Playing Pianissimo

The ability to play a pianissimo on a stringed instrument might sound straightforward but it is an area that many amateur and student players can struggle with. I remember when I was at the Royal College of Music doing an orchestral technique masterclass with highly experienced Rodney Friend and he said that to create a real pianissimo as part of a big string section requires the ability to play infinitely more softly than you would ever be required to play in a chamber ensemble or as a soloist. It is a sound that is barely audible with only a few hairs of the bow in contact with the string, like the smallest whisper – but when 16 players are doing this simultaneously, the effect can be breathtaking.

In a studio, one must not be put off by the fact that the microphone picks up so much surface noise as the sensitivity of modern microphones can quite literally pick up the sound of the rosin against the string (as well as players breathing). Whether a full string section sound is gained by the accurate use of overdubbing or whether there are many players involved, the end result should be a blending of many players’ pianissimo creating a velvety sheen.  Inexperienced session musicians can often make the mistake of individually playing a pianissimo that would be perfect if they were playing on their own, but with many people playing this way the result can be too loud and full for the desired effect.