[no longer] Attempting a Quartet piece...

synkrotron

A creator of Stuff
Bloomin' scary if you ask me! I mean, four stringed instruments, and possibly one of those (#1 Violin) for the melody line.

Oh, I should explain, I do not have the foggiest what I am doing here.

Anyway, I've got something mapped out, just a simple 32 bar exercise for Cello, Viola and a Violin. These three instruments are going to provide a "bed" over which the lead Violin will play some a melody.

And I'm working in C Major, so all white notes. Very, very simple... Childlike, I would have to admit.

The Cello part has each of its notes spread over two bars for the 32 bars.

Viola part pretty much follows the Cello part, sometimes an octave higher, sometimes an octave plus or minus a step or two and there are a couple of places where there is a quarter note "step" at the start of a couple of bars.

The #2 Violin then follows the Cello and Viola, again, sometimes providing a 3rd of a triad, sometimes a 5th.


Actually, as I am working out what to say I think I might be going into too much detail here, and I should get to the point.


I have an instrument each playing a note of a chord, but a lot of the time there are only two different notes, sometimes the 3rd or the 5th along with the root and therefore the "character" of the triad is essentially lost. What makes it more difficult for me to work out what I have actually played, in terms of a "progression," is that I am possibly playing inversions of a chord.

So, for instance, I thought I was playing a D minor, but with the flatted third missing for 1-3/4 of a bar, that leaves an F and an A, and because the F is being played by the Cello, that is very much saying, "you are really playing an F here" albeit with the fifth missing.


I always thought that the lowest note being played generally set the root of the chord, which is why I am saying F.

Is that the case? Could I use an inversion of a the D minor chord, which would put the 3rd as the lower note, and still call it a D minor?


Apologies if I've put this in the wrong place. I know it is a "noob" question but I felt that it would be better placed here as it is a composing related quandary.

Cheers, and thanks to anyone that got this far :)

andy
 

Rowy

Active Member
String Quartets are very hard to write. It's easier to write an orchestral composition.

Writing string quartets can be a nice hobby though, if you have at least some idea of what you're doing. Did you have a look at Haydn's early string quartets? You can download the scores for free: IMSLP.

Haydn also wrote in C major. But there is a difference. Haydn didn't write in C major because he needed to keep the score simple. Still, there's no shame in writing in C major. As an experiment, I wrote 12 pieces for piano in C major once (and a couple of church modes), and I enjoyed myself very much.

I'm afraid I have to tell you something that will make some members of this forum very nervous. And that is, study harmony. Set your homework (4 voices) for string instruments. Because what you are making now equals simple homework.

You mentioned a D minor chord. Sorry, but it is not. Harmony will help you determine what that chord really is.

If you write a string quartet, you don't build a layer of three instruments and then add a fourth, like the violin. You're supposed to write all four voices simultaneously. The voices interact, you'll want to use some imitations and it is not easy to make this work when the other three instruments occupy the best spots.

An answer to your question about the inversion of a D minor chord will not help you right now. If the key really is C major, a minor chord on the note D can sound nicer as a first inversion, but remember, you're going in blind.
 

mikeh-375

old school
Also study idiomatic writing for best results and write appropriate parts. Remember the 4 strings are individuals that can be called upon for any role within a piece- be that soloistic, virtuosic, accompaniment etc. Do not just hold long notes for any length of time. Counterpoint is also needed as is clear musical intent for each player.
You are much better of learning the rudiments or more advanced study if you can read tbh. Even some great masters have delayed 4tet writing given its nature. But if you want to do it, study scores first as Rowy says.
 
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synkrotron

synkrotron

A creator of Stuff
Hi, Rowy :)

String Quartets are very hard to write.
Yes, I believe so. Not from my own most recent experiences but from what I have found written about that on the internet.

It's easier to write an orchestral composition
That surprises me, I must admit. I find the idea of writing something "orchestral" quite daunting, but that may be down to my lack of understanding of what is meant by that.

Thank you for the link to Haydn's scores, I will have a look at that.

I'm afraid I have to tell you something that will make some members of this forum very nervous. And that is, study harmony. Set your homework (4 voices) for string instruments. Because what you are making now equals simple homework.
Excellent, thanks for that.

I generally use wikipedia for research on that kind of stuff.

I also have the two little AB guides to Music Theory that I refer to from time to time. I really should be better than this than I am, considering how long I have been making "music" (loosely speaking) but I tend to get interested for a bit, learn some new things, then go onto something else and end up forgetting what I have learned because I am not applying them from day to day.

If you write a string quartet, you don't build a layer of three instruments and then add a fourth, like the violin. You're supposed to write all four voices simultaneously. The voices interact, you'll want to use some imitations and it is not easy to make this work when the other three instruments occupy the best spots.
Yes, I guess I am trying to buck the system here by not sticking to the rules of quartet writing.

I watched Beethoven's String Quartet Op.59 No.1 "Razumovsky" on YouTube yesterday and realised straight away that I'm going about this all wrong. In fact, in the end I may decide that I will never do the format justice and give it up as a bad job.

Not just yet, though... I need to take what I have done so far and see if I can learn from the process. I doubt it will reach a point where I am happy to share.


Anyway, bottom line is, more research and hard work is needed!

Cheers, and thank you very much for your help :)


andy
 
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synkrotron

synkrotron

A creator of Stuff
Also study idiomatic writing for best results and write appropriate parts.
Yes, I appreciate the importance of that. That aspect is probably going to be tougher than the music theory. I am never going to play a real violin. I am too old to pick up a new instrument as difficult as that. Fretless instruments have always scared the hell out of me...

Remember the 4 strings are individuals that can be called upon for any role within a piece- be that soloistic, virtuosic, accompaniment etc.
Yes, indeed. Watching Beethoven's String Quartet Op.59 No.1 "Razumovsky" again and each instrument has its own time "in the spotlight," so to speak.

Do not just hold long notes for any length of time. Counterpoint is also needed as is clear musical intent for each player. You are much better of learning the rudiments or more advanced study if you can read tbh. Even some great masters have delayed 4tet writing given its nature. But if you want to do it, study scores first as Rowy says.
Yes, I agree and thanks for that. Like you say, I need to do much study first.

Thank you for taking time to reply :)

cheers

andy
 

mikeh-375

old school
good luck Andy. All the advice given is the best way to maximise your creativity, but remember many a great piece of music has been written on feel alone, so don't let my post deter you from going for it anyway....you never know right?
 
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synkrotron

synkrotron

A creator of Stuff
good luck Andy. All the advice given is the best way to maximise your creativity, but remember many a great piece of music has been written on feel alone, so don't let my post deter you from going for it anyway....you never know right?
Thanks again, Mike :)

I will share here how I get on with my endeavours :2thumbs:
 
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synkrotron

synkrotron

A creator of Stuff
Not a string quartet. Perhaps a song, but not a string quartet.
Yes, I am now really beginning to appreciate that having two violinists, a violist (?) and a cellist playing together doesn't instantly make it a String Quartet. There are quite specific "expectations."




BUT! Are rules not there to be broken? ;)
 

Rowy

Active Member
I also have the two little AB guides to Music Theory that I refer to from time to time.
Sorry, I don't know what these guides are, but just to make sure:

THIS is not classical harmony, THAT is classical harmony (well, part of it). Although I find the notation of some degrees a bit silly. Not so long ago the original European classical notation was being used all over the world. In major I II III IV and so on, not I ii iii IV. Thanks to the influence of American pop music and the notation of chords in popular music (that describes the build of a chord), the notation has been dumbed down.

I prefer the original notation. You're supposed to know that II in major is a minor chord. Sometimes Americans don't believe me that they too were used to the original notation, but I have copies of old American theory books that prove it. Like Schönberg's book about harmony.

This paper I wrote explains the differences between the popular and the original classical notation. It's free, so you're welcome to download it.

By the way, the Android app Assistant Harmony Analysis that is mentioned in the paper is at the moment not available. It needs an update and I didn't have time yet. Besides I'm not such a great fan of Android any more and I'll probably have to learn Python first.
 
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synkrotron

synkrotron

A creator of Stuff
Hi, Rowy :)

THIS is not classical harmony
Yes, as far as I can see that article is about triads and extended chords.

THAT is classical harmony
I am familiar with the Roman Numeral system of representing chords.

Not totally familiar, though, and I often have to refer back to text books and the internet. Things don't stick in my head that well, especially as I am getting older.

A couple of years ago I made to circle (cycle) of fifth wheels out of laminated paper, one for major and one for minor. When I fancy creating something other than a drone or soundscape I often refer to those, to at least remind me of related chords in a key.

I also have the names of the chords on those wheels, tonic, supertonic, mediant etc. Which kind of helps.


I guess it is difficult for me to explain what my music theory level is. Which then makes it difficult for me to ask for help and then equally difficult for others to help me.

I prefer the original notation. You're supposed to know that II in major is a minor chord.
That is most interesting. Thanks. I started off writing Roman Numerals down all upper case, which is exactly how they are supposed to be written anyway. But then saw that lower case letters were being used for minor chords. So perhaps I should revert to the "proper" way. I must admit, however, that I don't remember by heart the relationship between the chord degree and character so I perhaps need to work on that. It is mainly just a memory thing and I'm sure that there is some way of getting that to stick.

It's free, so you're welcome to download it.
Excellent, and thanks. I have now downloaded :)

If you don't study the rules first, how are you going to know that you're breaking them?

LOL! Yes, so true!


Thanks again for all your help here, Rowy, it is much appreciated :grin:


andy
 

sIR dORT

Active Member
Interesting reading this post because I literally had to face the same issue. I'd just gotten into notating for strings and had very little orchestration experience. Writing for 4 stringed instruments is freaking hard. One thing that helped me was that I wrote the piece on piano first, and then transferred it to strings. This helped a bit. But I tried to make every different voice interesting, which made things more difficult but also more rewarding. So in my super rookie opinion, the more you work towards making the parts interesting (maybe using counterpoint, although I haven't studied that yet really) the harder and more rewarding it will be, and vice versa.
 

mikeh-375

old school
You can always wing it with samples of course, but to write without creative restriction appropriate for the medium requires many years of study and practice. @sIR dORT the worst thing you can do is write exclusively via the piano, find your notes there by all means but it is far better to study the instrument itself and begin to think like a string player (as indeed it is for all instruments of the orchestra) - what techniques are available? how can I exploit them in my music? what is the best way to bow such and such and can I exploit a bowing technique? Can I use multiple stops in a passage? Otherwise you are in danger of not writing idiomatically for the instruments and losing out in your composing and expression.
Then there is the question of timbre, as you probably know, there are so many different colours and effects available to be utilised if you know how and where to exploit them. Counterpoint is an essential technique as is harmony and sometimes, imaginative vertical spacing.
Like I say, many years of study and practice, but you can still have fun without the hard work of course.. ;)
 
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sIR dORT

Active Member
@sIR dORT the worst thing you can do is write exclusively via the piano, find your notes there by all means but it is far better to study the instrument itself and begin to think like a string player (as indeed it is for all instruments of the orchestra) - what techniques are available? how can I exploit them in my music? what is the best way to bow such and such and can I exploit a bowing technique? Can I use multiple stops in a passage? Otherwise you are in danger of not writing idiomatically for the instruments and losing out in your composing and expression.
I should have clarified that finding the notes on the piano was what I meant, not composing for piano. I wrote the piece for a class and so I had an instructor who was able to help me understand the limitations and nuances of the instruments. Honestly, it's been super beneficial for my compositions with samples, as I'm starting to consider what's playable, how difficult is it, etc. But yes, I agree with you - writing for piano is a different story compared to a string quartet.
 

mikeh-375

old school
I should have clarified that finding the notes on the piano was what I meant, not composing for piano. I wrote the piece for a class and so I had an instructor who was able to help me understand the limitations and nuances of the instruments. Honestly, it's been super beneficial for my compositions with samples, as I'm starting to consider what's playable, how difficult is it, etc. But yes, I agree with you - writing for piano is a different story compared to a string quartet.
Glad to hear that @sIRdORT. When I write, I often allow idiomatic traits of instruments to influence the notes and their execution, along with the overall technical approach to passages. I believe It's a good way to think whilst actually composing.

Another thing I did years back was to buy the cheapest second-hand fiddle, viola and cello I could find. As an ex-jazz guitar player I could then finger notes on them and work out what multiple stops where feasible....did the trick every time.
 
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synkrotron

synkrotron

A creator of Stuff
Another thing I did years back was to buy the cheapest second-hand fiddle, viola and cello I could find.
Cheap or even free, I am sure my missus would kill me if I went out and got hold of anymore instruments :grin:

Not that I have a lot in my studio right now... Just a couple of guitars, some synths and a modular system. But it really winds her up, and understandably so I suppose, that I can't play any of them to any real degree of proficiency.

I can certainly see the benefits of doing that, however.


So, knowing that, my question would be, how could someone learn the idiomatic traits of any instrument that they cannot play?

Plus, let's say that I could get my hands on a particular instrument, would it not be necessary to learn that instrument to a reasonable level in order to learn those traits?


cheers

andy
 

mikeh-375

old school
Hi Andy, (@synkrotron )

The strings where a particular case for me as I had the guitar background as an advantage and could work things out. My wife approved... ;)

Knowing about all the other orchestral instruments is gleaned from scores and textbooks study along with listening and practical experience if available. For example, listening intently can often determine where a breath is taken on a wind solo, which may or may not correspond to the phrasing written in the score, consequently one can extract and use that sort of information when composing a wind (or brass!) line - factoring in limitations and exploiting them at the same time. Knowing the relative strength and efficacy of articulations in a given musical situation, knowing about dynamic contours and so on - all of this information and much more should ideally imv, inform the writing at the point of creation for a total synergy of practicality, imagination and performance maximum.

The same principle aplies to orchestral combinations too - having a clear intent in what you want to achieve, making timbral decisions, vertical spacing decisions, dynamic considerations and so on - all of which will feed into the compositional choices from the outset, makes perfect sense to me. Rather than these basic issues being an afterthought ( arranging for example, could be considered post composition), they are an essential component.

What I'm suggesting (although it's obviously not the only way to work and wont suit everyone) is that utilising this approach where it's deemed appropriate benefits a composer of orchestral music, and is one that culls all knowledge and coheres it into a complete and cogent work from the off....and...it can be learnt without resorting to learning any instrument....:thumbsup:
 
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synkrotron

synkrotron

A creator of Stuff
Hi @mikeh-375 :)

Apologies for not coming back sooner.

Big thanks for all the help and advice you are providing here, I really appreciate it.

Quite a lot to take in and the more I read the more questions I have. And I feel really guilty pestering you and others here. Especially considering that I could drop the ball at any time.

I am telling myself that I want to learn and achieve more along this classical line but I have been so "creative" over the last three years and suddenly a halt has been called.

I have always felt that jumping back on music theory and going further this time can only improve my creations, even if I keep within my ambient "comfort zone."

Regarding the string quartet thing. I chose a Haydn piece at random, Opus 50 #6 "The Frog" and found the score as well as a YouTube performance. I spent some time today attempting to input it into REAPER. At first I tried using the piano roll as that is my normal way of working but I found I was having to think too hard about that.

So, for the first time in REAPER and certainly for a very long time before getting that DAW, I switched to notation editor view. Still some head scratching but much easier than piano roll.

It is slow going but I am going to persist...

MIDI performance wise, each time I check and play a bar, it sounds terrible, so I am guessing that this is where mastering the MIDI comes in, tweaking everything so that it plays as it should.

Score wise, I am encountering some issues and at some point I will post images of certain parts of the score thou don't understand and cannot find an explanation on the internet.

cheers for now and thanks again,

andy :)