It’s Symphony Time! Developing and Working with the Young Full Orchestra - Nottelmann Music Company
Nottelmann Music St. Louis
It’s Symphony Time! Developing and Working with the Young Full Orchestra

It’s Symphony Time! Developing and Working with the Young Full Orchestra

By Dr. Charles Laux – Curated from

Why create a full orchestra?

  • Play music of the world’s greatest composers
  • Play music to sound as the composer intended (most of the time)
  • The most well-known classical music ensemble
  • Collaboration among band & orchestra
  • Create a unique experience
  • Challenge students

When should I start?

  • NOT in the first year! Anytime after…
  • Generally in the 3rd year is adequate
  • Some repertoire geared at 2nd year players
  • Rehearse wind & strings separately, then combine

Working with your School’s band director

  • Collaborative, collegial environment
  • Join forces
  • Share strengths, learn from each other
  • Sectionals
  • Ask him/her to conduct the ensemble too
  • Switch roles for a day!

Benefits to the band program

  • Increased musicianship for those in the ensemble
  • Band students learn to play in sharp keys!
  • increased self-confidence
  • new awareness of balance, blend, and tone
  • Benefits for the band students who aren’t participating


  • During the school day
  • Top orchestra and band meet at same time
  • Before school
  • After school or evening rehearsals
  • Should be regularly scheduled, because it takes time to develop


  • If necessary, “sell” it to your administration.
  • Get their full support
  • Will need to purchase additional music, instruments, etc.
  • Take both wind & string students to a symphony concert

Warm-Up and Tuning

  • Tune strings first
  • Wind instruments are preparing reeds, putting instruments together
  • Be sure to tune wind/brass players when they are warm!
  • Allow winds to get used to tuning A440, but also have them tune to the pitches they are accustomed to
  • Scale based on literature, helps tune around a base pitch, key familiarity


  • Being out of tune is often mistaken for bad tone
  • Bad tone quality is impossible to tune
  • Good warm-ups that focus on sound are important
  • Tetrachords or 5 note patterns, ascending and descending
  • Address the notes less familiar with students
  • Use the strength of each instrument to reinforce each other


  • Must have:Knowledge of all notes & fingerings
  • Good tone & intonation
  • Varied use of bow – the ability to alter tone colors, attacks, use all parts of the bow, and shape sound

Wind & Brass

  • Instrument transpositions. Must explain “why is it like this??”
  • Must explain the differences to the students
  • Be empathetic and kind!
  • Compare/contrast use of the bow and air use
  • Articulation, Movement, etc.
  • Be sure sound is supported with fast, warm air


  • Must be sensitive to the music, explain the differences from band percussion
  • Dynamic markings
  • Should generally play different than in concert band (perhaps softer, perhaps louder, depending on how percussionists were taugut)
  • Timpani are a must!
  • Be particular in regards to mallet type, area of the drum head struck, etc.  These tone colors make a huge impact on the overall sound.

What, No Bassoons?

  • Doubling wind parts is okay – this isn’t the NY Philharmonic!
  • Be flexible and creative
  • Re-orchestrate – add parts in when others are resting
  • Substitute missing instruments
  • Bass clarinets
  • Saxophones on horn parts
  • More lower sounding instruments will make the group sound more full

Score/Rehearsal Preparations

  • Good score prep a must, particularly with the new instruments
  • Write in concert pitches / analysis where necessary. Very helpful and makes you more efficient.

Repertoire selection

  • Finding the right balance of difficulty levels for wind & strings
  • Down time
  • Musically and educationally worthwhile
  • Technical issues
  • Orchestration/doublings

Resources to find Repertoire

  • Lucks Music
    • Offers transposed parts for some standard repertoire
    • Has organized lists of full orchestra music
  • Check state lists (OH, FL, GA, TX) – lots of “standards”
  • Reference recordings/scores are sometimes more difficult to find

Full Orchestra Gems!

  • Michael Allen Warm-ups for Full Orchestra (Hal Leonard)
  • Arrangements by Sandra Dackow
  • Alfred “First Philharmonic” series
  • “Old” arrangements (like Isaac, Alshin, Matesky, etc.)
  • Look at smaller publishers for new pieces


  • Full orchestra is awesome!!
  • Great benefit to all students, music department, and school
  • Allows everyone to work as a team for a common cause
  • Provides performer & audience appeal

About the Author

Dr. Charles Laux is the Director of Orchestras at Alpharetta High School (near Atlanta, Georgia) where his duties include directing five levels of orchestra, including the nationally recognized AHS Symphony Orchestra. He also serves as Essential Elements clinician, consultant, and contributor for the Hal Leonard Corporation. Dr. Laux holds degrees in music education from Ohio University, the University of Nevada – Las Vegas, and a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.