The standard way to lay out an orchestral score (reading from top to bottom) is as follows:


There are often variations within these groupings, with individual instruments occupying different positions depending on composer or historical practice.

It is generally best to use separate staves for each instrument if possible. Brackets or braces to the left of the system identify the groups, and the full name of each instrument should appear on the first page, with abbreviated versions on every subsequent page.

Be sure to give rehearsal letters as well as bar numbers. This will speed things up in rehearsal.

Scores are usually presented with all transposing instruments correctly transposed. Concert-pitch scores do exist, but most conductors are familiar with transposed scores.

When preparing instrumental parts, be sure to give cues and allow time for page turns. In the full score, eliminate staves that have no content for significant periods of time.

Click the links above for pictures of typical layouts, section by section, with comments. Single woodwinds and a selection of percussion have been used for illustration.

The Orchestra: A User's Manual 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. See the testimonials. Thanks to all the donations, 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: a.hugill [at]