Expression-Leader Concept: Which Parts to Record?


The Symphonova Stem service produces authentic, expressive orchestral stems because the musicians are the Expression Leaders of your stems. The musicians lead  the expression in all the secondary parts that are not recorded by them. We refer to the parts that are not recorded by musicians as ‘Expression Followers’ or just ‘Followers’. It is important to note that the musicians can lead any secondary part (any Follower), including leading a different instrument.  This means that every part recorded by a musician can be used as the source of musical expression for any Follower. 


The simplest way to use the Symphonova stem service is to record one musician for each family of instruments. If your music is scored for eight horns, four trumpets, and three trombones, then you could engage three musicians, one for each family of instruments: horn, trumpet and trombone. You would then set all of the remaining parts to follow the expression of the leader for each family of instruments, i.e. the horn player to lead the expression of the horn section, the trumpet player to lead the trumpet section, etc. 


But depending on your score, you don’t need to record a musician for each instrument family. Instead, you can assign secondary parts to follow a musician who is playing a different instrument family, but whose expression is similar to what you would expect from the secondary part. 


We are usually asked only two fundamental questions:


  1. How do you decide if a part requires a musician or if it can be allocated as a secondary, following part?
  2. How do you know which instrument to pick as an Expression Leader?


In response, there are really only two general principles to guide your decisions: 


  1. If any portion of a musician’s part is a true solo part that is not doubled by other instruments, then at the very least, that solo portion should be recorded by a musician.
  2. The expression you wish to hear in any Follower’s (virtual) part must be congruent with (similar to) your choice of Expression Leader. In other words, think through your score in terms of its musical expression, and assign your Followers to those Expression Leaders whose part will be played with the expression you wish to hear in the Follower. 


All of the examples below are excerpts from the Largo of Dvorak Symphony no. 9 (New World)

Secondary instruments follow their family leader

Example 1

In this excerpt (example 3.1 below), the musical expression is similar in all instruments. It can be described as homogenous or congruent between instruments, like congruent lines in geometry. Notice there are no instruments that are composed by Dvorak to stand out from the others. Each instrument can therefore be selected as the leader for its family of secondary instruments. In other words, although the orchestration is for 14 winds: 2 Clarinets, 2 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones and Tuba, using the Symphonova Stem service, you could record only five of them (one from each family): clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet and trombone, comfortable in the knowledge that the musical expression of the five musicians will be infused into the remaining parts. 

Example 3.1: All secondary instruments follow their family leader

In the next excerpt (example 3.2), the Woodwinds all have similar musical expression. The strings parallel the Woodwinds until the Poco meno mosso, at which point the strings are no longer performing with the same expression or phrasing as the woodwinds. Relying on the Symphonova Stem service, you could easily record with only one of each of the following: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, violin 1, violin 2, viola, cello and double-bass.

Example 3.2: All secondary instruments follow their family leader (Dvorak M50 – M63)

Example 3

Please look at the strings measures 5 – 18 in the score below (example 3.3). All strings have similar musical expression; first establishing the context, then accompanying the solo English Horn and later, the other Woodwind instruments. This esxcerpt could be recorded with six musicians (Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, Cello, Double-bass and English horn).

Example 3.3: All secondary instruments follow their family leader

Secondary instruments following leaders of other instrumental families

Now that you have the basic idea, let’s consider some other examples. It might be that you need your music to be recorded very quickly and you cannot hire all the musicians you wish. Or it might be that every part recorded by a musician is not suitable to be used as the Expression Leader for a secondary instrument. Here are some examples of secondary instruments following an instrument from a different family.

Example 4 

Going back to the opening of the Dvorak (example 3.4 below), the homogeneity of the musical expression makes it easy to choose a leader for any of the instruments. The excerpt could easily be recorded with only four musicians: clarinet, bassoon, horn and trumpet. Then, in addition to all secondary instruments following their own family leaders (ex. 2nd clarinet following the clarinet musician), you could assign all the trombones to follow any single one of the musicians because of the congruity of the musical expression, or you could choose to set the first trombone to follow the clarinet leader, the second trombone to follow the horn leader, and the third trombone and tuba to follow the bassoon leader.

Example 3.4: Trombone & tuba follow other instrument leaders

Example 5

Returning again to our second excerpt from the Dvorak ( example 3.5 below), let’s consider how to produce the excerpt with the minimum number of musicians that will enable the Symphonova Stem service to work.  The important solo line played by the clarinet in the Poco meno mosso should be recorded by a clarinet player. Because there are four woodwind parts, the system needs at least one more woodwind player. We’ll choose the oboe because it plays more than the flute. 

For the strings, let’s use a single violinist and a cellist. From measure 50 until the Poco meno mosso, the violinist would play the 2nd violin part, and then from the new section, the violinist would play the 1st violin part. The cellist would play the cello part and then the double-bass part as if it had been written for cello. 

NOTE: The cello can be used to record the double-bass because the Symphonova Stem Service will produce Stems for the double-bass section from the cello leader.

Example 3.5: All secondary instruments follow their family leader

Example 6

In our final excerpt (example 3.6), you will note that the ostinato in the clarinet part is intended to be played by two clarinetists. If it were played by only one clarinetist, then there would be a break in the continuity of the ostinato every time the musician took a breath. To set this so that there is no break in the ostinato when the clarinetist breaths, and it can work with the Symphonova Stem Service one could do either of the following:

  • engage six musicians so there is a musician playing each part (six musicians in total), and set the second clarinet to follow the tremolo of the 2nd violin
  • engage the minimum to provide the musical expression for the three expressive lines: 
    • flute or oboe, and have the instrument that was not engaged follow the other
    • violin 1 because it is independent
    • violin 2 or viola and again have the instrument that was not engaged follow the other.

And the clarinets? they follow either the viola or the 2nd violins, whichever musician you engaged

Example 3.6: Secondary instruments following non-family leaders

Special Expression Leader Tip!

Expressive and dynamic congruence is independent of articulation. For example, a Follower who is playing pizzicato can follow a Leader who is playing legato.

Another Special Expression Leader Tip!

A Follower who is playing legato cannot follow a Leader who is playing pizzicato because the Leader would have breaks (between the pizzicato notes), thereby leaving gaps where the follower would have no leader.


If you have any questions, please contact us at or get in touch with one of our Score Guides who are familiar with our system and will be happy to assist you.