Shorthand for orchestra instrumentation

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The shorthand for the orchestration of a classical symphony orchestra is used to outline which and how many instruments, especially wind instruments, are called for in a given piece of music. The shorthand is ordered in the same fashion as the parts of the individual instruments in the score, read from top to bottom.

The orchestra is divided into four groups and specified as follows:

There is no standardized version of this shorthand; different publishers use different systems, especially for doubling/alternate/additional instruments. However, the basic order of the instruments, as seen above, is common to all of them.

Examples for different notations for the same orchestration:

as in table below: 2d1, 2+1, 2d1es+bass, 3d1 - ...
Chester Novello: 2(picc).2+ca.2(Ebcl)+bcl.3(cbn)/ ...
Boosey & Hawkes:   2(II=picc).2.corA.2(I=Ebcl).bcl.3(III=dbn)- ...

Examples[edit]

Shorthand Meaning Comments
2, 2, 2, 2 - 4, 3, 3, 1, timp, str 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons - 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, strings A standard large orchestra.
0, 2, 0, 2 - 2, 2, 0, 0, timp, str 2 oboes, 2 bassoons - 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings A typical orchestra of the classical period. Omitted instruments are specified by using the numeral "0" (in this instance, flutes and clarinets).
3+picc, 3+cor ang, 3+bass, 3+contra - 4, 4, 3+bass, 1, timp, 16/14/12/10/8 3 flutes plus piccolo (not doubling), 3 oboes plus cor anglais (not doubling), 3 clarinets plus bass clarinet (not doubling), 3 bassoons plus contrabassoon (not doubling) - 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones plus bass trombone (not doubling), 1 tuba, 1 timpani - 16 first violins, 14 second violins, 12 violas, 10 celli, 8 double basses A specified number of string parts may be given. This is an orchestra of the late romantic period with a very large wind and string section. The relations of the individual sections has been kept since the classical period for acoustical reasons, so a small string section could be 10/8/6/5/4.
2d1, 2+1, 2d1es+bass, 3d1 - ... 2 flautists, one of which doubles on piccolo; 2 oboists plus cor anglais (not doubling); two clarinettists, one of which doubles on E♭ clarinet, plus bass clarinet (not doubling); three bassoonists, one of which doubles on contrabassoon. Non-standard instruments related to "core" instruments (for example piccolo, cor anglais, E♭- and bass clarinet, contrabassoon) are given after the number for the "core" instrument, using a "+" if an extra player is needed and a "d" if one player may double.
2, 2d1, 2, 2, alto sax - 4, 4, 3, 0, timp, perc, hp, str 2 flutes, 2 oboes (one doubling on cor anglais), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, alto saxophone - 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, strings Non-"core" instruments not closely related to any "core" instrument (for example the saxophone) are given after the group in question, here from Georges Bizet's Arlésienne-Suite No. 1.

If any soloists or a choir are called for, their parts are usually printed between the percussion/keyboards and the strings in the score. In shorthand however, they are usually omitted.