Arranging String Parts for a Guitar Track

Recently, I was approached by a singer/songwriter to arrange strings for an existing track that contained an acoustic guitar and vocals. The client was very specific in his brief and sent me over an mp3 of the track as well as an mp3 of the same track with him humming the melody of the strings he wanted arranging. In addition, he sent me a detailed written brief for the track as well as supplying the guitar chords for the entire piece. This all proved to be very helpful and meant that the strings for the entire track could be arranged in a matter of a couple of hours, which saved a lot of time and kept costs down.

It’s always a pleasure to work for someone who has specific ideas about the way they would like the strings arranged for a track. The written brief contained instructions such as ‘…strings supporting and following overall chord’ and ‘…similar part as after first chorus but extended twice as long with more climactic feel’. All of this is really helpful as it gives the string arranger an opportunity to get it ‘just right’ on the first draft.

The other helpful aspect about this particular job was having the guitar chords supplied. The nature of the guitar (with its six strings tuned in fourths with the major third in the middle) means that it is capable of quite complicated harmonies. Whilst a good string arranger will be able to piece together all the notes in a particular key, it is reassuring to know that you have ended up with the right chord (especially when the chord is a mixture of a G and E chord, or has suspensions of a 9th at the top of the chord). Again, this makes things much simpler and inevitably means the job can be completed more quickly.

So, this is a good example of how the more detail and information a client is able to give, the more accurate and cost effective it can be to have a string arrangement professionally written. Although many clients do send across a track without any strings and no specific idea of how the strings are intended to sound, they are then putting the responsibility for original content solely in the hands of the arranger. Very often, this works well, people are delighted with the end result and I’ve had feedback such as ‘that’s not at all how I imagined it, but it works really well!’ or ‘I never would have thought of using a viola for the solo but I really like it’. However, it’s also not unusual for several drafts to be emailed back and forward so that changes can be made as the strings become closer to what the client had in mind, but was perhaps unable to convey from the first instance.