April 14, 2024
2 stave sketch-score

November 9, 2020
2 stave sketching is simply composing (or arranging) a “piano” version of what you will eventually orchestrate. Some writers call it a “sketch” or “sketch-score” others a “reduction” or even “expanded lead sheet”. I tend to use “sketch-score” or “reduction”.
My three primary comp. (composition) teachers all encouraged doing this if time (deadline) allowed. In my early days I did this religiously. As my work load and deadlines increased I often had to go straight into score for many jobs. Add to that technology developments etc. many jobs I have done went straight into score.
When I took on “Chosen” (over 30 pieces of music –songs/underscores) I had no preconceived idea of how I would approach it process-wise. I’m using the word “process” to mean how I go about getting things done – eventually into score. Defining that more – do I go straight into Finale score? Do I do a sketch-score first (2 stave) first? Do I go into my DAW then transcribe/extract into Finale later?
Due to what material I got from my client, I had to end up using a number of processes and a mixture of all. I did not use the job as an “opportunity” to experiment with process as there was no time. However, having now completed all of the writing I can look back and evaluate this issue and draw some conclusions that work best for me.
My client supplied to me: 1) a basic lead sheet (on most songs) / MP3 demo – varying from an a cappella vocal to old demos going back to the 1970-80s and just about everything in between.
The lead sheets (which I appreciate having as many songwriters do not have any and then I have to do a transcription/take down first – I have done hundreds or more of those!). The lead sheets helped. They got changed. Meaning that post score completion, I would do my own lead sheet or piano reduction according to the finished arrangement. I still like having something “on paper” initially to examine, make notes and develop a basic conception-approach.
On “Chosen” I started with some shorter songs to get my feet wet as they say. To see how my client responded to my work, etc. before taking on the big numbers. The first few I did I developed a sketch-score first (2 stave). I told my client I would do it this way and he agreed that made sense.
I used a nice piano sample for the sketch-score and sent him an MP3 of it with the vocal part represented with MIDI voice (on the first few songs he had no demo for me to use in my DAW). He loved it however he started asking orchestration questions and I would remind him that I would do that after the basic arrangement was approved by him. Being frank, it did not take me long to realize he seemed to lack the vision to hear beyond the MIDI vocal-piano demo. This is quite common and can be a problem for arranger-orchestrators— ¦clients who pretty much want to hear it as close to how it will end up after recording.
It’s a problem on a number of levels, but if the basic “song” isn’t defined (I had to turn some of these incomplete songs into finished songs – see my “collaboration” blog) and then the arrangement why orchestrate only to have to re-do so much.
So, I soon realized I had a problem to deal with. Well, I truly think God led me to a solution that worked for a while. I knew my client loved strings, so, instead of using piano for the sketch-score accompaniment I created I used a basic “full strings” patch instead of piano and – voila! It worked!
I was not trying to play games or trick my client but to carry through with the complete orchestration without the basic song and arrangement not right would have been a huge waste of time for me and additional costs to him – so I truly believe I did him a favor as well as myself.
Without going through the whole project let me say. In completing this project various processes were mostly determined by what I received from the client to work with and what the expectations were.
BTW Originally I was hired to create mockups that would be commercially released on CD – so, they had to be great. Some months into the project we decided to record everything with session players, but I still did very good mockups for several reasons, one being my clients need to hear it as close to the final as possible. Other clients who have done this more are less that way therefore I can speed up my work.
At this point I am going to say this: I NEVER compromise my own standards. I do not sign off on anything that I am not very happy with. And this project presented many difficult situations where I had to write very fast, but I still do not compromise within what is in my control.
Here’s something else: I taught composition/theory/film scoring/orchestration/music tech at 2 colleges in southern Calif. before moving to Texas. When I moved to TX I was hired by a college to teach, then eventually another. There were quite a few years between the Calif. teaching and the TX. In those “in-between” years scoring programs & DAWS, etc. developed greatly.
So, when I taught here in TX I noticed students would come in with their laptops and open a Finale score for full orchestra of about 4 bars and say something like” Mr. Flauding. I got these 4 bars and I love it, but I’m stuck as to where to go from here” (I think I’ve blogged about this before). My reply was “well, yes, because you are trying to move a 500 car train as compared to taking an engine and a few cars to start”. I would say something like that.
A sketch-score allows you to focus on the essentials first: melody/harmony/form/texture, etc.
On “Chosen” what was interesting to me was that when I took on the very last song which was 9 minutes long due to the deadline requirements and other things, I decided to go back to creating a sketch-score first then orchestrate after. Though a basic demo was supplied to me, it would require so much editing in my DAW (REAPER) it made more sense to turn the basic lead sheet supplied to me (I was now getting Finale 26 MUS files) into my Finale sketch-score template and building from there.
That worked best and not only did II complete it in record time (ending 1 month ahead of all deadlines) I loved the result and the process was smooth.
So, in conclusion, I would recommend this for any composing –arranging time allowing. Not only do I think it keeps things easier on your head but will give you better results.
If it helps, many composers (perhaps most) have done it this way – like Ravel.
Also, when I say a “2 stave” sketch-score that does not have to be literally 2 staves. Dr. Albert Harris who I studied with a couple years used to do 4 stave sketches, 1 stave per section of the orchestra (woodwinds/brass/strings/perc.-harp). Many film composers and arrangers do this.
I keep to 2 stave for two main reasons. 1) It forces me into simplicity. 2) Because in my sheet music publishing business I put out both piano versions and orchestra versions of my arrangements.
Here are some examples. The audio mockup is from "The Witch Of Endor". The mockup goes longer than the following sketch-score reduction and final score example.  
Reduction & Score excerpt

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