Live strings have always been a popular choice for adding to pop or rock tracks, for many reasons. Often the texture of a particular song may be sparse and stringed instruments provide the perfect way to expand and fill out the sound. Sometimes a catchy “hook” played by the strings can really help a track come alive. In the case of The Beatles, a unique (and often imitated) soundscape was provided by the strings, with an edgy and percussive texture that added a real vibrancy to the songs. There are also tracks which spring to mind where an epic, orchestral string sound has been achieved. In all of these instances a skillful string arranger has been able to improve the existing music by sensitively arranging this most versatile of combinations without getting in the way of the rest of the instrumentation.
In this blog, I would like to write about what differentiates good string arranging from the less effective and hopefully give a few insights into what exactly goes into it. Often bands or composers (particularly those on a tight budget) will want to add string arrangements of their own to a particular song – and sometimes these are really terrific, so all we need to do is ‘tidy up’ the score and write in bowings / dynamics / articulations before the session. On other occasions, parts are written as simple chords on a keyboard, then hastily transcribed to stringed instruments – and it does seem like a false economy to hire a studio, book session players and present them with parts that don’t really make the most of the full range of sound and playing effects that strings can offer.