What is Bandestration?

The art of writing for the orchestra is known as orchestration.  Merriam-Webster gives this definition:


noun \ˌȯr-kə-ˈstrā-shən\


: the arrangement of a musical composition for performance by an orchestra; also : orchestral treatment of a musical composition


: harmonious organization <develop a world community through orchestration of cultural diversities — L. K. Frank>

We,however, are not writing for the orchestra; we’re writing for the band.  My old composition teacher sometimes used the term “bandestration” for what a composer for wind ensembles does.  It seemed like a good word to me, so I’ve adopted it.

Apart from two texts written in the 50s/60s, I can find no manual on how to write for the modern band.  These two texts were nothing more than guides of how best to transcribe a piece from its original orchestral format to a band format.  I can’t think of something more repulsive.

Orchestras don’t steal from us, therefore we shall not steal from them.  This is the first commandment of bandestration.


What I can find are texts geared exclusively towards writing for the orchestra.  I either own, or have read, ever single orchestration text out there.  Not a single one is fully accurate.  The best, for me, is still Berlioz’s (updated by Richard Strauss) Treatise on Instrumentation.   It tells what the instrument(s) can do and how best to use them.  Rimsky-Korsakov’s text is great for how to score instruments, but tells little about the instruments themselves.  Forsyth is again wonderful, but outdated.  Modern texts, like Adler, are riddled with errors that have persisted through multiple editions.

I’ve found that the best way to judge how effective an orchestration text is for use in bandestration is to take a look at what the author says about the saxophone.  Berlioz alone gets a pass, as the saxophone was only newly invented when he wrote his text in 1844.

  • Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov: Principles of Orchestration (1891): no mention of saxophones at all.
  • Henri Kling: Kling’s Modern Orchestration and Instrumentation (1902): treated as a brass instrument, but otherwise excellent (if not short) write up. 4.25 pages.
  • Cecil Forsyth: Orchestration (1935): Again, saxophones treated as brass, includes only excerpts from a composition performed once in the early 1900’s.  Includes a full diagram of soprano through bass.  Total of 6.5 pages.
  • Charles-Marie Widor: Manual of Practical Instrumentation (1946, rev. ed.): Complete coverage of SATB saxes (and mention of Bass).  Good insight on their use. 3 pages.
  • Walter Piston: Orchestration (1955): Three short pages (only 2 of text).  One derogatory (though completely correct!) statement.
  • Samuel Adler: The Study of Orchestration (1982, 1st ed.): Chock full of errors.  More time is devoted to the Sopranino in F than to any other member. (Sopranino in F never has existed!) 4 pages.
  • Stephen Burton Douglas: Orchestration (1982): Makes only a passing remark that the instrument exists, and only as a subsection in the band instruments section. 1 page.
  • Normal Del Mar: Anatomy of the Orchestra (1983): While not an official orchestration text, I find it to be one of the best out there.  Saxophones are a footnote at the end of the woodwind chapter.  2.25 pages.
  • Alfred Blatter: Instrumentation and Orchestration (1997): Probably the best modern coverage.  Includes every extant member of the family and write-ups and accurate descriptions of each. 9 pages.
  • Kent Kennan and Donald Grantham: The Technique of Orchestration (1997, 5th ed.): Whole family relegated to an appendix (chapter 18) on infrequently used instruments.  Contains no excerpts, but only a transcription of a Schumann chorale. 3 pages.

There is lots of room for improvement!