Arranging strings, pop song

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Arranging strings, pop song

Post by apaclin »

Hey peoples, looking for awesome approaches to arrange strings! I'm making a pop ballad, where piano and vocal are the main instruments, there is also a bass guitar, drums at the very end and a big ensemble of 60 string players.

So here are some questions.

1. I already have harmony. Would you start laying out each section (celli, violas, violins, etc.) individually or lay out an ensemble as one instrument first and then break it down to sections?
2. Would it be a good idea to aim for notes that piano doesn't play to avoid frequency conflicts?
3. Would you double the bass guitar part with bass strings at some spots (for intensity) and carve the low end out of the strings, so that just the character would remain, but not the frequency conflict?
4. Any other things to consider?
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by The Elf »

apaclin wrote:1. I already have harmony. Would you start laying out each section (celli, violas, violins, etc.) individually or lay out an ensemble as one instrument first and then break it down to sections?


I get a basic chord 'helper' part worked out (not strings), then begin laying solo lines for each part. As I progress I see where I have holes in the chords, or where I have doubles/clashes - and fix these by re-working each part. I don't find that an ensemble part helps - it actually makes my job more difficult.

apaclin wrote:2. Would it be a good idea to aim for notes that piano doesn't play to avoid frequency conflicts?


No. If you're going for a 4/5-part string arrangement, and the piano is playing anything more than single notes, then this would be near-impossible anyway.

apaclin wrote:3. Would you double the bass guitar part with bass strings at some spots (for intensity) and carve the low end out of the strings, so that just the character would remain, but not the frequency conflict?


If I have bass guitar in the mix then I would possibly leave out a bass string part altogether - or at least HPF it heavily. In any mix it's a good idea to decide which single instrument is handling the bass and restrict everything else in that frequency range.

apaclin wrote:4. Any other things to consider?


Make each string part as melodic as possible, especially in the higher parts. Get *very* busy with the dynamics and vibrato controls! Keep lower-pitched parts wide apart (octaves and fifths at least) and avoid large jumps if you can, especially in the higher parts. Avoid obvious parallel movement between parts. Use passing notes to smooth out lines and create melodic movement. Avoid 'block/keyboard' chords and sustain notes between chords when you can... And don't be afraid to compromise/ignore any of the above when it sounds right to do so. Nobody said this is easy!

A good string arrangement can take me days, and at times I can feel like I'm getting nowhere. Sometimes I'll scrap the lot and start again. It takes time and patience.
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by apaclin »

Thanks man! But let me be more specific on the point 2, of course it would be impossible to avoid common notes between the strings and the piano, but if I see a gap at the piano chord, I can consider to fill it with strings, rather than play the same notes that piano plays?
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by The Elf »

apaclin wrote:Thanks man! But let me be more specific on the point 2, of course it would be impossible to avoid common notes between the strings and the piano, but if I see a gap at the piano chord, I can consider to fill it with strings, rather than play the same notes that piano plays?


It's not something that would ever cross my mind. I really wouldn't be so clinical about it.
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by wireman »

Have a look at this series for some ideas...

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/arranging-strings-part-1
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by apaclin »

wireman wrote:Have a look at this series for some ideas...

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/arranging-strings-part-1


Thanks!
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by RichardT »

apaclin wrote:Hey peoples, looking for awesome approaches to arrange strings! I'm making a pop ballad, where piano and vocal are the main instruments, there is also a bass guitar, drums at the very end and a big ensemble of 60 string players.

So here are some questions.

1. I already have harmony. Would you start laying out each section (celli, violas, violins, etc.) individually or lay out an ensemble as one instrument first and then break it down to sections?
2. Would it be a good idea to aim for notes that piano doesn't play to avoid frequency conflicts?
3. Would you double the bass guitar part with bass strings at some spots (for intensity) and carve the low end out of the strings, so that just the character would remain, but not the frequency conflict?
4. Any other things to consider?


I work differently from the Elf - which shows that many approaches clearly work!

1. I start with an ensemble part playing block chords, then evolve it, then split it into separate instruments.

2. There’s no strict rule here - just try things until you find something that sounds good.

3. That can work quite well in some cases. You can try pizzicato too. But I’d say take care here and don’t overdo it.

4. There’s a huge amount to think about, and it can take a long time to master it (which I haven’t yet!). So keep things simple to start with. Here are some thoughts, far from complete :

Voice leading is essential with string parts.
Dynamics (including within single notes) and appropriate vibrato are essential too.
Phrasing is vital, especially ensuring that the right parts are legato or detached.
Use passing notes to break up block chords.
Fast runs are much harder to get sounding right than slower transitions with samples.
Try to bring variety using contrary motion and parallel motion.
Choose a rhythmic or melodic motif and exploit it.
Cellos and double basses are often doubled an octave apart.
You can include parts for solo instruments too to add variety.
There are basic rules for close harmonisation that you can study to help choosing notes.

Are you talking about 60 real players? Or samples of a 60-piece string section? If you’re talking about real players then you have a lot more to consider! I would seriously think about engaging an expert to help you.
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by OneWorld »

It would have been nice if George Martin had written Arranging for Dummies, but he didn’t. String arrangements come in many flavours, you can go from the rudimentary All the Lonely People arrangement to something using a full orchestral string section to result in some lush wall of sound. Depends what sort of mood you want the music to portray. That said, there are some basic rules, if choosing between a 3rd and a 5th, where you can, choose a 5th, try and space out the notes, you can get away with layering chords, but of course have to avoid clashes, except to create tension for example.

Take C major played on the piano C, E, G, on top of that put G, B, D but the B clashes with C, however with the B omitted, you have a C9 but leave the B in anyway and you get a chord with a note that is on a quest, endeavouring to find resolution - in this case the C, at the same time of course the D would move to E, you have so many choices, in the example the Gmajor chord on top of Cmajor could move to an Aminor on top of the Cmajor, again depending on the tune itself. I feel the bass has to be emphatic, if two notes are used then use octaves, to add variety use inversions. I find getting the bass right the most difficult challenge, trying to write an interesting bass line, but avoiding something that ends up too busy, distracting and discombobulated, but I want to avoid the standard root and 5th. Bach could get away with it, I can’t :-(
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by blinddrew »

OneWorld wrote:Bach could get away with it, I can’t :-(


To be fair, that applies to most people! :D
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by apaclin »

Thanks, I started laying out sections and noticed that I struggle with writing automation (modulation, expression). From what I see on Youtube many people write modulation and expression at the same time, but why? And what's the use of expression, just to emphasise the modulation? I didn't get it clearly. Second, there is this guy that makes dips on each note switch. In my case it doesn't sound realistic (am I doing it too much?), do you do it also?
https://youtu.be/JUmStR0kWh4?t=142
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by The Elf »

I didn't watch that video, but I will say that expression is THE most important aspect of string simulation.

As to dynamics versus expression - it depends on the library. Some libraries have layers of dynamic variances, and this alters the tone of the strings, so some correlation between dynamic layers and expression is important. With other libraries you may only have one layer, so it will all be about the expression.

To understand how the expression and dynamics might work you need to do your homework and listen to strings to understand how they emote. Unless you understand this then then no amount of technical background will help you create something both realistic *and* engaging.

I use this custom fader box for dynamics, expression and vibrato, and I record all three as I play:
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by RichardT »

apaclin wrote:Thanks, I started laying out sections and noticed that I struggle with writing automation (modulation, expression). From what I see on Youtube many people write modulation and expression at the same time, but why? And what's the use of expression, just to emphasise the modulation? I didn't get it clearly. Second, there is this guy that makes dips on each note switch. In my case it doesn't sound realistic (am I doing it too much?), do you do it also?
https://youtu.be/JUmStR0kWh4?t=142


I think what the CCs do isn’t always consistent between libraries. What library are you using? There can be good reasons for linking CCs - I have an Embertone solo violin library and I often set it up so that modulation controls both the expression and the degree of vibrato.

No, I don’t dip the modulation on note switches, but my libraries (Spitfire) have a slight built-in crescendo on sustained notes which mimics what real players do. Some libraries have a uniform sustain patch though, in which case I understand what this guy is trying to achieve. If you don’t do something to the long notes in this kind of library, they will sound very dull.
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by RichardT »

Wow, Elf - that is a fantastic device!
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by The Elf »

RichardT wrote:Wow, Elf - that is a fantastic device!


It's a relatively simple device built around an Arduino, but it is nicely made - better than I could achieve. I had a USB socket added so I can use any length cable.
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Re: Arranging strings, pop song

Post by apaclin »

RichardT wrote:What library are you using?


At the moment Native Instruments Symphony Series strings and the dynamic range of it is bigger than in Spitfire.

The Elf wrote:I didn't watch that video, but I will say that expression is THE most important aspect of string simulation.


If expression is the most important, then why in Symphony Series modulation knob is a huge one and not the expression?
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