Introduction to writing for strings and the string quartet


Thinking about writing for strings. A string section is such a beautiful thing, they can add so much texture to a song. I’ve been thinking about the different ways they can be used to add to a song. There are so many great examples of strings being used in pop songs.

The song that immediately comes to mind is Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles. In this song the strings are almost as important as the vocals. They are a real feature of this song. It shows how a string section can used not merely as a gap filler but as a feature.

Another song that comes to mind is The Goo Goo Doll’s ‘Iris’.

In this song the strings are used more to create a wash under the main song. They add depth and warmth. Beautiful

I have saved the best for last. Led Zepplin’s ‘Kashmir’

Although the string line is quite simple and repetitive it is effective and creates another timbre to Led Zepplin’s arsenal. Cool.

These songs give me ideas.

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My ever expanding timbrel pallette (Part 2)

Hi again,


I grew up attending church….and so my timbrel palette has been influenced by church music. I attended The Salvation Army and grew up playing cornet, horn, baritone and euphonium and sang in many choirs. I have found that even when I write music that isn’t necessarily religious that people will say that it has a gospel sound. This is unintentional, it seems it has seeped into my very core. This is not necessarily a bad thing as a lot of gospel music is very cool. Perhaps I should embrace my heritage and make the most of it. 


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My ever expanding timbrel pallette

Hi there,


I have been thinking more about my timbrel palette and I have also been reminded of Silverchair’s album ‘Diorama’. This album is a great example of a band that is looking to expand it’s musicality and it’s timbrel palette. For this album Silverchair had the help of Van Dyke Parks who had worked with the Beach Boys. The arrangements and orchestration are quite elaborate and very different from the bands grunge roots.

The timbrel palette that Siverchair uses on this album reminds me of ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by the Beatles.

In the following song you can hear a brass section and epic string section. This band have truly expanded their timbrel palette.

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Expanding your timbral palette

Hmmmmmm……….Expanding my timbral palette. This is something I am quite interested in. I believe expanding your timbrel palette is crucial to having a long career in the music business. I think about bands that have had long term success but have also changed with the times. One band that comes to mind is U2. Whilst you can always tell that it is a U2 song, you can hear over the years that the band has experimented with different sounds. This is inspirational to me, it reminds me that there is much more to be explored in the world of music.

Another person who inspires me is Bjork. Bjork’s music is hard to explain, it is almost mysterious. The sounds she uses in her songs create so much texture and varied emotion. In one song she may use a big band and in another warm strings supported by an industrial grinding beat. Her music is so interesting.

It is amazing what difference can be made by simply swapping around instruments. Swapping a piano for an accordion sound can give a song a completely new fresh feel. I want to experiment more with this……I want to expand my timbrel palette.


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My own songwriting methods.

Songwriting happens in many different ways for me. I have tried numerous different methods, but the way that seems to work best for me is coming up with a melody first. When I sit at the piano I will just play a chord progression and try singing random melodies over the progression. I will do this until something works. One of the ways I can tell if it is a good melody or not is to leave it overnight and if I can remember it after a nights sleep, then I will know it is a strong melody.

Another method I will use is gathering inspiration from books/news articles or movies. I will take notes on the subject matter and allow them to simmer in my mind and then put pen to paper.

I am quite confident about talking about my song writing methods. I feel I would be able to clearly articulate the methods that I use. I am not so good at promoting my own work. I am a bit of a perfectionist and I always seem to be able to find fault with my work. This is something I will need to improve on.


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Active Listening

Got to be honest…I was pretty disappointed in the kind of music that was topping the charts when I did this lesson. The production on these tracks were good but I really sounded and felt like mass produced music. Sounded like a song writing cookie cutter machine had written them……all following a similar recipe……to get a similar product. I know that these are the songs making a lot of money, but I’m not sure if I would feel comfortable writing this kind of music all the time. Sure write one hit and just live on the takings of the song…I can do that. But in my personal opinion lots of these songs that I heard lacked originality…I felt like I had heard it all before. (except for Lorde, she was great). The production was great…….the chords were fine…….but something was lacking???? Maybe I’m just getting old. But I love it when a song truly says something. I love the songwriters like Billy Joel, and Phil Collins………where are they? Times are a changing………..Music is way over sexualized these days…….I can learn from the production and the changes…….but I am afraid some of today’s lyrics are laughable.

Here is a example of laughable lyrics………..I’m sad to say there are way to many songs like this out there.

“I’ll be on top of the world, when your on top of me girl”

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Secondary Melodies

Ok…….Secondary Melodies. Secondary melodies are used to interest and further enhance the main melody (musically or lyrically). It is another musical idea that takes back seat to the main musical idea…but it still has it’s own distinct melody.

I have used this in one song of mine that I know of. I used it to add some color and create some interest in a fairly simple song. In the second verse of the song below I have added some oh-ah vocal lines that have there own distinct melody…and they help to add interest and enhance the main musical melody. Secondary melody’s play a supporting role.

A song that really shows of Secondary Melodies is the song, ‘I Wanna Be The Only One’ by Eternal. The Gospel choir singing in the background play a supporting role……

Secondary Melodies are cool. I need to use them more. If used in the right place they can really enhance your song.

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