The aim of The Orchestra: A User's Manual is to provide information about the orchestra, orchestration, composition and instruments, for the benefit of anybody with an interest in the subject. Unlike conventional text-based orchestration manuals, this features movies of players explaining relevant aspects of their instruments and technique, audio clips and samples of the instruments, and illustrative music from the repertoire drawn from the Philharmonia's postwar recorded archive. The Philharmonia is the most recorded orchestra in history and from its birth in 1945 has been associated with new technologies. This use of the internet to convey information is entirely consistent with its desire to open up access to all areas of orchestral life and music-making.

The User's Manual will be useful to anyone with an interest in orchestras and orchestral music. It will also have a specific relevance to composers, orchestrators, students, and anyone learning to play an instrument. By asking players themselves to explain the nature and technical limitations of their instruments it is intended that a realistic picture of the orchestra will emerge. A recurring feature of the video clips is that, while certain techniques are a theoretical possibility, in practice they are often limited or even unsatisfactory. By acquainting the orchestrator with these, it is hoped that much time-wasting in rehearsal can be avoided! In addition, illustrative clips from the archive give actual sounding examples of good practice in orchestration.

The original version of the site was created in 2004/5 and is still available. This update was made in 2015 and re-presents the same material in a mobile-friendly format. 'The Orchestra: A User's Manual' is a research project into instrumental techniques, the history and repertoire of the orchestra and, most importantly, into the minds and attitudes of musicians. The research takes the form of structured and unstructured interviews, instrumental and orchestral recordings, historical discussion and musical analysis.

If you find the site useful, please do email a testimonial or consider making a donation towards its maintenance via the Paypal button below. This is a free resource and will remain so. It still receives between 8,000 and 16,000 unique visits per month from all over the world. Thanks to the donations so far received, I have been able to create this responsive re-design. But the movies and sound clips recorded in 2004 do show their age. I would really like to re-record everything and add many more techniques, especially for solo and ensemble writing. I estimate this will cost around £30,000. If you know a source of such funds, please contact me: andrewhugill [at] All support helps very much and is gratefully received!


A4 is assumed to be 440 Hz: the 'A' to which British orchestras tune. It should be noted that some European orchestras tune to A=442 and other pitches.

In this manual: Middle C = C4. (The MIDI standard varies, and middle C may be variously defined as C3, C4 or C5, depending on instrument manufacturers). The note numbers change incrementally every octave at C, so the octave above middle C is called C5. The octave below middle C is C3. All notes between middle C and the octave above are given a 4, thus: Db4 D4 Eb4 E4 ... C5, and so on. The lower range descends to C0, then uses minus numbers (C-1, C-2, etc).

Extended Techniques

This User's Manual always prefers to show the orchestra as it is rather than as it could be, as is most clearly the case when considering 'extended techniques'. There are several books which set out to catalogue the available extended techniques on each instrument, and these are referenced as appropriate. However, a viewing of the video clips on the various instrument pages will reveal an enormous variation in player abilities and attitudes to these techniques, ranging from enthusiastic engagement to downright hostility. This manual is perhaps unusual in that it simply reflects these limitations as they are encountered, rather than trying to be comprehensive about the available techniques regardless of the player's opinions.


Belkin, A. (2008) Artistic Orchestration. (web publication).
Blatter, A. (1997) Instrumentation and Orchestration. New York: Schirmer.
Casella, A. and Mortari, V. (1958) La Technique de l'Orchestre Contemporain. Paris: Ricordi.
Corder, F. (1894) The Orchestra and How to Write for It. London: Curwen.
Peinkofer, K and Tannigel, F. (1969) Handbook of Percussion Instruments. London: Schott.
Piston, W. (1958) Orchestration. London: Gollancz.
Read, G. (1969) Thesaurus of Orchestral Devices. New York: Greenwood.
Rimsky-Korsakov, N. (1891, first published 1922, reprinted 1964) Principles of Orchestration. New York: Dover.


To cite this manual in an academic paper or any other publication, please use the following formula:

Hugill, A. (2004) The Orchestra: A User's Manual. Available at: (accessed <date>)

The Orchestra: A User's Manual is also stored in the De Montfort University Online Research Archive (DORA).

(see the Testimonials page for a complete listing)
  • I'm studying orchestration at Berklee Online, and your Orchestra User's Manual is the website I was looking for! Thank you and congratulations for your outstanding work! –Roberto Dicorato, Milano, Italy<

  • I'm a composer of music for film and theatre, based in Berlin. I've been using this online resource as an important reference tool as well as a source of musical inspiration for some years now. I've been looking for such a web site for a long time. This project has gathered all the necessary knowledge in one place, enabling composers and arrangers to look up specific musical effects and immediately see the appropriate way of notating them. This has proved to be an enormous help for me, when I had to expand my orchestral workshop when working on projects such as "In Darkness" by Agnieszka Holland, which got an Oscar nomination last year. When looking for efficient and possibly simple ways of notating different effects in the string orchestra, I could rely on "The User's Manual" as a reliable source. It would be interesting to use this database as a starting point for an open-source project, a kind of a musical Wikipedia. The language of musical notation in modern orchestral music, as well as the spectrum of effects in use in contemporary compositions, is covered.–Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz

  • As a young composer, I have read a lot of orchestration guides and manuals and many other books and articles. Nothing I have used has offered quite the same amount of depth, information and coherence than The Orchestra : A Users Manual developed by Andrew Hugill and the Philharmonia Orchestra. On a practical orchestration level, it is second to none, offering detailed notation, soundbites and playability of techniques for all the instruments, not to mention the detail of the ranges for each instrument. A particular feature I think is incomparably useful is the player's tips and tricks for each instrument, which features members of the philharmonia orchestra giving advice in good part writing. For any aspiring composer, this is vital information, and for every section of the modern orchestra and further, that information is all there in one place. From the historical context resources to the seating plan layouts, it really is a phenomenal, 21st century tool for any composer. I used it as a reference when writing pieces I submitted to music colleges for BMus composition, and it really helped in getting me not just one place, but three. All in all, an essential resource for me and an extremely useful resource for any aspiring musician and composer. –Alex J. Hall