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Strings Writing -- Chords?

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Rohann van Rensburg, Sep 1, 2020.

  1. Hey all,

    Basic question here: chords vs independent lines? I know proper string writing utilizes the latter (in the context I'm referring to here), but there are also pretty distinct progressions and V-I's present in arrangements like this (found this version on an old tape in our car):


    Chord structure is more obvious here due to the piano lead:

    Question is: when writing something like this, independent lines with consideration for chords, just independent lines, or structure out chords first with the melody?
  2. Impossible to answer meaningfully.

    There is no "versus" or "Or". This is an "elephant in the dark" type question.

    Similar to singer/songwriters getting asked " do you come up with the melody first, and then find the chords, or do you play some chords first and the find a melody"

    It matters not where you begin, only where you end up.
  3. Fair point.

    To narrow it down -- if one is writing independent lines based off a rough melody, are you essentially just allowing the melody to inform your harmonic choices? Is the idea of treating them as independent lines simply a way to get away from block chords?

    Specific to this style of writing -- let's take Gloomy Sunday for example -- I assume it was based off a piano arrangement/lead sheets, so I suppose chords would have been informing it.

    I'm nearly certain the notation is wrong here but I figured I'd give it a shot (0:24-0:46). In my head I probably wouldn't think of some of these as "chords" as much as i.e. "descending bassline", but was simply trying to figure it out functinoally/finding the V-I's, etc:

  4. This is standard string pad writing for song arrangements. Very simple harmonic support. No extreme ranges. Mostly concerted voicings. Just a little movement in the lead violin line now and then to fill a void or interval where necessary. The harmony is all based on the lead sheet.

    This particular type of neutral pad can be written all on one alto clef stave with one ledger line above or below as needed.

    For songs you don't usually have the double-basses but an electric bass instead, or for older style arrangements an acoustic bass (pizz. is the default) and it's treated more as part of the rhythm section than the string section.

    Your transcription is largely correct but a few notes were missing so I added them and the chord symbols. The three-part voicings are violins, violas, and cellos; the two four-part voicings bar 5/beat 2 and bar 6/beat1 are violins, violas, and cellos divisi.
    Brightman String Pad.jpg
  5. Fair point? That was the oracle opening up. :)

    Paul makes one of the points I was going to make.

    When you have a "band" with Strings you write in a different way than you would a string section/orchestra.
    Due to electric bass, but also the kick drum and any low synths or whatever else.

    So the first thing is to make sure there is not some muddy interference.

    Next thing, when there is a band you don't to stick with the traditional balances of strings.
    For example; More Cello/viola weight than in traditional string writing.

    You are often in "Overdub land" like the Radiohead example, or the Bourne Soundtrack, or Dark knight.

    What's with this "Or" fetish?

    Aren't you the guy who rants about deductive logic, or something like that?

    I would think that the greatest arrangments use a variety.

    For example, I found out in the studio how fucking awesome having Cello, Viola, and both violin sections play in Unison.

    But really, you have to work from what is the intent of the music/ or effect you want on the listener.
    You also might use one device for the first verse and another device for the bridge etc.

    I just don't think about this distinction at all. Rather I like a toolbox, or an Onion (each layer is true), or I have heard some computer coding people
    talk in terms of "Stacks".

    There is always a horizontal and vertical relationship in music. Even a single line has harmonic implications.


    I am trying to shake you as your question and pondering is too binary. Too many "if's" and "in general".

    For example, this song below is a good example of how you have to consider the form of the song too.
    One device for the opening, another for later, and so on.

    As too the other question: A "in general" principle is if one element is really active, anther is less.

    For example Moonlight sonata 1st mov.: Harmony has a lot of variety, the rhythms do not.

    There are just too many other factors that are involved.

    Look what will happen to you if you strip away everything else and focus on only one thing.
    You'll end up like this guy jamming away with his invisible band

  6. I knew I should have put it in 12/8 (and thanks for adding the missing parts -- I didn't bother notating all the bass notes).

    Thank you for the rundown! Good to know. After transcribing it I find I'm more enamoured with the harmony and voicings than the dynamics of the arrangement, per se. I was aware of the electric bass, I was mostly trying to visualize it in the context of a string section, but I didn't realize it was more considered part of the rhythm section. Thanks for the transcription, I'll try and figure out what I was incorrectly hearing.

    Re: The harmony. So trying to understand it through my little understanding of jazz, the way I would "visualize" writing an arrangement like this would essentially be the I, moving chromatically and building tension to the dim#7, then to the 4, then moving into a ii-V-i with the tension of extensions in the "melody". The end just seems like chromatic descendind ideas. I know there are formal names for many of these ideas but it's been too long.
  7. Jazz-ish harmony in a minor key (or key of the moment) offers more "color" possibilities for chord types and their tensions, altered chords, etc, as you saw in bar 4 with the IImi7(b5)—V7(#9).

    The last bar is a conventional VImi7—subV/V—V formula.

    BTW, I forgot to mention why I notated the pad on the alto clef, which is that I use clefs in my sketches according to the purpose at hand. For example, for 4-part jazz trombone voicings, I use alto clef (in the sketch only), because centering such voicings around middle C works very well. Whereas for symphonic trombone pads I use tenor clef, because they tend to work better centered around A3. For most horn writing I use soprano clef (again, sketch only), because that is the "money range" for the horns. So, when my purpose is neutral string pads for songs, I use alto clef, since F3 to G4 is a very neutral accompaniment zone.
  8. Ah gotcha. So you're essentially looking for "frequency space" as an accompanyment where they can fit as opposed to approaching it with the assumption of prexisting balance in an orchestra. So re: overdubbing -- is the string section recording together to be added into the mix, or do you mean even striping sections?

    True. I can think of classical arrangements that are incredibly dynamic in the movement of string parts as well as film scores where strings are actually fairly "blocked" but still sound good given the context.

    I don't recall where I originally heard the idea of treating string lines independently as a "rule" or "strong suggestion". Obviously mistaken in any case.
    It does make rather obvious sense that in an accompanyment one needs to be aware of "space".

    Interesting -- covering how many octaves?

    Ooh, this is a gem I need to store away.

    Thanks, good points. Back to the principle of "what do you want people to pay attention to".
  9. #9 Rohann van Rensburg, Sep 3, 2020
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2020
    I hadn't considered that, but that's a good point. Need to get better at reading Alto. By "pad" I assume you mean a somewhat static arrangement written primarily to accompany?

    Do you mind elaborating on the subV/V--V? It looks like VI7-V7-I.
  10. Re: Pads

    Yes, pads are intended as neutral harmonic filler in support of the melody or foreground.

    Re: Sub V's

    Okay, so, in G minor:

    • The V of V is A7
    • To find its subV you use tritone substitution:
    1) The root for a subV is a tritone away from the root of the original V
    2) Eb or D# is a tritone away from A, and since a sane person wouldn't use D# as a root in song harmony, we're left with Eb as the new root.
    3) The tritone of A7 is G–C#, but you have to respell the C# to Db for it to sit right with Eb as the root, giving you your Eb7, your substitute V of V

    • And by making it either a Eb7(b5) or else an Eb7(#11)—enharmonically equivalent—you've added another tritone, increasing the chord "color" and intensifying the sense of tension for, and ambiguity of, resolution.
    • Since every tritone can resolve inward or outward, and you have two tritones in one voicing, your possibilities for deceptive resolutions and modulatory adventures are opened up considerably.
    • By the way, the closest analog from Common Practice harmony to a subV is the French Augmented 6th.
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.

  11. Always enjoy reading your posts. When do we get to hear some of your music?

    Did Frank Gambale really write a Bass concerto? I was searching spotify and google for it but I can't find it anywhere
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  12. ??? Unison


    For what it is worth, attached is one example that I orchestrated to fit within a song.

  13. Doug, maybe once I get StaffPad working to my advantage, I don't know. Perhaps you would like to hear my Passacaglia for Taiko Drums and 17 Wagner Tubas in B# Locrian.

    Frank Gambale Bass concerto? That sounds like a joke I might've made up at some point. I don't even know who he is, but I recall you being his Number One Fan.
  14. Oh, I could not detect the joke thru text on the screen. He is in the video I posted above. Long time guitarist for Chick Corea.

    You bet !
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  15. My only acquaintance with Chick Corea is RTF, which as I recall is your favorite band of all time.
  16. Ah, thank you for the explanation! So a tritone sub of V/V or ii-V-i, haven't spent much time actually employing subV's. Great points about ambiguity and modulation!
  17. Yeah, that pattern...

    VImi7(b5) — subV/V — V7 — I

    ...is really nice, especially with the descending chromatic bass.
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  18. Perhaps a silly question, but: when actually employing this, do most people actually think "tritone sub" or does one use visual shortcuts, i.e. "move the root and 5th a tritone" or "dominant chord a half step above the V"? I find in order to remember it I need to understand the concept, but when I think of applying it I can't help but "see" it in reference to other chords.
  19. Rather than thinking "tritone substitution"—which is a mouthful—I think "subV", but I don't know about others. But how it is derived sounds more roundabout than the easy way of identifying it in analysis or using it in practice. If you see a dom7 chord followed by a major or minor chord, and the dom7's root is one half-step above the root of the chord that follows it, then it's a subV of that chord since it has the same tritone of the actual V. And the subV is often preceded by the relative II of that same chord. So, if I were being as analytical as I could have been earlier, instead of labeling it as...

    VImi7(b5) — subV/V — V7 — I

    I would have labeled it thusly:

    IImi7(b5) of V — subV of V — V7 — I


    I pause to make note that I wrote this post on a bright and sunny Sunday, not a Gloomy Sunday.
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  20. Fantastic, thank you.

    I read this again yesterday on a smokey Sunday, as a matter of fact. Been thick with California fire smoke up here in BC.

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