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Topic: Modern String Arranging Texts?

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  1. #1

    Modern String Arranging Texts?

    I do a lot of arranging for jazz band and musical theater and I was wondering if there were any good texts on modern string arranging? (A good reference for the style I am looking for is what you hear on contemporary Christmas albums - thick and lush but very contemporary voicings.) I have the Nestico, Cacavas, and Sebesky books, and they all touch on the string section but don't go into depth about how to voice, balance, and score for strings, or how to fir them around the rest of a jazz/theater band. Any ideas would be very appreciated!

  2. #2
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Re: Modern String Arranging Texts?

    Hi Musikmik,

    I'd be interested too!

    I have the Nestico and Sebesky books also, and although they are not method-style books, IMO there still seems to be a wealth of commercial string scoring info, particularly in terms of voicing and balance.

    I also have the Mancini and Riddle books and both of these have examples of combining strings with Jazz band/orchestra, but like the other two, it's pretty much up to the reader to dissect the voicings in the examples.

    I don't want to oversimplify the gorgeous string writing of Johnny Mandel or Torrie Zito, two of my favorites, and certainly two of the premier contemporary arrangers you hear on so many recordings (including your Christmas music reference), but one "Duh" aspect is the shear size of the string ensembles they use for those recordings. As you already know, you can get tricky and slick with voicings, amplification, etc. to get a nice sound from four or five strings in a pit, but that airy, high string writing and lush lower register writing can only come off with a decent number of players on the parts. Unlike wind writing, you really have to have plenty of string players on the lines to get that truly lush sound.

    So, Mr. Mandel or Mr. Zito ... how about a book on your craft?

    Regards,

    Frank

  3. #3

    Re: Modern String Arranging Texts?

    A quick tip to get you started in actually doing it is to treat the string orchestra like a choir with an extended range. I wouldn't experiment too much with using pizzicato or col legno techniques until you've mastered voicing chords with normal bowing. Every technique used for choir arranging can be used for string arranging. I however do recommend further reading.

  4. #4
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    Re: Modern String Arranging Texts?

    If it is a book, Nestico's book is the one probably. As Frank D wrote, you have to extract what you want from the example scores. But if you are familiar with traditional string/orchestral writing and mechanical voicing of the big band jazz, what one should do to achieve what you wanted will be fairly obvious.
    Kentaro Sato (Ken-P)
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  5. #5

    Re: Modern String Arranging Texts?

    Quote Originally Posted by pgfan92 View Post
    A quick tip to get you started in actually doing it is to treat the string orchestra like a choir with an extended range.

    Every technique used for choir arranging can be used for string arranging.
    I accord with this. Far too many sample users are writing for strings as if they were playing chords on a keyboard (which many are!). There is little appreciation of the importance of the contrapuntal elements that generally make for good string writing - and studying or participating in choral work would provide valuable insight into this.

    The topic starter referred to Christmas music - which is mostly choral in character so your advice to 'think choral' makes perfect sense.

    Regards,

    Graham

  6. #6
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Re: Modern String Arranging Texts?

    Hi PGFAN92 and Graham,

    I enjoyed hearing your comments and I'm glad to see any musical theater/jazz-related thread growing on this site.

    I also agree wholeheartedly that writing for strings should never be reduced to playing and orchestrating keyboard chords. There isn't a style of music that wouldn't benefit from more counterpoint

    I understand the parallel between string and choral writing, but I do feel that each section of the orchestra has unique challenges and benefits that require different approaches. Even within a specific musical style, this changes dramatically with the makeup of the string section being used. Your string-vocal parallel is more appropriate in classical music, but much less so in the jazz and modern commercial idioms.

    I also interpret Musikmik's reference to "contemporary Christmas albums" to not mean choral music of carols, but rather, a Michael Bolton or Rosie Clooney recording of "White Christmas" with a commercial studio orchestra, not a classical symphony orchestral.

    I think we are straying from the original task at hand: How do you write for strings in a show pit orchestra or around a jazz band? In both these scenarios, the strings are generally NOT the focal point of the ensemble; and except for underscoring, they are generally in a much more supportive role. And as such, their harmonic role (and voicing) is a very valid question.

    Regards,

    Frank

  7. #7

    Re: Modern String Arranging Texts?

    Hey all! Thanks for the replies. The last post kind of focused my original question. While I would still love a text, classical or contemporary, that address voicing and proportions in depth (with examples) for someone who is not a string player, the issue is more how it functions in a jazz band. (The classical texts I have read use strings much differently, and the lush chordal sound in most contemporary recordings really didn't seem to exist when all of these earlier texts were written.) I can replicate the sound and voicings I hear with samples, and I have also done tons of choral arranging, but in writing for real strings, how do you voice the chord? If you have lush chords, do you split the violins in 2 or 3 parts, and if so how do you split the violas to balance? If you just want a unison string melody, do you just use the violins, or do you include the violas, and if it is in octaves who plays what? Would, for example, the cellos join the melody if the range dips down? And on top of all of this, how do you interplay the strings with the rest of the band? Do you voice the bass in the strings if it is covered in the brass? When writing for strings, do you hold to part writing rules or can you split into extra voices for a particularly lush chord, and when is it appropriate to do so? I've done several transcriptions of string arrangements, such as the Nat King Cole Unforgettable, and while I know the notes were correct and all there, I didn't know off hand how to write the divisi. (The reason I mention the Christmas Albums are they seem to be one of the few places to where this sound is still produced. Another example would be Bette Midler's recent tribute albums, many of Barbra Streisand's albums, etc.) Anyway, thanks for the help, and if any other thoughts come up I'd appreciate them!

  8. #8
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Re: Modern String Arranging Texts?

    Hi Musikmik,

    It's late and would take a while to answer all your well thought-out questions But since you do have the Sebesky book, I think you would find most of the answers in chapter 3-Strings, especially pages 124-131. It's a 62 page chapter but really does cover a lot re: voicings, string section sizes, divisi, min number of players on a line, and even a strings + big band example on pgs 162-163. It may be worth a re-read.

    Hope this helps a bit.

    Regards,

    Frank

  9. #9

    Re: Modern String Arranging Texts?

    Now, if you are writing, say...for a jazz band with strings, you should not (unless you really know what you're doing) include double basses in the strings (as there's already one in the band), and in this instance, the strings would not be supplying most of the melodic material, but would perhaps supply an intro, which would be choral in nature (and if this is jazz, the parts would be splitting all over the place, just like jazz choral works). Throughout the song, the strings would mainly provide countermelodies, harmonies, and perhaps even double the main melody. And if you're writing for professional players, there's quite a large range in which you can write for all strings in unison.fficeffice" />>>
    >>
    In writing string accompaniment, especially with a band, pizzicato will inevitably be used. Voice these chords as you would normal bowing (closed position works better for this), however, think of this as percussion.>>
    >>
    What you will find most is that strings typically become more prominent when the vocalist isn't singing, unless it's time for a horn (not necessarily french horn, in jazz, a horn is any brass or woodwind instrument) solo.

  10. #10

    Re: Modern String Arranging Texts?

    How the strings interact with the brass is interesting. Since the strings and brass don't blend very well, each are heard as different levels of music, so any harmonizing melodies and important dissonant intervals MUST be kept within the same family. All harmony should be complete in each family, unless voice leading forces you to leave out a note, which happens more in classical than jazz. Having strings on the same pitches as the brass is fine, but mix it up a bit, for instance, if the brass is in closed position, put the strings in open, or vice versa. This adds more diversity to the music, and evens out the sound a bit.

    How the strings interact with each other is fairly straight forward, but can be complex. For instance, you can have the cellos playing the top voice, the violins playing the middle voice, and the violas at the bottom if you wanted. However, normally, they maintain regular order, and if melodies extend down, at least one note is shared between the two instruments before they switch. This allows for a smoother transition, and despite what I thought at the beginning, crescendos and decrescendos are not necessary for a smooth transition.

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