Here is the situation: I had originally proposed writing a piece for wind band as the second project, about 5 minutes in length, but last week I said you could write for a chamber ensemble of your choice (but run the idea by me first, please) instead, or write for string orchestra, or even a small symphony orchestra. While writing for concert band is still a great idea, it is a very ambitious undertaking, and you need to be practical and ask yourself what the likelihood of completing it will be, considering that we are approaching student recital and jury season, end of term projects, exams, etc.
If you still want to compose for band, however, I will support your decision and help you in whatever way I can. Here are some suggestions for how to approach writing a band piece, but they can also be used if composing for any other type of ensemble:
- Compose using "short score" format. Essentially, this means writing something that looks like it could be piano music (i.e., written on treble and bass clefs), or possibly 3-5 staves per system, possibly assigning different staves to different groups within the band. This gives you better control of the composing process. It's much easier to get a sense of the form and create longer lines when you can see more of your music on a single page (such as 4-5 systems of music on one page), as opposed to one humungous system per page.
- Write annotations on on your short score that indicate the instruments you think should play particular sections or lines of music. For example, you could write "clarinets and flutes in octaves" over a line, or "brass" over a chorale-like chord progression.
- I've had teachers insist that it is best to begin 'orchestrating' ('bandating?' 'banding?' 'bandifying?') your score after you have completed the previous two steps, but there is no rule about this; there are advantages to orchestrating as you go as well (i.e., composing a few pages in short score, then arranging them for band, then continuing the short score version for a few more pages, then orchestrating, etc.).
- Don't overscore. There is nothing wrong with having sections of your band piece with rests in the majority of the instruments. Overscoring — writing a dense and confused score — is a mark of an inexperienced/insecure orchestrator, so try to be bold and consider including at least some thinly-scored sections, so that tutti textures will have greater impact when they occur. On the other hand, thinly scored band music can sound less effective than we had imagined because it is more challenging to play; weaknesses within sections are more exposed, something that is a consideration when the performers are at an intermediate, amateur level.
- Since you have a fairly wide variety of instruments at your disposal, consider using colour, texture, or density as organizing principles.
- Remember that most music fits into foreground-background roles (prominent-supportive), or foreground-middleground-background roles. Work hard at not confusing the listener as to what they are meant to be hearing most prominently.
- Are there some techniques or styles you've heard (or heard of) that you'd like to try? Minimalism, world music, fusion, klangfarbenmelodie, etc.? Sometimes a good way to begin is just to pick something you're excited by and then try writing a composition that uses some elements of that style or technique.