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Peer Review

Principles of Orchestration; a multimedia realization of the Rimski-Korsakov text

by Gary Garritan


Overall Numeric Rating:

4.75 stars
Content Quality: 4.75 stars
Effectiveness: 4.75 stars
Ease of Use: 4.5 stars
Reviewed: Jun 29, 2009 by Music
Overview: This is a very well designed, segmented, and commented online presentation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Principles of Orchestration,” enriched by interactive musical examples and editorial comments by the site’s creator, Prof Alan Belkin (University of Montreal). The book’s contents have been transferred online with no obvious errors, include clearly demarcated and insightful editorial comments, and offer users the opportunity to add their own comments and enter into content related discussions. This Blog/Wiki-like feature gives the site a dynamism that is rare in most MERLOT resources reviewed, and provides, conceptually, a standard to which all online educational resources should be aspiring. Note: Taking advantage of the site’s discussion/commenting features requires (a quick and easy) registration. The initially cluttered impression of the site (caused by the Blog/Wiki-like context in which the information is presented) can be quickly overcome (after ~15 minutes of use), even by audiences not familiar with Blog layouts and function (e.g. old-school fellow faculty at my institution). Most other users are able to explore/interact with the site immediately, and several colleagues at DePaul University’s School of Music already use the site in their classes. The site is set up as one of the forums within, a self-described “community ranging from world renowned composers, musicians and developers to up and coming students aspiring to learn the techniques of these great composers … a gathering place of people who have a common love for music.” Northern Sounds is one of the communication and educational outlets of Garritan Interactive (, a producer and seller of virtual/digital musical sounds, instruments, and scores. This is one of the most popular sites of its kind, linked-to from a vast number of online libraries, news and educational organizations, music forums, and more. In addition to MERLOT, this site is part of a larger, free online textbook library with resources on the topics addressed during the first two years of most undergraduate programs: GlobalTexts includes links to other similar projects (Textbook Revolution) and to several isolated efforts. Most ‘textbooks’ include original content created by faculty members from around the world, while some sites, as is the case with the one reviewed, re-publish existing, public-domain texts, with editorial commentary.
Type of Material: Collection / Reference Material, enriched by interactive audio and musical score examples. The learning impact of the resource is enhanced by expert editorial commentary and by ongoing discussions involving numerous composers, arrangers, and educators. This re-purposing and re-publication of Rimsky-Korsakov’s classic provides the work with new life and allows it to be continuously re-discovered through the user discussions.
Recommended Uses: This commentary- and multimedia-enriched textbook may be used as a traditional textbook, assigning a lesson at a time, or as an assignment resource, requiring from students to create a discussion thread or contribute to one of the many ongoing discussions.
Technical Requirements: Latest I.E. or Firefox browser with the Flash and Shockwave Player plug-ins. The browser must be configured to accept cookies and to run Active X scripts.
Identify Major Learning Goals: Users interested in orchestration have the opportunity to go though Rimsky-Korsakov’s classic, “Principles of Orchestration,” chapter (lesson) by chapter (lesson). The book contents have been enriched with interactive scores and midi-based audio, which bring the book’s musical examples to life. Users can also benefit by the site creator’s editorial comments and by the ongoing content-related discussions, which involve composers, arrangers, and educators.
Target Student Population: Although all students past the 5th grade can benefit from the site, the audience that will get the most out of it is college-level music students. Participating in the ongoing discussions provides a wonderful learning opportunity; an opportunity to interact with the materials and with composers/educators/students about the materials in a dynamic and context-specific manner.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: The site is well and efficiently designed, overall, requiring some knowledge on the topic, and just-above-basic computer and web-browsing skills (may need to install a plug-in or two, complete a basic registration process, configure the browser to allow cookies and perform Active X commands, etc.).

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: The book’s content has been accurately transferred online and has been enriched by multimedia presentations and clearly-demarcated insightful, expert commentary. The on-going discussions on the content enhance the resource’s learning impact and provide a wonderful opportunity for users to interact with the materials and with one another. The same format is followed by most resources available under the “Forum” menu item at A large variety of similarly formatted “textbook” resources is available through
Concerns: Coming up with a way to classify/tag the discussion threads will make navigation through them easier and more effective. Ideally, threads should be easily separated to book- and non-book- (e.g. tech-) related, and book-related threads should be attached to the relevant book chapter/lesson. The editorial commentary could benefit from some additional details by, for example, expanding on the reasons why “This rather bare texture should be sparingly used.” (Comment under Example #218, Lesson 20). _Finally, reference to additional resources (with or without links) would further improve the site’s educational potential. For example, the following Orchestration module from Connexions ( would be a very relevant resource:

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: The book’s 4 chapters have been broken down into 26 well-segmented and managed lessons, making this a potentially effective learning tool (depending on other accompanying materials selected by the instructor). _The editorial comments and ongoing discussions well contextualize the book’s content and may help students develop a critical attitude towards the materials. _The multimedia examples bring the music discussed to life.
Concerns: See the concerns under “Content Quality,” above

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.5 stars
Strengths: Accurate and well-segmented presentation of the book’s content. _Clearly demarcated editorial comments. Well-integrated multimedia scores and audio examples. Easily accessible and well-monitored, content-related discussion forums.
Concerns: Lack of some tagging/classification system for the user discussions reduces their effectiveness as learning tools All audio examples and the related score portions are in flash format. Flash player is required but no such indication or download link are provided The Log-Out process is buggy; users need to follow several steps before they can fully log-out, receiving an error message on the way The “next lesson” text towards the bottom of each lesson page should be an active link to the next lesson. (Currently, one can move among lessons through the “previous thread” & “next thread” links at the bottom of the page).

Creative Commons:
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States