Tips for string writing
Posted on 2016-09-24
As for my first blog post here, I decided to write down some tips that have helped me in writing for strings.
String section in an orchestra represents an enormous variety of different sounds and textures, which sometimes might be a bit overwhelming to composers starting to compose for strings. I admit I’ve struggled in string writing and still am, since as a piano player I have to think very differently, when I’m composing for section. Thinking positively, strings sound pretty homogeneous, and blend within themselves, thus you don’t need to worry much about blending.
PIANO AND STRING WRITING
Don’t write to strings as you would to a piano. A four note chord you would write for a piano wouldn’t work for strings. Firstly, it wouldn’t be very interesting, and your players would get bored quickly, but secondly your strings would lack space.
Strings need space, which means you should separate low notes more and high strings can be closer.
MAKE IT BREATH
Make your music breath: Strings need to have breaks. You should think of how a string player would play your music. I often imagine me as a string player sliding the bow on a string. It wouldn’t hurt to buy a cheap violin though.
WRITE INTERESTING PARTS
Avoid block chords. Write interesting parts for Violins I, Violins II, Viola, Cello and Bass. Although cello is doubled with double bass many times, don’t take it as a rule. You should treat cello as a completely different instrument.
STRINGS DON’T HAVE TO PLAY EVERYTHING
Even though there’s a temptation to fall in love to string section sound and write everything to them, they don’t need to play always and everything. E.g. when writing a theme for strings, you could write the harmony to woodwinds or brass
USE BASS FOR HIGHLIGHTS
You don’t need to use all of the string section always. E.g. bass can be used for highlights.
SEPARATE THEME FROM BACKGROUND
Use the best register of instruments for a theme. Background instruments shouldn’t either be in their best register or they shouldn’t be in a register, which is hard to play softly. Avoid similar rhythm in theme and background.
CRESCENDOS AND DECRESCENDOS USING THE AMOUNT OF PLAYERS
Crescendos and decrescendos don’t always need to be done with whole section. One very efficient and interesting way of making a crescendo is bringing gradually more instruments, e.g. first Violins I, then Violins II, then Violas etc. When decrescendo comes, instruments stops to play gradually.
Notice that there are much more to string writing, it’s a never ending learning experience. I hope this helps a bit in getting the hang of string writing, and keep composing!