Being a keyboard player for years and originally studing classical piano I always approach things from a 'full chord' perspective. In orchestrating strings do the different sections (1stV,2ndV,Violas,Cello,Bass) only ever play one pitch per section to make a chord or is it common to have two or even three notes in a section (say 1st violins)?
What are your approaches?
When I score for anything, I use the S.A.T.B. approach instead of the the triadic approach (if we're going for the most standard orchestration). That said, more often than not, I find that I split my strings like so:
Where the numbers correspond to parts on 1 staff... Of course, you can get many different arrangements... I find this setup works well for typical, lush string scoring. Sometimes I'll divide into 3 cello parts as well, having one stand divisi and the other not. Each individual desk can divide on it's own, but always keep in mind, if you're going for realism in your sampling, that the more parts you use, (i.e. if you have the 1st and 2nd stand violins divisi out so that there are 4 violin parts, the sound will be weaker as a section. It sounds obvious, but sometimes that's missed and string sections are not properly balanced.
For that four part sound with upper strings, say on a G chord, I like to layer like so:
1st Violins G
2nd Violins D
1st Violas B
2nd Violas G
You can also use the interlocking technique:
1st Violins G
2nd Violins B
1st Violas D
2nd Violas G
There are two ways to approach playing multiple notes within a string section,
1) double (triple?) stops, each player plays more than one note. This maintains the thickness of texture, but can be difficult to perform. Use carefully. No specific indication needs to be put in the score to indicate this, just write your notes, but check with string players for playability.
2) divisi, with two players per stand one will take the lower part and the other will take the higher part. This thins out the texture since half your section is playing each part, but makes playing the parts much easier.
Just out of curiousity, why do you feel the need for the thicker chords? With 5 string sections you can write 5 part harmony. You may want to revisit your voice leading if you're doubling notes of the chord. This is keyboard thinking, more fingers = fatter texture. It doesn't have to be so in writing for strings. If you are writing effective harmonic progressions using chords with 6 unique notes in them then you have a very advanced harmonic sensibility that may go over an audiences head (hopefully not). I usually just get mush when I try to write like that.
I've been striving to compose for multiple voices using a similar technique.
The model I'm using is to write a "lead sheet" with melody and chords, which can be notated a C F G or I IV V, depending on preference. I find I IV V easier for odd key signatures. The main point is that these chords are not formally notated. They're just guidelines.
I then strive to give each voice its own melody/harmony, pattern or pad. In any case you can dance around the chord rather than play it outright. Even the pad might be doing a ninth, eleventh or sixth if it works in context. You can go with divisi or stops, but the mind can only follow so many things at a time. The additional voices need to support only a small number of discrete thoughts.
I found a lot of inspiration for this technique (which I can write about much easier than I can do!) from Andy Brick's Grand Hungarian Overture. Here are links to his five staff score and the mp3.
I use all of the approaches depending on how thick i want certain notes. What I find interesting from all the answers above is no one mentioned writing horizontally. The best arrangers and composers I have come across try to write lines so that they are natuaral for each player or section to play. Writing vertically often means you create odd and sometimes difficult lines for players. Composers who write horizontially often have better lines and they can still see their parts vertically for errors.
One of the best things I remember from my training is try to have the 'instruments' move as little as possible when doing chord changes. I assume this is what you mean when writing horizontially and not vertically. What I started doing is to take a basic string patch that is across the full keyboard and then split out the part to the individule instruments.
I greatly appreciate all of the responces here. I can now take this info and apply it to my style to achieve a better sounding mock up.
Thank you all!
Yep. Horizontally. That's what I was trying to say when I wrote: I then strive to give each voice its own melody/harmony, pattern or pad. In any case you can dance around the chord rather than play it outright. Sharmy nailed it in one word!
Still, listing the chords (I IV V) can be helpful for error checking and for keeping the horizontal lines from diverging. Just don't be tempted into writing thick chord pads and pedals under every melody. It's effective at times. Just not all of the time.