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Topic: String section, note or chord?

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  1. #1

    String section, note or chord?

    Hi, sorry to be such a noob but, when i'm using string section, do i use individual notes or do i use chords?

    Scar.

  2. #2

    Re: String section, note or chord?

    If you write "chords" for a generic string section, it will tend to sound like a synth pad background.

    If you write individual lines for 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, celli and bass, then you will have better luck avoiding that very keyboardy synth pad effect.

    Each part of a string section CAN be divided into multiple parts. But think linearly, rather than block chords, for a more authentic end result.

  3. #3

    Re: String section, note or chord?

    Quote Originally Posted by qccowboy View Post
    If you write "chords" for a generic string section, it will tend to sound like a synth pad background.

    If you write individual lines for 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, celli and bass, then you will have better luck avoiding that very keyboardy synth pad effect.

    Each part of a string section CAN be divided into multiple parts. But think linearly, rather than block chords, for a more authentic end result.
    Yes, that was the answer i was hoping to see.
    So, instead of playing the chord, each note of the chord would be represented by an individual instrument or section?

    Thanks for your reply, much appreciated.

    Scar.

  4. #4

    Re: String section, note or chord?

    Think of the strings as monophonic instruments.
    They are capable of playing more than one note at a time (maximum four), but not an entire passage in complex harmony.

    Double-stops (and triple stops and quadruple stops, as 2, 3 and 4-note chords are called - called this way because the player must "stop" multiple notes at once with the fingers of the left hand) require time to prepare in most cases. If the passage is all the same interval, the fingers simply slide over to the next note, but if you have first a 3rd, then a 5th, then a 4th then a 6th, you are requiring the performer's left hand to change positions very quickly. If you are asking him to play 3 or 4 notes at once, the difficulty of getting the hand in position to play the notes is augmented immensely.

    Add to this the simple fact that you will not get a smooth legato performance if you require multiple "chords" to be played in a row.

    Therefore, think of a string section as 5 instrumentalists.
    Think in terms of lines. You want each part to be linear.. this will give a better sense of flow.

    Generally speaking, the strings divide into more or less three parts.
    The 1st and 2nd violins will generally play passages in octaves (the upper part reinforces the partials of the lower part).
    The viola takes the middle part.
    The celli and contrabasses are often in octaves, like the violins. The contrabasses either supporting the celli by playing pizzicato, or playing arco. (the more you have contrabasses and celli playing both arco, in octaves, the heavier the sound gets. take time to remove the contrabasses every once in a while, it lightens the texture considerably. also, remember to alternate pizz with arco)

    With a full orchestra, many wonderful "effects" can be achieved by having various parts of the string section play unison.

    For example, a full unison of 1st and 2nd violins has an incredible richness, particularly in the lower register of their range. There is something incredibly dramatic about this unison, for some reason.

    Then violins can play unison with violas (remember they don't have the same lowest note.. violas can go a 5th lower).

    And another great combo is violas and celli.

    And of course, violins in their lowest register in unison with celli in their higher range creates a great deal of tension... partially due to the violins' raw low range, and the increased string tension of the celli in their higher range.

    Contrabasses can play unison with celli or octaves apart (the more "normal" arrangement), but it is a bit harder to have contrabasses play an actual unison with violas or violins. It can be done, but with care.

    (Remember also that the contrabass is not technically the same family of instrument as the rest of the string section. It does not have quite the same acoustical quality, nor the same carrying power. Also, remember that the contrabass is tuned differently: strings in 4ths, rather than 5ths. And last detail about contrabasses: hand position and size of the strings and distance between tones on the string means that for all intents and purposes, anything other than the simplest double stop is just not feasible.)


    My I tend to ramble on!!!!

  5. #5

    Re: String section, note or chord?

    Quote Originally Posted by Scaramouche View Post
    Hi, sorry to be such a noob but, when i'm using string section, do i use individual notes or do i use chords?

    Scar.
    Hi, Scar - You've gotten very valuable replies already from Michel. He might have even told you more than you were prepared for.

    I think you were asking if you should play chords like a keyboardist will with a string patch--and the answer is definitely no. Develop individual lines, just as Michel said.

    What the chord structure of a piece is will guide you on what to write for each voice in the string section, but you won't be just blocking out those chords. So beyond not wanting to chunk out the chords in a keyboard-like way, using just one string "patch," you also don't want to just assign the highest note to violin, middle note to viola, low notes to cello and bass. Use the chord structure as a guide for developing individual parts which weave around each other interestingly.

    Randy

  6. #6

    Re: String section, note or chord?

    OUCH!!!

    And here's me thinking that i can just grab my keyboard and play as i would, a synth.

    I have a lot of reading to do and a lot of learning to look forward to.

    Thank you both for dragging me from the depths of ignorance and pointing me in the right direction.

    I think it'll be some time before i can post a sample of anything i work on.

    In the meantime, i better go get my reading glasses.

    Thanks again.

    Scar.

  7. #7

    Re: String section, note or chord?

    Take a look at some scores from well-known pieces (e.g., this website has a lot of them in PDF), preferably ones you know and can play from disc or iPod while looking at the score. I found it to be very instructive. It can help you understand how you can distribute harmonies and counterpoint (parallel melodies) across the different sections. BTW, there are very many different ways of doing it. E.g., if you look at Haydn you'll see that he treats strings very different from Mahler. If you want a place to start, you could try the famous fourth movement, Adagietto, from Mahler's 5th Symphony (). It's just strings and harp and quite magical...
    Theo

  8. #8

    Re: String section, note or chord?

    Quote Originally Posted by Scaramouche View Post
    OUCH!!!

    And here's me thinking that i can just grab my keyboard and play as i would, a synth.

    I have a lot of reading to do and a lot of learning to look forward to.

    Thank you both for dragging me from the depths of ignorance and pointing me in the right direction.

    I think it'll be some time before i can post a sample of anything i work on.

    In the meantime, i better go get my reading glasses.

    Thanks again.

    Scar.
    Helo again, Scar - It's good to see you have a sense of humor in reaction to the replies you've gotten here.

    But it would be wrong of us to assume you want to write and produce music in a classical style. I don't know what you want to write, but it occurs to me that since you have experience as a keyboard player, and mention having used string patches before, maybe you're writing songs, pop music, something lighter than what these replies have been talking about.

    The same principles mentioned here will apply even if your music is in a lighter vein. Pop string arrangements just tend to be simpler. But it does remain that you wouldn't want to take samples of real strings, like those in GPO, and just play them in a pianistic/keyboard player way. You would always want to develop separate lines for each part of the string section in your band.

    I have an interest in theatre music, and there's a very popular modern musical called "Spring Awakening." Music for that show is modern and rather sophisticated pop, not at all in the tradition of the Broadway musical. It includes string arrangements for a trio, violin, viola and cello. The rest of the band had one arranger, these strings had an additional arranger. It's a very hip example of strings used in modern pop music, albeit a style of pop music more complex than Top 10 songs. It could be a good reference for you, if you indeed aren't aiming to be writing symphonies and other modern classical pieces.

    Randy

  9. #9
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    Re: String section, note or chord?

    Another +1 for Michel's comments.

    You may wish to take a look at the orchestration materials elsewhere on the forum. Getting a good book on orchestration would also be helpful. It is also worth noting that a new edition of Gilreath's book on MIDI orchestration is scheduled to be released in March.

  10. #10

    Re: String section, note or chord?

    Scaramouche, welcome to the forum. I can't believe no one's pointed you here, yet!

    Read the rest of the chapters, too, and the ones on Jazz arranging. A huge wealth of material, there!

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