the Spectrotone Chart (download) itself, and as a free gift from the Vienna Symphonic Library and composer Jay Bacal, 13 downloadable MP3s and MIDI files demonstrating MIDI mock-up techniques for each major orchestral instrument. Also included are starting MP3 audio lectures describing how to use the materials.

With the Professional Mentor is the new Lesson Planner -> Production Process sheet which is the organizational tool used to teach Learner’s the steps to writing and producing their own music.

The Eight Keys to Learning Professional Orchestration which is applied to learning how to analyze weekly an average of 4-6 full page/full score excerpts from Professional Orchestration Volume 1. The Spectrotone Chart is then applied to learning the coloristic concepts behind the example analyzed. Learners are then encouraged to create basic MIDI mock-ups of the examples analyzed.

Spectrotone Range Sheets, Learners record the instrument being studied that week across its range. Next comes an advanced recording exercise of recording matching colors and getting them to blend as they would sound in live performance. Combinations recorded include unison, octaves, light harmony and 3-part harmony or better. “So here you learn advanced orchestration by learning these beginning combinations, and then you begin building your recording skills by learning how to record and mix them,” said Alexander.

For each instrument being studied, Learners self-study Jay Bacal’s Vienna Instruments MIDI mock-up to learn techniques specific to each instrument. One example for Flute is Bacal’s electronic realization of Debussy’s Syrinx. [Click here to listen]

Next, the Learner writes a 2-minute solo composition based on a poem specifically selected for that instrument. Applying the principles learned, a MIDI mock-up of their work is created. “The composition is the test,” explained Alexander.

After completing the first 13 assignments instrument-by-instrument, Learners have begun to develop the skills needed for creating a full orchestral MIDI mock-up, and they have a starting demo reel.

Game Changing
Alexander Publishing says its approach is radically different from how orchestration is normally learned because the approach is a methodical, well organized approach, compared to how many arranger/composers learn orchestration on the street with a trial and success approach. With the Professional Orchestration series of books, the material is organized on a problem/solution basis to help composers avoid extensive searching to discover what they’re hearing in their musical imagination.

To further support their training approach to orchestration and recording, Alexander Publishing is revising the Hit Sound Recording Course by creating a special Virtual Edition of it. Available as downloadable media, the first wave of lessons will be available First Quarter 2010 and can be purchased individually. The Spectrotone Chart is also available as a separate downloadable item.

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