Orchestrate: Strings by Phil Leader - Page 2

Page 2: Looking at ideas about orchestration combined with Technichord, using concepts that are based on real musical situations. Phil's article is appropriatefor all Technics keyboards.

Generally some weight is added to the top note of a chord

Irrespective of how many players there are at the arranger's disposal, generally some weight is added to the top note of a chord. This is usually achieved by adding a player

In a classical context it is said that this is the case because the 2nd Violins sit to the conductor's right, so the sound holes of their instruments face the back of the orchestra, not the audience.

However, if you watched the Queen's Jubilee concert from the garden's of Buckingham Palace you might have noticed an individual microphone on each instrument! What a mixing job that must have been!.

So in setting up our Technichord sound we should consider balance between the top note of the chord and the lower notes. Touching as I did on where the players sit in an orchestra, we should also consider panning. And most importantly, phrasing, as a good legato is very critical to this sound.

Let's look at the legato aspect first before delving into Technichord. Perhaps the most "legato" String sound of all was that of the Mantovani orchestra. One of Mantovani's most famous songs was "Charmaine", which featured Mantovani's trademark sound where each note blurs into the next.

This has often been achieved on a keyboard or organ by using sustain. Of course no such feature is available on real Strings! But it does pretty much emulate the effect.

For example, select Symphonic Strings in the Right 1 part and then press "Program Menus" and select "Sound" and "Part Setting" in the LCD screen.


A page similar to Fig 1 should appear. Set the sustain length to 8 (up from it's default level) and turn it on of course!

You can see also in Fig 1 that I have set panning to the left, because it mimics where the first Violins sit in the orchestra. This may not of course be your choice, but it is fun to see how it sounds.

Now exit from the Sound menu by pressing "Program Menus" again and try the sound for yourself.

Try playing "Charmaine" (if you know it) being sure to play in a fairly high register. The written key to my knowledge is Eb, in which case your first note will be Bb4 to Eb5, two octaves above middle C). What you should hear is a Mantovani-like phrasing where each note blurs into the next.

This is true both as a musician programming music and as a sound programmer.

Pianos, trumpets and Big Band Brass

By way of a change and before suggesting some ideas for playing string sounds I'd like to explain why this is. Consider the piano as an instrument. It has 88 keys and you can play big fistfuls of them together and produce huge chords. Consider a Trumpet and you have an instrument which can produce one note at a time. It is easy then to accept that to produce a chord with a Trumpet sound you need at least three Trumpets (because three notes make a chord, two notes make a harmonic insterval). You write three separate lines of music which together form harmonies and when your three Trumpeters play together, hey presto, Trumpet chords.

In a Big Band of course you might have four Trumpets fulfilling this role, plus maybe four Trombones and five Saxes. In all cases where there is a chord sounding there is pretty much one instrument per voice. (Of course there are exceptions such as unison lines, but bear with me). For Strings the situation is different.

Of course a solo string instrument such as a Violin or a Cello is beautiful when played well. But in an orchestral situation single string instruments would be completely lost. This is why when you see a Symphony Orchestra (or a "pops" orchestra) the strings are disproportionate in number as one section of the orchestra to the Brass, Woodwind and Percussion.

What you should hear is a rich string sound

For our final exercise this time I suggest using a little sustain to make the phrasing more naturally legato. Last time we used Technichord with the Technichord Orchestrator, and this time we'll do the same to achieve the effect of the top (melody) note of the chord being stronger than the lower notes, and to assign different string sounds to different notes of the chord.

First of all, as we are going to use Auto Play Chord for the backing, turn Auto Play Chord on and select a suitable pattern for the song you want to play. This will also effect a keyboard split which has an important effect on the sound we are going to make.

Start by setting Symphonic Strings in Right 1 and Cello Ensemble in Right 2. Using the same procedure as for the Mantovani sound set the sustain length for Right 1 to about 5 and for Right 2 to about 4 (change the part using the up / down buttons to the top left of the screen). At the same time set the panning for Right 1 to L45 and the panning for Right 2 to R45.

Balance the two sounds by setting Right 1 to 127 and Right 2 to about 100. This sound is quite nice in it's own right.

Try it by exiting from the Sound Menu (just press "Program Menus"). You'll find that the Cello Ensemble sound is automatically an octave lower than the Symphonic Strings sound because of the keyboard split (Cello Ensemble is automatically one octave down when used right of split).

Now to add the players in the middle of our octaves. Select Program Menus, then Sound and Part Setting as before, and change the part to Part 4. Now select Symphonic Strings, and set the volume to about 80. Set panning to the centre and add a little sustain (about 3 or 4).


Exit from Part Setting (just press the Program Menus button) and then press and hold the Technichord button. A screen similar to Fig 2 will appear. Make the selection "Block" and set the Orchestrator to Part 4. Now and (most importantly!) store your setting in the Panel Memory!

Save your work!

Just press and hold the Panel Memory "Set" button and press the Panel Memory where you want to store your sound (remembering of course to have saved anything you don't want to lose on disk beforehand!) Now either with a pattern playing or just holding a left hand chord play some notes to the right of split.

I suggest playing from C4 (an octave above middle C) and above. What you should hear is a rich string sound with the lead melody note louder than the lower harmony notes, and with a little emphasis on the octave under the melody.

The sound you use in any of these parts could be different of course, experimentation is important.

For example you could try changing the Part 4 sound to Concert Strings or another String sound. I would probably not select Violas as the Part 4 sound has to play 4 notes and it would part a little with reality. For this reason I like the Symphonic Strings sound for this purpose.

One other suggestion I have is to keep the reverb fairly prominent in this sound. Try setting the reverb to Concert 2 (just press and hold the Digital Reverb button and make the change) and in Part setting go to page 2 and set the Reverb Depth parameter to about 90 for Right 1, Right 2 and Part 4. Next time we'll continue with the Strings!