Music notation question: How to depict an orchestra hit?
September 24, 2018 9:13 PM   Subscribe

This is a music notation question. How do I notate an "orchestra hit"? Basically, a sound in which everyone in the orchestra is directed to play a loud, random noise/sound on their instrument.

I know the notation for this type of sound exists. I've learnt and played it before in an orchestra! (It wasn't an experimental piece either - it was something by one of those "traditional" classical composers.) I just can't remember precisely what it looks like - I think it might look like a long jagged line, but I'm not sure. The sound is supposed to be a loud, abrupt sound in which everyone plays a random noise/sound on their instrument in unison.

Can anyone remember how to notate this?
posted by aielen to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My kids are playing a piece with this effect now- in their music it’s just notated the same way the same way you’d notate some kinds of unpitched percussion, with X note heads in the middle of the staff. It is accented, marked fortissimo, and above it in italics it says “play any note.”

Even if it’s not what you are looking for, it’s a pretty clear way to notate the effect.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:30 PM on September 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm a musician who specialized in performing this kind of stuff and worked as a music copyist for a long time and I am not aware of a symbol that would unambiguously communicate what you want without explanatory text above it. The closest would probably be an X notehead which at least communicates "unpitched," which you would clarify in the note as "you pick" but would let you specify a dynamic/rhythm/articulation precisely.

If you want an orchestra hit that sounds like an orchestra hit you should just notate the one everybody steals from Stravinsky. And I'd give serious thought to whether you really do want it to be the musicians' totally free choice - 99% of the time that will result in an orchestral crunch, not a hit. In my experience it takes a LOT of work by the composer to create an atmosphere of "I am striving to be a John Cage/Earle Brown caliber visionary exploring an aleatoric space," and instead most composers accidentally communicate to the performers that they don't care about their own music.
posted by range at 9:32 PM on September 24, 2018 [17 favorites]

I would use an x notehead with a brief explanatory text above it.
posted by acidnova at 9:33 PM on September 24, 2018

For piano, I've seen a squiggly line like you describe, or an open box, used to mean "lay your hand down somewhere around here to get a whole blob of notes". In an orchestra playing an instrument that can only make one note at a time, I've seen x-head notes with the instruction to "play any note you like", and the open box notes used to mean "play a note from this range".

Which is to say there's a lot of ways to go, and for all I'd want some kind of note to make it clear what's meant.
posted by traveler_ at 10:44 PM on September 24, 2018

Thanks for the answers so far!

Thought I posted an earlier comment/clarification, but it seems to have vanished. I am asking this question academically, not with the intention to use this for composition or in any practical form. Am well aware of the practical issues and details surrounding the implementation of this type of concept in terms of actual compositions/performances - but I'd appreciate answers that stick to the question/framework, without making additional assumptions. Thanks!
posted by aielen at 10:59 PM on September 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing that there's no notation for this that's sufficiently unambiguous — whatever symbol you use, you'll have to add text explaining it. (The X notehead is ambiguous between "play any note" and "play an unpitched percussive sound." The box notehead is ambiguous between "play all of these notes," like in a piano cluster, and "play one of these notes." And both may have additional meanings beyond those that I'm not thinking of...)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:39 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

In a Vox video about the orchestra hit, they show Stravinsky's sheet music for Firebird Suite: The Infernal Dance of King Kaschchei, which has become the pretty much go-to orchestra hit chord in sampled music.
posted by WCityMike at 2:32 PM on September 25, 2018

« Older Should/Can I help my ex and his mom?   |   How to replicate these printed wood signs? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.