Strings attached

I’ve been working on a new approach to one of my songs, scoring it for a string quartet. If I can get it right I’d like to do it for a few more.

I’ve been supported and mentored in this by Ged Brockie, my guitar teacher; we spend as much time talking about composition as guitar. Here’s a snippet of what I’m doing.

The Wolf Who Snared The Moon (excerpt)

In case you haven’t heard the original song, here it is:

The Wolf Who Snared The Moon (original)

How I’m doing it

The first draft is done in Musescore, a free music and notation tool. I add my ideas by dragging and dropping notes to the staff, and Musescore plays them back in very basic MIDI strings sounds. The advantage of doing it this way is that you can see how the different parts interact with each other, particularly when maybe too many are playing the same note, or there’s too much fussy rhythm going on. Also since I’m fairly new to reading and writing notation, it gives me real-world practice.

I’ve been working on Wolf section by section, so I haven’t scored the whole song yet. When I’m satisfied with a section I go over to Reaper, where I’ve set up a string quartet in Miroslav Philharmonik CE. I’ve moaned elsewhere about Philharmonik, how hard it is so find out how to do things, how basic the manual is and how the strings samples don’t last very long. But it was all I could afford and, now I’m retired, all I’m likely to be able to afford. I have some good orchestral instruments from Spitfire Audio but they’re whole orchestras not string quartets.

Anyway, rant over, I now sit with my printed score and play the parts in. I do this rather than simply import MIDI because I want to practise my reading and because I am more likely to notice when something could be better. This means I have to knock the tempo back to almost half what it should be as I’m not great at reading music at speed yet. Often I notice a note or phrase that could be improved and I write that by hand on my score. When I’m finished with the section in Reaper I’ll go back into Musescore and change the score.

I’m learning a lot about harmony, inversions and just how music works, and since the song already exists I’m not having to worry about composing a tune as well, just an arrangement.

It’s a lot of fun and I look forward to more. I’d be grateful for any comments especially if you know about arranging for strings and spot any howlers.

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