StringSection Blog

Posts Tagged ‘session cellist’

Well written string arrangements…..

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Last Monday, we recorded three songs for an independent singer / songwriter based near to Milton Keynes. The client had written a number of songs, many of which required strings – either as a full orchestra or a string quartet. Sometimes, when non string playing musicians approach us with string parts that they’ve arranged themselves, results can be variable. One common problem is string parts that have been played into a keyboard and scored by a midi device (such as protools), without the understanding of notation. If the parts are inputted inaccurately, then all kinds of rhythmic anomolies can be present in the scores, as well as instruments frequently being allocated the wrong clefs. Sometimes the programme is not aware of the intended key and copes by placing accidentals all over the music, making it more difficult to read. Sometimes, the wrong enharmonic notes are assigned (such as a Db instead of a C#) and this takes time to comprehend, even for experienced session musicians.
Setting aside notation issues, we have often received parts without any use of harmony, such as individual lines of instruments all playing in octaves. This does not make best use of having a live string orchestra in the studio as a far greater effect can be achieved by scoring sympathetically for strings.

When session musicians are presented in the studio with inappropriately scored music, or scores which are full of mistakes, not only is costly studio time wasted, but it can sometimes feel that the full potential of what live strings can offer is not being made best use of. If bands and musicians invest in the services of a professional string arranger, the qualities of of hiring an orchestra to play on the track can be far more effective.

This week, we were delighted to be given string parts that were well written for the instruments and were harmonically full. They also had a conversational feel with one instrumental line answering another and the overall effect was complimentary to the rest of the track and a real pleasure to play.

Recording Session at RAK Studios

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Yesterday, we popped into RAK Studios in St John’s Wood to record string quartet parts for a band who wanted to enhance their track with live strings. The string arranger had introduced a “Bollywood” style to the writing, so there were plenty of glissandi throughout the parts. These were very effective and gave the music an extra dimension, adding a slightly mournful quality to the strings. This style of writing was reminiscent of some of the later Beatles string arrangements, using a classical Indian influence to great effect.

As various countries and cultures have their own distinct style of writing and orchestrating for strings, some arrangers and bands can choose to utilise this to add interest to a track. By writing a western pop or rock track and asking the string arranger to compose parts with a middle Eastern, Scandanavian or Celtic flavour, the whole feel of a track can be altered to suggest a fusion of influences. In the same way, a string arranger could be approached with the brief of writing parts in the style of various decades – for example 1960’s ‘easy listening’ strings or something highly classical in nature.

Phrasing

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

A couple of days ago I spoke to a composer who is looking to hire a string section to record part of his composition for three short films. He’d spent a lot of time working with very high quality string samples but felt that when it came to staccato bowings and phrasing, there was just something missing that gave sampled strings an unreal quality.

What differentiates an outstanding string player from an average one (as well as sampled strings) is his or her ability to really sing through the instrument. All the best players ‘phrase’ so the listener can really hear the whole direction of the music, like hearing a whole sentence rather than a series of single words. When the phrasing is done beautifully, the bow seems to disappear and instead of hearing a succession of ‘down’ and ‘up’ bows, there is a feeling of seamlessness with no apparent breaks in the sound. When this happens, the instrument can really seem to glow.

When phrasing is coming through, it can have a very individual sound for each player and with the very best musicians, it is possible to tell exactly who is playing from their unique sound and characteristic tone. This is rather like recognising someone from their speaking voice or accent, but it is the way they use their speaking voice that makes a person sound so individual. If one has a distinctive voice but talks in a monotone, this will be less recognisable than a person who injects real vitality and variety into their speech. A couple of months ago, a composer sent me an mp3 of some of his work that he’d had recorded by a really good cellist – on listening to it, I recognised the cello sound as being played by a woman I had been at college with 20 years ago and when I queried it, he confirmed that it was her.

In order to convey convincing phrasing to an audience (or studio microphone), the player must really project it with clear definition. Without using the word ‘exaggerate’ there must be a level of commitment and passion that clearly conveys whatever the performers intention is.

Any half measures will strike the listener as bland or uninteresting. There are many excellent players who are so concerned with accurate intonation and note perfect playing that they risk sounding ‘safe’ with little or no phrasing to characterise their playing. This is often evident in good string quartets who display excellent ensemble and great tuning but don’t inject their playing with enough character and inflection.

In the studio, the best way of a string section sounding really impressive is for all of the players to phrase at the same points and really feel the music together. No sound sample as yet can achieve that human soulfulness that gives real strings their ability to move the listener.