• Register
  • Help
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 11

Topic: STRINGS - general conductor's comments

Share/Bookmark
  1. #1

    STRINGS - general conductor's comments

    String section is the main section in a symphony. It is not just because of it's biggest section in an orchestra, but namely, because of its sound versatility. I would say, strings play similar role in the orchestra like piano in the composer's study room - a must.

    It is fairly easy to resound the strings: there are only a few things which, if kept, may let practically anything sound well. Below, please, find some notes and suggestions from my experience:

    Violins: while there is no difference between the 1st and 2nd violins sound (except the pan effect), there is no reason to cross the staffs and write 1st violin lower the 2nd and vice versa. Think about the 2nd violins rather as about the lower violins, less expressive in the performance and less technically skilled than the 1st violins.

    Violas: thanks to the middle registry tone range, a bit covered sound, less extensive group in the orchestra and usually with worse technical abilities, many composer considered violas as orchestral pads - playing just the harmony. However, if doubled with e.g. french horns, they can play nice expressive melodies, as well.

    Cello is probably the most all-round instrument in the orchestra. Its sound can be both soft and sharp, and usable in all registries. Cellos should be considered "the 1st violins" on low registries.

    Double bass: there are many jokes about the double bass play technique and sound. Its namely because of they usually produce very muddle sound with heavy-handed technique. If writing for a double bass, think of the sound of subwoofer. To get sharper sound, use it doubled namely with percussion (timpani), low piano (great colour) and/or low brass.

    Notation: I would strongly suggest to everybody to spend some time on "debugging" the score and parts in accordance with the "Principles" as well as the general notation rules (see my earlier post, "general conductors comment"). The more time you'll spend on reviewing the parts, the more time you'll earn on rehearsals and/or recording. As far as for the strings notation specifics: please, don't use the 8va--- lines, as most players did always complain of that. The 1st violins are used to read even the highest positions quite comfortable, and for violas, celli and double basses, switch rather for an upper (treble) clef. Although these octave transpositions may - in general - look easier to read, string players rather rate it confusing.

    Divisi: in orchestral parts, double stops are usually supposed to be divisi. Therefore, I would suggest to note rather "non divisi" technique instead of "divisi".

    Bowings: unless you are an experienced string player, don't spend much time trying to write correct bowings. String players will most probably change it, anyway. Good bowing is a challenge even for string players. Moreover, it is also a bit internal question at every orchestra (have a look into the parts, how many changes were made on bowings over the years in every orchestra....)

    Legato, staccato, etc.: it is easier to write general expression notes, than work out every single note in the score (usually, this is the case of computer notation - play loopback). Moreover, it is also much easier to read for both the conductor and players.

    Pizzicato: this technique has a few limitations - it can't be too fast, and changes between arco and pizzicato will require a little preparation time (similar to a "breath")

    Skips and jumps: most common problem in orchestral scores today. Although on sample libraries, all jums and skips are allowed, in real life, they aren't. Jumps over 1 (1 and 1/2) octave are practically unpossible to play in a section, all together and in tune.

    Fast arpeggios: although this technique works well on piano, it is one of the most difficult and totally far-fetched technique for strings. If possible, try to use alternate techniques (e.g. tremollo) instead of this. If you still need to go with arpeggios, try to not exceed, say, one octave (one way) or use the arpeggios continuously, in countermovement (e.g. up and down, up and down etc.).

    Sound effects: if you feel there is the need of string effects, think about those with sharper sound, suitable for sectional play. These are e.g. pizzicato, "Bartok" pizzicato, sul ponticello, col legno, etc. Softer effects, like con sordino, sul tasto, harmonics, etc. would sound well rather in solo parts.

    Virtuoso techniques: e.g. left hand (Paganini) pizzicatos, fast double/tripple stops passages (non divisi), special bowings, etc. is probably best to omit at all. These efects are mostly unsuitable for an orchestral section: partly because of the orchestral players aren't necesary that soloists, partly, because of these efects sound at best in a solo parts or chamber music. Note, that composing mastery is usualy not in the writting of complicated parts (the less for an orchestra), but on "clever written parts', they will "sound well" already at the first rehearsal.

    Glissando: unless it is in a slow tempi or in a contemporary "play-whatever-you-want" composition, I would rather suggest to use notated fast runs. Glissando in a section often sounds rather like low quality orchestra, it can't play in tune and all together. But this, I doubt, could be considered as an "effect"...

  2. #2
    Moderator
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Location
    Orcas Island
    Posts
    11,454

    Re: STRINGS - general conductor's comments

    Petr,

    Thank you for an overview of the strings from a professional conductor's point of view. This is great information and will be very helpful to many learners.

    Gary Garritan

  3. #3

    Re: STRINGS - general conductor's comments

    Thank you very much for this information. It was written very well (easy for me to understand) and I appreciate that.
    Thanks again.
    Steph

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Salisbury, UK
    Posts
    312

    Re: STRINGS - general conductor's comments

    Comments like these, as with those of the professors, enrich the course enormously. They are almost a course in their own right. But of course one should never be too prescriptive with the do's and don'ts. Regarding string glissandos in orchestral writing, Mahler's symphonies would be poorer without them, for example in the 4th symphony.

  5. #5

    Re: STRINGS - general conductor's comments

    a few additions:

    Quote Originally Posted by capellen

    Violins: while there is no difference between the 1st and 2nd violins sound (except the pan effect), there is no reason to cross the staffs and write 1st violin lower the 2nd and vice versa. Think about the 2nd violins rather as about the lower violins, less expressive in the performance and less technically skilled than the 1st violins.
    Although this is NORMALLY true, sometimes the music gains from dialogue effects which may involve crossing.

    Quote Originally Posted by capellen
    Bowings: unless you are an experienced string player, don't spend much time trying to write correct bowings. String players will most probably change it, anyway. Good bowing is a challenge even for string players. Moreover, it is also a bit internal question at every orchestra (have a look into the parts, how many changes were made on bowings over the years in every orchestra....)

    Legato, staccato, etc.: it is easier to write general expression notes, than work out every single note in the score (usually, this is the case of computer notation - play loopback). Moreover, it is also much easier to read for both the conductor and players..
    I would add that although most non-string players cannot write up and down bow marks correctly, they SHOULD learn to write slurs (bow changes) with reasonable fluency. Note that the length of slurs is directly related to dynamics.

    Quote Originally Posted by capellen
    Fast arpeggios: although this technique works well on piano, it is one of the most difficult and totally far-fetched technique for strings. If possible, try to use alternate techniques (e.g. tremollo) instead of this. If you still need to go with arpeggios, try to not exceed, say, one octave (one way) or use the arpeggios continuously, in countermovement (e.g. up and down, up and down etc.).
    There ARE however, quite easy, typical string arpeggios; the point is that they are *different* from piano arpeggios. Where a pianist would play (going up):

    G B D G B D etc.

    A violinist can EASILY play:

    G D B G (upward), followed by the same notes back down. 2 open strings, all notes in first position, and bow movement is simple and symmetrical.
    Alan Belkin, composer
    Professor of Composition
    University of Montreal

    http://www.musique.umontreal.ca/pers...n/e.index.html (links to examples of my music, as well as my online textbooks)

  6. #6

    Re: STRINGS - general conductor's comments

    Quote Originally Posted by belkina
    a few additions:

    Note that the length of slurs is directly related to dynamics.
    Unfortunatelly, this is not quite right. The lenght of slurs may not be necessarily related to dynamics (see, e.g. Holst's "Planets", Saturn, opening: long bow, but big crescendo). As an earlier violinist, I would say, that bow changes may often weaken/break the sound intensity. So, it's really a challenge. And also the reason I would recommend to preferably write "legato" instead of "experimental" bowings.

    Quote Originally Posted by belkina

    There ARE however, quite easy, typical string arpeggios; the point is that they are *different* from piano arpeggios. Where a pianist would play (going up):

    G B D G B D etc.

    A violinist can EASILY play:

    G D B G (upward), followed by the same notes back down. 2 open strings, all notes in first position, and bow movement is simple and symmetrical.
    Yes, this is exactly the way, I did suggest. However, again, for a sectional play in fast tempi are string arpeggios - on the opposite of soloist play or chamber music - usually an inconvenient solution (just hard-earned color).

    __________________________________
    Petr Pololanik, M.A.
    Conductor, Orchestrator, Music Producer
    Capellen Music Production

  7. #7

    Re: STRINGS - general conductor's comments

    Quote Originally Posted by capellen
    Unfortunatelly, this is not quite right. The lenght of slurs may not be necessarily related to dynamics (see, e.g. Holst's "Planets", Saturn, opening: long bow, but big crescendo). As an earlier violinist, I would say, that bow changes may often weaken/break the sound intensity. So, it's really a challenge. And also the reason I would recommend to preferably write "legato" instead of "experimental" bowings.
    Thanks for bringing this up. You are right, my explanation was not 100% clear. The question of slur length and dynamics most often comes up with long passages where bow strokes alternate, non-stop. If, in the middle of such a passage, one slur is much shorter or longer than the others, those notes will tend to sound louder or softer, because of the need to keep the bow strokes more or less "balanced".
    Alan Belkin, composer
    Professor of Composition
    University of Montreal

    http://www.musique.umontreal.ca/pers...n/e.index.html (links to examples of my music, as well as my online textbooks)

  8. #8

    Re: STRINGS - general conductor's comments

    Quote Originally Posted by belkina
    Thanks for bringing this up. You are right, my explanation was not 100% clear. The question of slur length and dynamics most often comes up with long passages where bow strokes alternate, non-stop. If, in the middle of such a passage, one slur is much shorter or longer than the others, those notes will tend to sound louder or softer, because of the need to keep the bow strokes more or less "balanced".
    Yes, violin teachers would say, that "bowing is the art of stroke and pressure". I guess, the is probably the most exact explanation of the bowing - dynamics corelation, one can ever give.

    __________________________________
    Petr Pololanik, M.A.
    Conductor, Orchestrator, Music Producer
    Capellen Music Production

  9. #9

    Re: STRINGS - general conductor's comments

    Quote Originally Posted by capellen
    Violins: while there is no difference between the 1st and 2nd violins sound (except the pan effect), there is no reason to cross the staffs and write 1st violin lower the 2nd and vice versa.
    What's always confused me is when you want the melody to be played in the violins in octaves against a countermelody also in the violins. This means the first and second violins will have three parts to cover. Do you make the first violins play the same thing divisi in octaves even if the lower part is below the countermelody in the second violins? Or do you make the first violins play both melody and countermelody in divisi while the second violins support the top melody an octave lower?

    Yeah, it sounds confusing, but this comes up a lot when writing a melody line over two or more octaves in the upper register.

  10. #10

    Re: STRINGS - general conductor's comments

    Divide the section which is meant to be LESS prominent musically.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sil
    What's always confused me is when you want the melody to be played in the violins in octaves against a countermelody also in the violins. This means the first and second violins will have three parts to cover. Do you make the first violins play the same thing divisi in octaves even if the lower part is below the countermelody in the second violins? Or do you make the first violins play both melody and countermelody in divisi while the second violins support the top melody an octave lower?

    Yeah, it sounds confusing, but this comes up a lot when writing a melody line over two or more octaves in the upper register.
    Alan Belkin, composer
    Professor of Composition
    University of Montreal

    http://www.musique.umontreal.ca/pers...n/e.index.html (links to examples of my music, as well as my online textbooks)

Go Back to forum

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •