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Topic: Strings in a Non-Classic context

  1. #1

    Strings in a Non-Classic context

    Hi !

    I am continuing to explore GPO4 and classical and, to my surprise, i am quite good at it. Thanks to the very nice online orchestration course

    I would like to write a slow jazz ballad using strings as a chordal backing. Should i use simple chords ( ie: R-3-5 ) for the strings as in traditional classical music, or use the Jazz arranging method ( R-3-7, and extentions, ect ) ?

    Thanks in advance for taking time to answer

    Max Freniere

    Ps: Anyone know some good Jazz-Oriented Orchestra music, I got a very inspiring Gershwin record, anything else ?

  2. #2

    Re: Strings in a Non-Classic context

    I can not answer your question, but somewhere I've read that using pure Jazz chords with "classical" instruments should be delt with care maintaining the "transparancy" as with "jazz" instruments.

    In particular with strings you will meet that ugly "dissonant" by distance thing, though it is a - let's say - normal G13(-9) chord, it may not sound like one, due to the fundamental G (or D) is too far from the rest of the notes.

    I noticed this myself when composing my Symphony. As a result I moved those "jazz" distances to the wind instruments (mainly) or shifted the fundamental to another (higher register) instrument.

    My 2 cents,


  3. #3

    Re: Strings in a Non-Classic context

    Thanks Raymond, this look like an answer to me...lol

    Think i will check both ways to be sure how they sound, but i am pretty sure that i will have nice result using Only (R-3-5) in strings , and let the Piano player extend the chords... ( i will get back on this with my results )

    Anyone else ? And again, Thanks Raymond

    Max Freniere

  4. #4

    Re: Strings in a Non-Classic context


    I am trying to do the same exact thing. Currently, I am writing a pop piece using large instrumentation forces. The melody is played by 2 flutes, a flute alto, a soprano sax and a fluegelhorn in unison. The flutes are in preponderance for tone color reasons. The fluegelhorn and sax buttress the flutes. Below this conductus there are the strings with a very rich harmonic structure. This is the rub. Whereas a live orchestra won't have a problem in balancing voices inside the harmonic clusters, well, computer software has big mixing problems. I am discussing this with some of my forum colleagues (thank you guys, you're always so eager to help!).

    On top of the above mix, there are the brass which intervene from time to time with other harmonic clusters. To help the mixing equillibrium, I think careful panning, that is enlarging the stereo stage to give every group and soloist more space, is essential. Yesterday I worked on the brass groups and panning helped enormously in hearing the harmony. I myself am at the outset of my skills, so my input is by far not as relevant as that of my colleagues in this forum. Many a problem arises with the strings, in my opinion, the weakest group of any library our there. I listened to many demos from many software houses and still found that strings still have a lot to be desired. Many, if not most of them, sound synthetic and they are recorded in the background so that the listener (at least I) is not so aware of the lackings. This of course is all subjective, but I have quite good ears for the orchestra, having many years acumulated in working with a few of them.

    One good approach to massage the string sections' tone color is to add soloists from the library and carefully mixing them in. The sound becomes much smoother. The problem is that instruments sound well separately, but in the mix they behave differently, just as individuals in a crowd. Right now, I am wrestling with this and it's not easy at all.

    Hopefully, the discussion will continue and we'll come out more enlightened. The thread is:



  5. #5

    Re: Strings in a Non-Classic context

    Hey Max and welcome to the forum.

    If I understand your question it's a question of orchestration rather than sound engineering.

    I would therefore highly recommend listening to anything Nelson Riddle did. He did several arrangements for Frank Sinatra and his string writing is outstanding. I wouldn't think in terms of chords (r-3-5) as this will become tiresome to listen to. Think rather in terms of lines or subtle melodies to say it another way. I think if you listen to some arrangements it will make more sense.

    Steve Winkler

  6. #6

    Re: Strings in a Non-Classic context

    I think Steve hit the nail on the head... except I'd suggest that you consider chord construction as only one tool, and consider treating the orchestral instruments as parts as an alternative.

    From my own experience I've had very little success thinking in terms of chords when I add strings to a contemporary piece. I'm not always looking for the Nelson Riddle sound, but it is not a bad sound to aspire to<G>!

    I will almost always have the root of whatever chord I've built somewhere in the strings, and somewhere in the winds and maybe even somewhere in the brass, but the register will not always be the lowest available.

    Beyond that I tend to favor open intervals, so instead of a 3rd I might use a 10th, or, I'll put the root in the strings and the 3rd in the winds and the 5th in the horns, where quite often it'll end up creating an inversion.

    One thing I've never gotten away with - but still keep trying - is the third in the lowest register. It's a fairly standard Gospel and pop device, but it doesn't seem to work as well in a strings setting.

    Bringing it back around... I often stop thinking in terms of harmony once I've placed one or maybe two chord tones. Everything else is written as a 'part', so it will often be constrained by scale, but not by chord... if that makes sense.

    So if I have the basses and cellos sitting on the roots of the chords I might not even put passing tones in those parts, I might simply step from one root to the next. But then the violas will be playing something entirely different, as will the violins. And these later two parts will resemble the melody more than they resemble a chord change. If that makes sense.

    Best advice I ever heard... "Listen to good stuff and then experiment..."
    Bill Thompson
    Audio Enterprise

  7. #7
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
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    Apr 2006
    Suburban NYC

    Re: Strings in a Non-Classic context

    Hi Max,

    There's a lot of good advice in this thread ... and experimenting with all that advice will help you come to your own philosophy on writing for strings, both in and out of a jazz setting.

    I'd like to add to these helpful responses with an aspect that wasn't mentioned yet: "What is the size of the jazz ensemble(s) you are going to experiment with?"

    If it's just a solo flugelhorn or sax with a rhythm section + a string section, you have quite a bit of latitude. About any size string grouping will sound great in this setting, from an intimate string trio to a full, symphony-sized string section.

    If, on the other hand, you are adding strings to a more traditional jazz band (or a full big-band, as in many of the Nelson Riddle charts mentioned in one of the responses), there's two important things to consider:

    1.- How many wind instruments are in the ensemble?;
    2.- How many strings are available to you?

    Wind instruments carry a lot of tonal weight compared to strings (Don Sebesky uses an approx formula of one woodwind=16 violins!). The point is obvious: unless you have a large string section, they will be hopelessly overpowered by a band ... or even a half of a band .

    In this scenario, when you combine the strings with the winds:

    Try not to divide them too much ... the more players on a part, the better chance they will be heard;

    The higher you write the violins, the thinner they'll sound ... even unisons may not be able to cut through the band parts if there's not enough players on the violin line;

    Tone down the brass with mutes in parts of the arrangement ... Nelson did this a LOT. Saxes doubling flutes and clarinets accomplishes the same thing for the reed section.

    Try and give the strings a clear "vertical slot" in the mix ... below or above the band or soloist where they'll have a fighting chance of sounding through.

    IOW, if you only have a few strings to combine with a wind-heavy jazz band, use a lot of unisons and octaves and give them as much aural space as possible; save your divided voicings for when you are blessed with a larger string section, or when the winds are tacit.

    One last thought Max: In a virtual orchestra/band, you can make three violins dominate the mix with seventeen open trumpets and six bass trombones ... but in a realistic setting, this just won't work. And virtual recreations can be made to sound much more realistic by creating plausible orchestration.

    Hope this helps and keep experimenting ... and, oh yeah, HAVE FUN!



  8. #8

    Re: Strings in a Non-Classic context

    Quote Originally Posted by Frank D View Post
    Hi Max,
    Wind instruments carry a lot of tonal weight compared to strings (Don Sebesky uses an approx formula of one woodwind=16 violins!). The point is obvious: unless you have a large string section, they will be hopelessly overpowered by a band ... or even a half of a band .

    But that's only until you turn your amps up!

    Seriously, Steve Reich talks about this a lot. We have the technolgy to accurately amplify instruments almost as much as needed, so you can balance a trumpet against a flute or whatever. I heard a 19th century guitar concerto a few years ago and the guitarist used an amp to give himself 6-12 dB more volume. Of course, if you're writing for multiple concert performances by several orchestras (and good luck with that!), it may not be practical - yet.

    The main danger of doing it that way is that you can get away with not learning how to orchestrate the old way and never learn the subtleties of the orchestra.

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