Arranging for string instruments is just one of those skills I’ve always wanted to master. It’s this whole crazy group of instruments that have uniform timbre and the ability to sustain notes for as long as your arm can stay in the air. There’s so much you can do with that, especially in terms of communicating emotion and power.
When we started Soundfly last year, we always knew we wanted to create unique resources for aspiring composers and arrangers, myself included. That’s where our new course Orchestration for Strings came from. Our instructor Ian Davis approached me with an idea of teaching how to write string parts from the perspective of textures — polyphony, monophony, homophony — and we started to run with it. Ian has arranged works for a bunch of indie artists, including Feist, My Brightest Diamond, and Daniel Rossen, composed film soundtracks, and is now an associate teaching artist at the NY Philharmonic.
One of the things I’ve always struggled with when arranging for strings is getting past a certain arbitrariness. In the past I’ve tended to compose a melodic line of some sort, and then matched the other strings with the overall harmony of the piece. As a pianist, it often feels like I’m just adding in chord tones and hoping it will come out OK.
What I love about approaching the craft from a texture point of view is that it’s given me a whole new toolkit with which to approach each situation. I’ve never really considered the power of using monophonic melodic lines before — what can be achieved by stopping and starting instruments at different points or using pizzicato, staccato, or vibrato to expand on the feel of a passage. Similarly, practicing writing polyphonic lines has greatly increased my ability to work a melody across the section. For me, considering textures first has drastically reduced the time it takes to create a coherent piece for a quartet and taken out that guesswork.
Our course Orchestration for Strings is launching on 2 February and tries to give students an overview of a texture-first approach to composing and arranging, including demonstrations, listening examples, and activities to practice. Also, we’ve partnered with the $99 Orchestra, giving students the opportunity to have their original works recorded by a 30-piece orchestra at the end of it! If you’re an educator, you can apply for an Educator Grant to access the course for free with your students. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.