StringSection Blog

Posts Tagged ‘writing string parts for a pop song’

String Parts for a Singer Songwriter

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

This weekend, we were asked to record the strings on two songs for a talented singer songwriter who is producing her own album of melodic ballads. As over the previous two weeks I had been arranging the strings on both tracks in collaboration with the artist, I was really looking forward to recording them and hearing how they would sound on live strings. Although the Sibelius software that I use for arranging can give me a pretty good idea of how the parts will sound, it can’t really add any of the feeling and sensitivity that we do when we’re playing on acoustic instruments.

The string arranging had been done to a brief and a couple of Sibelius versions had gone back and forward via email until our client was happy. One of the tracks required intricate writing with a view to having an 8 piece string ensemble (like a string quartet but thickened to two players per part). The other song already had synthesised strings in the mid range which needed to be replaced with the real thing and expanded to really open the song out. In this second song, it was important for the string parts to really enhance the track without getting in the way of the melody or other instrumentation, so as I was writing for a 48 piece string orchestra, the arranging had to have a very light touch with the ability to have richness and power where necessary.

We started the recording session at 4pm and didn’t finish until after midnight! Although the session had taken longer than anticipated, the results sounded stunning and we’re very much looking forward to hearing the final mix.

The weight of the strings……

Monday, July 5th, 2010

One of the most important things to get right when arranging strings for a pop track (or even rock or folk) track is having the insight into how much or little to add and whether the ‘weight’ of the strings is appropriate to the qualities inherent in the track.

Real strings should enhance, enrich and embellish a song, without dominating or being so fancy that the ear is drawn to them and away from the vocal line / other instrumentation. Sometimes writing less does add more and occasionally a sparse string timbre can be ideal to bring out the textures of a more subtle song – a bit like applying a hint of natural looking makeup rather than thick black eyeliner!

Occasionally a client will envisage a huge symphonic string orchestra sound that could be full in it’s own right but in the final mix could be moved back so that it sounds more distant while retaining the orchestral feel. A good example of this would be a powerful rock song or anything that already has lots of other instruments in it and can literally take the weight of a big string section. A string arranger has to think rather like an architect – if strings are applied too heavily onto a delicate song, then the overall structure of the piece can buckle.

In a lighter track, where the strings are going to be quite forward in the mix, they should weave between the vocal lines, rather than doing something elaborate at the same time as the vocal melody. Any intricate writing could occur between verses to add variety and life to the track and if chords are written, the spacings need to allow the melody line to breath. As an example, using lower chords or solo cello / viola parts can compliment a higher or female voice whereas a lighter, higher chord in the violins can frame lower melodic lines or give more of a shimmering effect over a track.