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String Voicing tutorial based on Register/Timbre.

ProfoundSilence

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As has been brought up - often times when people are seeking a "certain string sound" half of the responses end up being about the actual arrangement/voicing/orchestration. Sure that shiney new flautando patch might create the bed you want for your xyz solo line - but the reality is that this can both replace and bolster the initial reaction to reach for different samples.


Here is an audio example of all 4 primary colors loosely based on string.
View attachment StringTimbreHeavy-Bright1-4.mp3


If the same relative register is used, for the most part - strings will be rather homogenous, but this is not always the goal. Homogenous arrangements work better as a supporting role, or a choral-esque passage. If arranging for strings primarily - I often pick a brighter register for the melodic instrument if it's not the violin.(sometimes I choose to do this anyways, or octaves)



The seperate examples will be posted underneath this post - hopefully it'll encourage interest in the video.

Spectrotone Instrumental Tone Color Chart - PDF - Alexander Publishing

if you somehow live under a rock, and don't know where to buy the spectrotone(it's nice room flair)
 
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ProfoundSilence

ProfoundSilence

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Here is an example voicing primarily around the 1st perfect 5th of each family(with violins I two octaves above the violins II) This register can sound quite gritty,dark, somber - but needs a bit more care to keep clarity.


View attachment C-G String Example.mp3

Here is the 2nd string - a much more resonant/rich timbre. This is a great sound when you want a bigger sound without bringing in other sections. High Violins in octaves and you're hollywood baby. hopefully the seasick legato here doesn't distract too much(I thought I'd put some movement in the chords on this one - without changing the articulation and complicating the education part)


View attachment G-D String Example.mp3

3rd string is a rounder, more pleasant tone - I feel like this is great for supporting, and melody if you're careful ofcourse not to step on it. This region tends to be the most passive and back seat. This example I opted the combine both the celli and viola - a combination here that has a bit of weight and cuts above the violins/bass carrying the harmony, while not having to go heavy handed with the dynamics on the celli/viola so that it's expressive but relaxed.


View attachment D-A String Example.mp3


4th string is the brightest. We've all heard screaming high violins - but in this example - combining careful dynamics with the violins/violas - as well as the cutting power of the the celli in their higher register, this is quite a useful combination to save high strings' color for later in the piece.

View attachment A-E String Example.mp3

the bass isn't included on the brightest example- because most sample libraries don't record very high, and it's just not ideal. If you wanted to add to the brightness with the bass - tremelo/sul pont should work okay - but at that point you're missing out on the bass for other things(like maybe accenting that harp arpeggio with bass pizzicato instead)

Hope these examples help show that strings don't just "sound the same" across the keyboard, and that instead of reaching for that sul pont patch - maybe you'll just play it in the right register... even better - when you grab the sul pont patch, maybe you'll double dip and play it in it's already bright register. Likewise, Paying attention to color will certainly help you get a non-top voice melody to pop a little bit more, even if it's in the same range as your harmony.(and ofcourse you'll hopefully have less problems with your strings getting buried quickly without understanding why)
 

markit

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This is great post @ProfoundSilence , thanks for sharing!

For the same note, there’s a considerable difference of tone color in the strings section, depending on which string is played. But not every library (well, actually almost none of the them) has Sul E/A/D/G patches.

How can one use the Spectrotone chart with those?
 
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ProfoundSilence

ProfoundSilence

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This is great post @ProfoundSilence , thanks for sharing!

For the same note, there’s a considerable difference of tone color in the strings section, depending on which string is played. But not every library (well, actually almost none of the them) has Sul E/A/D/G patches.

How can one use the Spectrotone chart with those?

Well depending on the library they are almost always first position if I recall.

At the end of the day it's a rough estimation so the ranges themselves help evoke the right feeling. The spectrotone chart is only half of the story because you can use tremelo or dil pont to be bright in a rich register, or warm golden tone in a dull register with low dynamics on brass for instance - dynamics and artications change alot.

Let's say in the "pleasant" range that I didn't want the bass that high or present, changing the bass to pizzicato is going to generally sound pleasant/rich at lower registers than the chart.

Then when it comes to sample libraries the chart really changes so would focus on less strict application while keeping it in mind. If your musical idea takes you out of a range that's fine, if it starts to sound odd even thought your piano sketch sounds right - maybe tweaking it based on the chart will help.
 

Tremendouz

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Just commenting to find this thread later when I'm at my PC, this is just the stuff I want to learn more about.

After playing around with the score of John Powell's "Romantic Flight" from HTTYD I learned to love the high register of cello and recognize its possibilities
 
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ProfoundSilence

ProfoundSilence

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Just commenting to find this thread later when I'm at my PC, this is just the stuff I want to learn more about.

After playing around with the score of John Powell's "Romantic Flight" from HTTYD I learned to love the high register of cello and recognize its possibilities
When I finally worked past the idea of just thinking of strings as SATB writing - that's the standout mention for sure.... the D/A strings of the celli have so much weight and emotion. Likewise, the power it adds to a string ensemble unison.


I'm sure people are getting tired of me linking tchaikovsky - but the weight and agony of the first note in each phrase is almost entirely from the celli. Both violin 1 + 2 as well as viola + celli cross voices throughout the line as an effect - but the true emotional weight comes from the fact that the first note in that phrase is accented by the celli above the viola in a much stronger register.

Infact it's also no coincidence the phrase starts in the bright register of the violins E string(celli A string) and ends on a the more passive "pleasant register" on the A string(celli D string) as the phrase weeps itself into submission in the decrescendo.

and he's not the first to intentionally swap voices purely for the sake of accenting either.


this has great examples explaining and showcasing frequent swapping of viola and celli. You'll also notice that there was a choice to use viola divisi and have the violins sit out - simply for the sake of timbre for those pitches, and when the violins come in in their darker/duller low register it has a different meaning. Likewise - there's a point where viola and celli are playing an octave - and during a musical accent with the violin melody - he switches their parts just to add an accent because it's going from the viola's pleasant register to the cellis brighter/richer register. Such a small thing, to keep simple chords more interesting, and an art that's lost with learning purely on sample libraries(where most would never consider this)
 
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ProfoundSilence

ProfoundSilence

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One of the things that being aware of this timbre change does is help click the motional context of certain things.

for instance - we all know many romantic sounding melodies have a large leap in the strings, but there's something distinct about why it sounds so romantic... part of that is often because it's going from say a softer pleasant register up to a brighter register.

Personally something I plan on trying to impliment is using more dissonance in my string passages when it would bring an instrument out of range - or when it's approaching a new register naturally, use that moment to have a small melodic part in that voice to bring it back to a different inversion. Maybe including more accents by register, even if that means parallel movement. It's all a journey, and I'm just happy that there is finally a hobby that will have new things for my hungry brain to learn for the rest of my life.

side note: Hopefully this thread will be the cure for people who still write with a full string patch XD.
 
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ProfoundSilence

ProfoundSilence

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In the spirit of HOW the process works: I've decided to put my money where my mouth is - and stumble through an idea live, from piano sketching it - to voicing/register decisions. Warts and all: And while the mockup isn't great(what is a metronome?) Just imagine how much less time we would spend looking for articulations/libraries/mixing to get the tone/intent that we imagine if we simply spent a few minutes planning out registers.

Here is the piano sketch before I parted it out to the strings

View attachment RomanticStringsPianoSketch.mp3

Here is the orchestrated sketch

View attachment RomanticStrings.mp3




Plenty of contrast here between the two sections as well, which I'm a fan of - both chords being placed in the same/similiar register with a different timbre between melody and harmony, as well as more homogeny with the melody on top of the arrangement. I stand behind the statement that efforts to create the right balance of patterns and contrast are the thing that makes the greatest composers truly great.

I hope you enjoy! Hope this also helps you see how I'm trying to digest/practice this concept. (and you can enjoy the half dimished 7th with the flat 6th)

 
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markit

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At the end of the day it's a rough estimation so the ranges themselves help evoke the right feeling. The spectrotone chart is only half of the story because you can use tremelo or dil pont to be bright in a rich register, or warm golden tone in a dull register with low dynamics on brass for instance - dynamics and artications change alot.
Yes, I noticed an articulations pdf attached to the Spectrotone for some additional guidance, but I still have to find the time to fill it out! :)

And great point about not taking it too literally when working with sample libraries. If I remember well, in Visual Orchestration is mentioned how some combinations simply don’t blend with virtual instruments.

Well depending on the library they are almost always first position if I recall.
This is great info, thanks. It’s something I was curious to know regardless of the Spectrotone.
 
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ProfoundSilence

ProfoundSilence

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Yes, I noticed an articulations pdf attached to the Spectrotone for some additional guidance, but I still have to find the time to fill it out! :)

And great point about not taking it too literally when working with sample libraries. If I remember well, in Visual Orchestration is mentioned how some combinations simply don’t blend with virtual instruments.


This is great info, thanks. It’s something I was curious to know regardless of the Spectrotone.
With string positions you would be able to have more options per note range, i.e. at the A string on viola/celli you'd have 3 different timbres to pick from using the same note. Also subtle things players naturally do when it comes to bow position/ect to blend with each other happen(that our sample libraries don't have).

Which is also why I use my sul t > normale > sul p. It gives it more life/breath - and allows me to blend a little better when going for a specific result, I sort of treat it like bow position. Again, I just glance at it as a guide. Sweet register for oboe in BWW might start at a different spot than BBCSO for instance. Also the obvious should be obvious as well: A5 and Bb5 don't sound remarkably different on a trumpet, even though that's when the color on spectrotone technically changes. Another reason I treat it more like a guide... I know that the 2nd octave of flute is green or "pleasant" and as a result, I tend to stay below mf when playing in that register to maximize the "pleasantness".

I decided to record an over-the-shoulder for a few examples, if you're interested. This is how I'd use the spectrotone chart to influence decisions.


2 examples(but with 3 different sequences)
View attachment SpectrotoneOvertheshoulder2re.mp3
If we chose registers better and orchestrated well - the need for mixing would be greatly reduced, and we'd be happier with our work as we're writing.

edit: re-uploaded because the 9th in the last G major chord was missing, the overlap on the viola cancelled the note out.
 
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widescreen

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I help with the bumping as I really appreciate that thread here. I visited Alexander Publishing every now and then and never found something to fit my needs. But the Spectrotone is REALLY useful. Reading through the material I could not resist to buy a greater package. The chart is already in the printing process on laminated original 18" x 24" format. My wall on the right side has space left for such a helpful beauty of an auxiliary. The Monet must leave now and migrate to the cellar. I meanwhile collect more valuable works, like chord tables, scale sheets and strange circles with some letters all around. :roflmao:

(only the sentence with the picture is untrue as I could not distinguish a Monet from a Vermeer)
 
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ProfoundSilence

ProfoundSilence

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I like having the spectrotone chart handy while learning orchestration, it's easier to reference than orchestrations you've studied on the fly when something isn't working.
 

borisb2

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If we chose registers better and orchestrated well - the need for mixing would be greatly reduced, and we'd be happier with our work as we're writing.
there's a great chapter in McKays "Creative Orchestration" book about pitch distribution (essentially choosing and varrying registers) .. can highly recommend that book anyway. Great thread!
 
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ProfoundSilence

ProfoundSilence

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there's a great chapter in McKays "Creative Orchestration" book about pitch distribution (essentially choosing and varrying registers) .. can highly recommend that book anyway. Great thread!
You know I actually used to focus on not arranging for things in the same register but I discovered that sound is just as useful as everything else, but timbre is more important when it comes to clarity when ranges overlap.

Like all things, contrast and intent is important. Clear orchestration sounds good, but so does ambiguity. Like all rules/techniques when it comes to art - it's important to understand them often times just to know why and when to break them :)


things like distributing pitches based on the overtone series for instance sounds good, but also sounds academic and makes more sense for things like Tutti chords. The opposite effect(difficult to discern triads in the lower bass register and wide open harmonies in the upper register has it's own sound/effect. Might mean the difference between capturing the feeling of everything working out - or capturing the feeling of being ejected out of a spacecraft and the last cable to grab onto is floating away from you while you slowly drift towards your demise.
 
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