Arranging strings for a pop or rock track requires a different approach to orchestrating or even composing original music solely for string orchestra. In a word, versatility is the key to enhancing and expanding an existing piece of pop music. It’s a case of tailoring the strings in a way that each individual piece of music requires.
For example, if a string arranger is sent a pop or rock track that already sounds full and virtually complete, then writing an elaborate orchestral score will simply overburden the track, creating a headache for the producer in the process! In this scenario, a light scoring of violins may be all that is required to add the texture of strings without too much substance. On the other hand, if the arranger has been asked to write strings for a singer/songwriter in which the texture of the track is very thin (with only a vocal and acoustic guitar), then the strings may need to have a greater harmonic depth in order to add a full and rich overall sound to the track.
A good string arranger will have the ability to listen and take instructions from the writer of the track as well as knowing when to introduce a new feature which may give a song that extra dimension. If the writer isn’t a string player and is only arranging his or her own strings to keep costs down, it may be time to be honest and let them know when they are selling their song short or not making the most out of hiring live string players for a recording session. Sometimes, the strings can weave in and out of the texture of a song, whereas at other times the scoring can be simpler, with slow, sustained chords creating a ‘sheen’ to the song.
Occasionally, arrangers will write a ‘hook’ or counter-melody that absolutely makes a track and this can cause a slight problem in that you’ve introduced an original element into the song and have therefore crossed the boundary from solely being an arranger to being a co-writer. In this scenario, all parties need to be clear about who owns the rights to any original material from the outset.
Funk and disco music tends to be produced in a very full way (particularly in the mid and lower ranges) and this is why most strings in these genres are high in pitch and are written as catchy interjections to fill the gaps in the actual melody line.
So in conclusion, sometimes the strings will be in the background for most of a song, whereas at other times they may make a fleeting but important contribution. Whatever their role is, well written string parts can transform a song into something rich, soulful and deeply moving and it is almost always worth hiring the services of a professional string arranger to bring out the best in strings, writing in a way that really gets the full potential out of stringed instruments.