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Writing for Strings (Snippet)

Discussion in 'Critique & Feedback' started by Rohann van Rensburg, Apr 9, 2020.

  1. Hi all,

    This has been sitting on my HD for quite a while now and I didn't want to abandon the idea, but it's not exactly refined and I'm not sure where to go with it.
    I was watching Doug's "Writing for Strings" videos on Vimeo (Ex. 13 I believe) about writing slow, swelling pieces and I had an idea for a pseudo-impressionistic piece when it was snowing hard here.

    So in essence I have two ideas (first one goes to about 1:50). They're just piano sketches so excuse the inevitable ensuing boredom.
    1. Any ideas on how to connect them, if they're worth connecting, if they're worth keeping, etc are appreciated.
    2. From a writing perspective, I know I'm thinking too "chord oriented" but I'm also trying to get the piece to go somewhere. Any tips on making this work better from a strings perspective?


    General inspirations:

    Martin Hoffmann and Alex O'Hagan like this.
  2. I guess I'll throw in my bit on this.

    The piano sketch is not boring in the least. Contemplative, tasteful, and spacious. String-wise it’s very open-ended, as there are a number of ways you could go while maintaining the original spirit of the thing. I wouldn’t think too much about it until you transcribe the base sketch pretty much literally for strings (but without any pianistic stuff) and then proceed from there. You’ve already the germ of it; now its mostly just filling it out, building the form, and editing.

    Every composer has his or her own approach, obviously, but one model that jumps out at me would be something like this:

    –Consider muting the sections.
    –First, lay down a thin, transparent, sustained, unmoving pad.
    –Next, the melody enters + harmony filler (possibly divided for thinner tones on the accompaniment; you can always consolidate later during the build, obviously).
    –Keep accompanying voices somewhat static at first, and find occasions for the tastefully placed dissonance, chromatic inflection, etc.
    –As the piece progresses, start scoring more polyphonic instances of texture to elevate the “yearning” aspect of it.


    You might look at Elgar’s Sospiri, which is similar to the model above:

    Doug Gibson and Alex O'Hagan like this.
  3. Paul has some great advice.

    I'll just point you to two pieces for "Color", or perhaps another way to say it: Ones that take advantage of "strings".

    Additionally, both are very slow to show how you already have enough material to draw out. (However, I have no idea how long you want the piece.)

    For your opening idea, I can imagine something like: (notice how it takes advantage of going in-between pitches)

    If you want to go more 1399 this piece could be worthwhile to study.

    Many others pop to mind, but those were the first two.

    Cheers !


    PS. Great to hear you post your work !
  4. Hey that is nice Rohann!

    I would try to milk the first idea even more, I felt like it could go on, see how you could develop/modulate it.
    "Just" holding chords is perfectly fine don't worry about that, especially at first so that the listeners really gets the chords. Maybe I would use those gaps that you have just to maintain the rhytm somehow and later those are obvious places for some counter melodies/motifs, I have heard something like that while listening.
    Hope that helps!
  5. @Paul Poole : Thanks for the encouragement! Fantastic and highly practical advice as well, thank you. That kind of structure is essentially what I had in mind and you've filled out the details. Great example too, I'll spend some time on it.

    @Doug Gibson : Thanks for the examples! Familiar with the second but not the first. The pitch-bending really adds that level of nuance I love with smallish string sections. I'm considering just being lame and writing it for VST's, but arranging for strings via notation is probably worthwhile in case I ever get to have this performed.

    I wasn't intending on this being particularly long, but I also need to learn to develop and move existing ideas more. Any opinions on whether the two pieces have anything to do with each other? I was going for a "somber and melancholic" thing followed by something more light-hearted, like that feeling one gets when it's gray and miserable but then the light softens. Sort of the idea of emphasizing a minor chord and then sneaking the major 3rd underneath. "Surprise! It's major"

    And thanks -- it's been a bit of a dry spell lately so I need to get working on finishing pieces. Getting stuck has been discouraging and I need to blow through it. Trying to learn improv on guitar too which has been time consuming.

    @Marko Dvojkovic : Thank you! I'd like to develop the initial piece more but am not really sure how to do it. Will have to study the examples a bit more. Forgot to add another textural inspiration -- the opening theme of Enemy at the Gates by Horner, love what he does with only 2-3 string voices. Good ideas though and somewhere along the lines of what I was thinking.
    Martin Hoffmann likes this.
  6. The first thing I would explore (based on your description) is common tones between harmonies.

    Sometimes this is referred to as enharmonic modulations.

    For example, F minor to E major. The Ab/G# is common in both. So you can have .....wait for a word you love.....
    the "context" of F minor first, with a typical progression, and then upon landing back at Fmin do the harmonic shift.

    Plus you can always add in an extra tone or two so they are not just triad. (Ie. Fminadd9 etc.)
  7. Good point. That's sort of what I was trying to do with some of the motions. I feel a bit more stuck as to the pseudo-melody/leading voice, but exploring the available chords will probably help.

    I think you used that word out of context. Ba-dum-tsh.

    I'll explore this a bit more and try to connect the ideas.

    By the way -- metronome, or not metronome? I assuming when writing or performing you just write "rubato" or similar?

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