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MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings

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MusicalRocky
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MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 27th, 2007 @ 10:36 PM Reply

ALL RIGHT. Strings. It's a big family, compositionally. Here I shall attempt to give you all my knowledge on it. I'm going to have to scratch from the nooks of the farthest corners of my brain.

Now, I've been told numerous times that I am especially good with composing for strings. It makes sense. I play violin, and I'm in Orchestra class, therefore being in close contact with strings every day, knowing their inner workings. (Well, they're hollow...)

So, let's get to it, shall we?

BASIC-NESS

There are four different kinds of string instruments generally involved in Classical writing. That is to say, involved in a string orchestra. This excludes guitars, electric strings, harps, etc. So those looking for info on those, this is not the correct place.

There are Violins, Violas, Violoncellos (or just cellos), and Basses. That's in order from the highest range to the lowest range.

- The range of violins is from the G below middle C to the highest C on the piano.
- The range of violas is from the C an octave below middle C to the F below the highest C on the piano.
- The range of cellos is a full octave below the violas. Therefore the lowest note is C2, but the highest note is technically C7 (an octave below the violin's highest.)
- Basses are odd things. Their strings are tuned in fourths, as opposed to the others. The range is E1 to G6 (holy crap, I know.)

Anywho, now I know a lot of that may seem like wtfness, but like you mostly won't use the way way upper notes of the instruments, unless you want to kill people, both the players and the listeners.

THE STRING ORCHESTRA

Now, there may be four different instruments, but there are 5 sections in a string orchestra. There are Violin I, Violin II, Viola, Cello, and Bass.

Violins use a treble clef. Violas use an alto clef. Cellos and basses use a bass clef.

IMPORTANT TO NOTE: You ALWAYS write Bass parts an octave up. For example: if you wanted to have the bass play the lowest note, e.g. the E1, you wouldn't put an E down all those ledger lines, you would just use one ledger line. Bassists always read an octave down. All the music on the page is an octave above what it will actually sound like.

Let me explain the functions of the sections: Violin I generally provides the main melodies, with Violin II and Violas giving the harmony. Cellos and Basses can provide the beat, but Cellos are often given melodies too. A creative composer seeks to give every section some contrapuntal melodies and harmony, and not just rely on the easy method of "One line of melody and four lines of block harmony."

Another thing: string orchestras are set up thus, from left to right: 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas (right infront of the conductor), cellos partially to the right, and basses all the way to the right. So you might want to pan the strings in that way, or you may not. Doesn't matter to me.

Also...when you say you're going to "use strings in mah song~!! fo real!" Don't just use one staff, line, channel, layer, whatever of "high strings" or "low strings" or God forbid something like "creepy strings." Use a freaking string orchestra man! Such depth cannot be given with just one range.

TAKING PERFORMANCE INTO ACCOUNT

Many of you don't care about this, and most of you never expect to have any of your pieces ever performed. But for those of you Classical-ists out there who would love to see you're work put on stage, this is VERY IMPORTANT.

THE STRING PLAYERS ARE REAL PEOPLE. I'm not trying to sound stupid, but they're not gods; they can't play anything you put on paper. There are limits, and I'm not just talking about the instrument's ranges. For example, it is very, very hard to suddenly jump from the 2nd lowest note to the highest note on a violin in a half a second! (Not that any of you would try this, I sincerely hope.) I'm going to try very hard to not get into "Playing Territory" --that is, things to teach to people who are trying to learn how to play strings rather than just compose for them -- but in some cases, I have to.

-Shifting-

Think about it. If a string player keeps his hand in that one spot on the fingerboard, changing strings of course, he's not going to get a very large range. You guitarists, etc., know this. It's essential to move your hand up and down the fingerboard, to play different chords. Well, the highest you go on the fingerboard (which would be, closer to your face), the highest notes you're going to get. So if the player wants to stick to the lowest notes on the instrument, he's going to have his hand all the way UP the fingerboard - away from his face. But anyway. Let's say you have the 2nd violins (Violin II section) playing some really fast notes, but then they suddenly have to go higher and higher up. Well, in order to get higher, he's going to have to shift into a new position. Obviously he can't just put his hand any old place, or he won't know what notes he's playing.

The point of this is to be aware of ascending patterns in string music. I'll teach you a good way to know where the gray area is between "easy to reach" and "stretching it."

Each String instrument has four strings: Violins have G, D, A, and E. Violas have C, G, D, and A. Celli have the same. Basses have E, A, D, and G. GENERALLY, if you the notes you have composed GO HIGHER than the highest string in the instrument, the player will most likely have to shift. For example, on a violin, higher than E is F and up. Technically it can get up to that B, with no trouble, but higher than that and you have to watch out. If you want easy music to play, don't go too high is my advice.

Now I know this is a lot to take in, try to stay with me.

-Keeping Ranges in Check Between Sections-

My advice: don't let the lower sections go higher than the higher ones. In other words, try to avoid having the violas play higher notes than the violins are playing AT THE SAME TIME. For example, don't have the violas play middle C while all violins are playing a melody that is lower than that. It will sound weird is all I can say. Same thing for the Cello-Viola relationshiop and the Bass-Cello partnership lol. Just try to avoid things like that. ON THE OTHER HAND, you can easily do something like have the violins hold a long, suspended open G while the violas play a higher melody over them. In fact I think the result of something like this is quite nice if done right.

**SLURS AND BOWING**

This is pretty important, and I try to pay attention to this as much as possible. Presumably, you all know what a bow is. It's the long, wooden thing, with horse hair that (with rosin applied to the hair) makes vibrations on the strings which makes the notes reverberate in the surroundings. It's basically like the hairs are grabbing the strings and plucking them a lot of times very rapidly, so it sounds like one long note. If a violinist or other keeps the bow on the D string for example, and just moves the bow back and forth, each change in bow direction will be the start of a new NOTE. Pretty obvious, right? Well, the tricky part is when we start talking about slurs. You can play actually quite a lot of notes with one bow direction, as opposed to a different bow direction for each separate note. It's what those long, curved lines are over notes. It also makes the notes sound more connected and legato.

Now, knowing this, you might be in a hurry to use slurs, but be careful. You can't just use them all over the place. Likewise, you really can't just not use slurs -- or if you do, you should be careful. You see, the bows in a section have to look like art, as silly as that sounds. All the bows have to be going in the same direction. And also, if possible, all the bows in the string orchestra should go in the same direction. For example, you don't want, on the last note of the song, half the strings doing what is called an "up bow" and half doing a "down bow." It would look silly and amateurish.

(CONTINUED ON NEXT POST)

MusicalRocky
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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 27th, 2007 @ 10:38 PM Reply

(CONTINUED)

Another thing: players would prefer to have their measures being in downbows. Now I know this is not easy for non-string players to keep up with! But try, if you want, to keep in mind that slurs join notes into a SINGLE BOW. Let's say you have four quarter notes in a measure, and that's all. If the measure had started in a downbow, you'd be fine: the next measure would start with a downbow as well, because the notes would go "Down up down up." However, if you have the last two quarter notes SLURRED TOGETHER, it would go "Down up down-down" and therefore the next measure would start upbow. Keep in mind this is not necessarily a bad thing, and it's sometimes preferable to start a measure upbow.

Try, though, especially if you have the beginning of a measure that is the beginning of a phrase as well, to have it begin on a downbow (unless the phrase beings with an upbeat, which is a different matter.

-Articulation, Dynamics, and Special Effects-

Articulation includes staccato, marcato, spiccato, etc. I'm sure some of you know the effects of these things, but I'm going to explain how they work string-wise. Staccato is when there are little "dots" above/below the notes, shortening the notes. On strings, these can be played on the string or off the string. This means that it can either be played with short bows, the bow never leaving the strings, or that it can be played in a manner such that the bow lifts slightly away from the instrument after every note: This is called spiccato, and is generally marked by "spiccato" or "off the string" or "at the frog." (The frog is the part of the bow where the "handle" joins the end of the hairs.) Spiccato is mostly used in particularly strong passages, or furiously.

Marcato means to play a note specifically loudly and with force. It is marked by a "sideways V" over/under the particular note. There is really no need to put a staccato marking with a marcato marking on the same note - at least for strings. Marcato is automatically played with a bit of staccato.

Dynamics are achieved in strings by applying varying amounts of pressure with the bow. Needless to say, the less pressure used, the quieter the sound. The player can really DIG into the strings, sometimes creating a grinding sound. But it can be powerful. If you mark a passage with fff, use it wisely, because the bow becomes almost like a saw. It becomes awkward to try playing fff dynamic at a brisk sixteenth-note pace, so be aware of this. Try to use ff or fff dynamic in strings at dramatic sections with longer notes, or not fast. If you want a fast section but loud, simply forte will suffice.

NOTE: It must also be taken into account that naturally violins will sound louder than violas, violas will sound loud than cellos, and cellos will sound louder than basses, due to ranges and the way the ear picks up sound waves. If you have a lower section than violins playing the melody, or even if the 2nd violins have the melody while the 1st violins play really high notes, dynamics may be taken into consideration to balance this volume.

Special effects include pizzicato, tremolo (tremolando), vibrato, etc. Pizzicato, obviously, is when the player abandons his bow and uses his fingers to pluck the strings (NOT IN A GUITAR-LIKE FASHION). This is a very useful and colorful tool in compositions. HOWEVER, take care of the transitions between arco (playing WITH the bow) and pizzicato. Do not have the music sudden go from arco to pizz with no time to take the bow off the string and get into pizzicato position. I usually provide at least a beat of rest.

Tremolo is when the string-ist moves his bow back and forth very rapidly in one spot, to create the sound of a "shimmering note." Best way I can describe it lol. The wrist only is used to create this effect, as the whole arm cannot move this quickly. Tremolo is marked with either "tremolo," or having three "slashes" through the stem of the tremolo notes. This effect is quite difficult if unpracticed, so don't be an lol-retard and try to have an entire song of tremolo. It's just not gonna work, sorry to tell you. But it is a nice effect in sad and/or creepy music, so have at it.

Vibrato is the effect created when a note is sustained while the finger on the fingerboard moves to create a "wavering" sound, so that the note centered around is more beautiful sounding. The three vibrato methods are finger vibrato, hand vibrato, and arm vibrato. Vibrato is a very nice effect but must not be used constantly, or it will just sound weird. It can really only be used on long enough notes-not really sixteenths, etc. You can say "con vibrato" in the score.

Well, I dunno if there's anything I haven't talked about...

If you have questions, ask away. Someone else or I will try to answer. I hope you enjoyed reading. Have fun with strings and best of luck.

Rocky

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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 27th, 2007 @ 10:39 PM Reply

Duuuuude...that's insane. Nice thread! This will help out TONS of guys.


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MusicalRocky
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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 27th, 2007 @ 10:41 PM Reply

At 9/27/07 10:39 PM, RigAudio wrote: Duuuuude...that's insane. Nice thread! This will help out TONS of guys.

Thanks man! I hope so. : D

Greeksta-69
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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 27th, 2007 @ 11:06 PM Reply

Nice guide it helps.


Check out my newest song HERE!

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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 27th, 2007 @ 11:28 PM Reply

Nice..I might learn something from context, but it wouldn't help if I'm trying to visualize it happening..

MusicalRocky
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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 28th, 2007 @ 06:17 AM Reply

At 9/27/07 11:06 PM, Greeksta-69 wrote: Nice guide it helps.

Woots, glad it does.

At 9/27/07 11:28 PM, DragonsGrief wrote: Nice..I might learn something from context, but it wouldn't help if I'm trying to visualize it happening..

Lol what? It wouldn't help if you visualize it...?

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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 28th, 2007 @ 09:02 AM Reply

Dis r ghey!!!

No seriously well done, great thread, I adore it enough to violate it.

MusicalRocky
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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 28th, 2007 @ 03:48 PM Reply

At 9/28/07 09:02 AM, MaestroRage wrote: Dis r ghey!!!

No seriously well done, great thread, I adore it enough to violate it.

Lol thanks Lemon-man.

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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 28th, 2007 @ 03:55 PM Reply

No I mean that the text doesn't help since I'm a visual learning person.

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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 28th, 2007 @ 03:57 PM Reply

Nice, great, and well done thread you got there.

MusicalRocky
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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 28th, 2007 @ 04:02 PM Reply

At 9/28/07 03:55 PM, DragonsGrief wrote: No I mean that the text doesn't help since I'm a visual learning person.

Oh. Right...that sucks : / It is always easier to see something than read it. Wish I could show you lol.

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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 28th, 2007 @ 11:08 PM Reply

*bookmarked*
It'll take me days to understand 40% of all this... and that's great.
I guess I've learned something new this day, and just because of this, I'll try to compose a string orchestra soon.

I already got a cool melody.

yay
:D


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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 29th, 2007 @ 04:35 AM Reply

Heyhey MusicalRocky!
Just thought I'd let you know that it was a kickass tutorial, and it can probably help alot of people here at Newgrounds!

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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 29th, 2007 @ 06:25 AM Reply

Bookmarked!

gj!!!

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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 29th, 2007 @ 08:28 AM Reply

At 9/28/07 11:08 PM, Fuoco wrote: *bookmarked*
It'll take me days to understand 40% of all this... and that's great.
I guess I've learned something new this day, and just because of this, I'll try to compose a string orchestra soon.

I already got a cool melody.

yay
D

Woot, that's awesome man! Yeah, strings is no easy deal. Don't try to rush into understanding. Take it slowly if necessary :)

At 9/29/07 04:35 AM, Arbiter wrote: Heyhey MusicalRocky!
Just thought I'd let you know that it was a kickass tutorial, and it can probably help alot of people here at Newgrounds!

Thanks, and I hope so!

At 9/29/07 06:25 AM, Rucklo wrote: Bookmarked!
gj!!!

:D
Thanks!

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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 29th, 2007 @ 10:26 AM Reply

Now that i've had the time to read througha all of it in detail i'd like to ask something.

"Each String instrument has four strings: Violins have G, D, A, and E. Violas have C, G, D, and A. Celli have the same. Basses have E, A, D, and G"

If you go higher then the highest string note then the musician will have to shift, or move his hand correct? So does that mean:

That Violins lowest note on the first string is say G4, and the highest note an E5, and then if you want say D5, they'd have to shift to the second string, with their hand one the far side of the board?

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Response to MusicalRocky's Guide to Strings Sep. 29th, 2007 @ 10:42 AM Reply

At 9/29/07 10:26 AM, MaestroRage wrote: Now that i've had the time to read througha all of it in detail i'd like to ask something.

"Each String instrument has four strings: Violins have G, D, A, and E. Violas have C, G, D, and A. Celli have the same. Basses have E, A, D, and G"

If you go higher then the highest string note then the musician will have to shift, or move his hand correct? So does that mean:

That Violins lowest note on the first string is say G4, and the highest note an E5, and then if you want say D5, they'd have to shift to the second string, with their hand one the far side of the board?

Wait wait.

I said USUALLY have to shift if they go higher than the highest string.

Ok... Let's see what you're saying... Well, no. They can get to D5 very easily, 3rd finger on the A string in a regular hand position, no difficulty at all, no shifting for that. Also, their lowest note is G3, not G4 :P (If I'm getting what you're saying.) However, you CAN play, say that same note D5, on the second string (D), but they would have to shift. But no one ever does that really, unless there's a certain passage that you have to keep your hand shifted up for quite a while in order to play a fast run or something.