Shorthand for orchestra instrumentation

The shorthand for the orchestration of a classical symphony orchestra (and other similar ensembles), or Orchestra Instrumentation Numerical Notation, 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.

General approach

The orchestra is divided into four groups and specified as follows:[1]

The relations of the individual sections within the strings has been kept since the classical period for acoustical reasons, so a small string section could be 10/8/6/5/4; an example is given for a much larger orchestra in the table below.

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.

Degree of standardisation

The basic order of the instruments, as seen above, is common to all of the shorthand systems. However, there is no standardized version of this shorthand; different publishers and librarians use different systems, especially for doubling/alternate/additional instruments. David Daniels, in earlier versions of his influential work that collects in print a catalog of the orchestrations of some 4,000+ pieces,[2] made use of a shorthand for doubling/alternate/additional instruments which was less clear, but in the newer online version[3] Daniels' approach has been refined to something more explicit, akin to the Chester Novello and Boosey & Hawkes notations below.

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) ...[4]


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, no doubling/alternate/additional instruments.
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), no doubling/alternate/additional instruments.
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, with numbers of strings explicitly stated.
2d1, 2+1, 2d1es+bass, 3d1 - ... 2 flutists, one of whom doubles on piccolo; 2 oboists plus cor anglais (not doubling); two clarinettists, one of whom doubles on E♭ clarinet, plus bass clarinet (not doubling); three bassoonists, one of whom 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.

An example of another approach, particularly useful where there may be extensive versatility required from doubling players, is given here for The Phantom of the Opera for a 45 piece orchestra, taken from the Chester/Novello Hire Library:

  • WW1(fl,pic).WW2(fl).WW3(cl).WW4(ob,ca).WW5(cl,bcl).WW6(bn)/3hn.3tpt.3tbn.tuba/2perc/hp.2kbd/str(85443 players)[5]

Note the standard sequence of Woodwind, Brass, Percussion etc., and String groupings, and the sequences within these groups, and the means here of showing the doublings against each numbered member of the woodwind group.


  • Klaus Haller, Elfriede Witte (eds.): Regeln für die alphabetische Katalogisierung von Ausgaben musikalischer Werke (RAK-Musik). Leipzig 2004 (pdf; 561 kB). ISBN 3-933641-52-7 (in German)


  1. The Order of Instruments in an Orchestral Score, Music Theory Website at Duke Ellington School of the Arts Accessed 27 May 2017
  2. David Daniels: Orchestral Music A Handbook, Pub. (USA) Scarecrow Press, Inc, Lanham, Maryland, 1996. ISBN 0-8108-3228-3 (3rd Ed.), cf. 2nd Ed. ISBN 0-8108-1484-6 and 1st Ed. ISBN 0-8108-0537-5
  3. Description of the online tool at Retrieved 18 February 2017
  4. For another example of the Boosey & Hawkes notation, see, e.g. Violin Concerto No. 2 by Béla Bartók: "2(II=picc).2(II=corA).2(II=bcl).2(II=dbn)––timp.perc(2):cyms/tam-t/tgl/BD/SD–harp–cel–strings" at Accessed 5 March 2017.
  5. Guidelines to hiring Phantom of the Opera 2012, Accessed 4 March 2017
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