Preparing string parts from a midi file

Many of the jobs that we’ve worked on have been for clients who have sent us string parts they’ve written themselves from a midi file. Scoring from midi requires no knowledge of music theory or written notation and often involves the composer playing parts into a keyboard and then printing off the results.

Whilst this is a useful tool in many situations, it rarely produces results that sound convincing for string players once we’re in the studio. Here’s an example: If the composer has little knowledge of the different musical clefs then a cello part can be printed off in a treble clef.  As the range of the cello extends lower than the treble clef can accommodate, we’ve been handed parts with about 10 ledger lines at the bottom of the stave, the notes overlapping the stave below – almost impossible to read. The other problem with playing chords in via a keyboard is that it ends up quite ‘fixed’ with no ‘feel’ and the inner parts don’t have a satisfying musical line –  therefore so much of the potential from hiring session string players is lost.

Writing for any collection of instruments is all about the individual line of each instrument. If the parts are moving in chords, each part sounds best when it is playing a melody that harmonises with the rest of the parts in the piece or track.

Very often, expensive studio time can be wasted whilst session musicians sit around re-writing scored midi parts until they are both readable and playable, so as a matter of course we now do ask clients to send through midi-created parts so that we can tidy them up before the session, and save everyone time and money. We charge a nominal fee of £40 per hour for this  – the same fee as for string arranging from the original track in the first place.

Although it might seem cheaper to create parts using a midi, it can be just as quick and economical to hire a string arranger to score the parts properly for strings in the first place – and results will be more effective with creative harmonies and melodic lines written in to add richness.  As an example, paying a string arranger £40 per hour to spend a couple of hours correctly notating and orchestrating strings will potentially save hours in the studio and the musicians will be able to go in and just play everything right first time from a properly written score, using each instrument to its full potential.