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?
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.
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.
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.
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)