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Accompanying with the violin
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Rosco
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November 29, 2017 - 9:30 pm
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I’m trying to develop playing and composing techniques for accompanying singers with the violin. I play with various people in acoustic settings and there is often a guitar, a keyboard and a few other instruments contributing to the backup ensemble. I’m not a soloist, but consider myself sufficiently competent to contribute to the fabric of the background sounds and textures. I’ve done some improvising using pentatonic scales with mixed success… usually over-playing trying to get the best phrasing.

I’m hoping to find recorded examples of essentially easy-listening songs that contain violin in the background, for study… a more challenging search than I first thought. If anyone has suggestions, I would greatly appreciate recommendations of performers or recordings. Even cello background would be of help.

I’m also looking for online instruction (nothing locally available) for composing basic background violin arrangements, or for sheet music of such that I could study to grasp typical approaches. I would really appreciate any input that would help me along.

Thanks...

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Ferenc Simon
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November 30, 2017 - 12:51 am
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Have you looked at the Christmas Project? 🙂 

The file Pierre originally posted had a 6th part, which has been dropped since, but basically it was chord arpeggios. That's probably as perfect as a violin accompaniment could get. http://fiddlerman.com/wp-conte.....y-of-D.pdf

But yea, you're right.. it's kind of challenging to find songs where you can make out a proper violin backing from the background. It's probably because the violin is such a powerful instrument that it would overpower the singers, that's why most people tend to play it as a solo instrument. Also the register already starts at the mid-to-high male voice with that 196 Hz G and only goes upward from there and the human ear tends to always focus on the highest clear note in a song, which is why it's really challenging to 'hide' it in the accompaniment. That's why you can find a cello more often, since that overlaps the best with the human voice-register and can sound more 'natural' in a song.

Generally the songs I heard which feature a violin either have a violin solo in between the verses... or it's a complete orchestra backing (which is a whole other story), or it features really soft (reduced volume) playing during the singing parts. I'll keep an eye out for good examples, since none of them pop in my head atm.

As for creating your own backing, you can pretty much follow the Christmas example above. Pick a song.. figure out the chords - these will often be progressions based on the circle of fifths (which is another way of saying that normally a song will contain chords based on the notes in the scale of its key).

For example the above song is in the key of D major. D major scale: D E F# G A B C# (that's why the sheet has 2 sharp symbols at the beginning) and since a simple chord is made up of the root, the third and the fifth of the scale (which would be D, F# A for the D major as you can see above) you can alternate between those notes as long as it's in relation with the melody line that's being sung. When it doesn't fit anymore you'll switch chords. In the song above you can see that it starts out with a D major chord (since the D, F#, A notes are repeated) all the way till the second line where it switches to a G major (aka. G, B, D since the G major scale is: G, A, B, C, D, E, F# and the root is G, the third note in the scale is B and the fifth is D) and so on...  Of course you can double these notes with higher octaves as well if you want to vary it up, you can see in the song above it doubles the D and uses the higher octave one as well in the progression, but you can double any of the other notes as well, not just the root.

Now, this information may be redundant to you, I don't know how much you know about chords and stuff and you may have been looking for something else, in which case sorry for the long post 🙂 But if it WAS what you're looking for then yea, chords are the way to go so try finding information online about that. How to build chords.. how to figure out which chords go for which melodies.. etc etc.. 

Or you can even look them up if it's a known song (generally guitar websites will have the most, like ultimate-guitar for example). You type in the name of the song.. you get the lyrics with the chords written above.. you then can figure out the notes on those chords and find a cool rhythmic pattern of playing them along that fits the song 🙂 

Hope this helps and have fun playing!

Ferenc

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Rosco
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November 30, 2017 - 10:28 am
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Ferenc,

Thanks so much for the time and thoughtfulness you put into your response. I’ve played guitar and mandolin for 30 or so years and am fairly steeped in chord structures, arpeggios and pentatonic scales. You would think that would give me plenty of grist for the mill, but I’ve found that there’s a gap between knowing what is technically and theoretically appropriate and what musically and aesthetically contributes to the whole.

Taking your very insightful discussion of the pitch overlap of the violin and the human voice into consideration, it’s even more important to be well planned and highly selective about the quantity and range of notes played at any given point in a song. I recently attended a service in a large church with a very well developed worship team. They had a violinist playing in the background through about half the pieces played. She was incredibly adept at adding just the right flavoring without drawing attention to the instrument… with the exception of the occasional brief flourish of 6-8 louder notes. At times you could barely discern her presence, but it all the more seasoned the fullness of the presentation.

I have the ability to mic my violin (a small lavalier mic) and can keep the volume down via a pre amp on my music stand. I can even tailor the sound to better blend in. That helps when playing with singers using a sound system. It’s the content, the selection and arranging that seems particularly challenging… hence the search for practical examples.

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Ferenc Simon
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November 30, 2017 - 11:06 am
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Oh, well 30 years is a looooong time so you most likely know more about chords than I do 🙂 

But like you said, it's kind of a tough call the more I think about it.. 

For example one 'band' that popped into mind since, who sometimes use violins is Blackmore's Night.. they play renaissance music. (You probably already knew Ritchie Blackmore from his guitar career 😀 ) 

They have some faster songs where they use violins for 'riffs' basically.. sing a fast passage.. repeat something similar on a violin.. that sort of stuff... other times they pretty much use it as a backing 'shadow' for guitar solos.. like having an effect pedal... I even heard it used by simply holding out the root notes of chords to add some 'noise' to the whole thing... and other times I can see a violinist play the heck out of the instrument.. yet literally cannot hear a single violin sound lol.... 

Here's one example I found where they're live and there's actually a violinist.. this is more like the 'riff' category... 

 

And here's one where I can see the violinist play through the entire thing... but most of the time I absolutely cannot hear her violin.. like.. at all haha

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zpilot
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November 30, 2017 - 12:57 pm
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A simple approach I have seen fiddlers I've worked with in country bands use is to play a combination of a root note mixed with a double-stop using that root and a perfect fifth which, of course you know, can be played on the next higher string with the same finger.  Being a perfect fifth and having no third you don't have to worry about it being a major or minor. 

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AndrewH
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December 1, 2017 - 8:10 pm
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Ferenc Simon said
Have you looked at the Christmas Project? 🙂 

The file Pierre originally posted had a 6th part, which has been dropped since, but basically it was chord arpeggios. That's probably as perfect as a violin accompaniment could get. http://fiddlerman.com/wp-conte.....y-of-D.pdf

But yea, you're right.. it's kind of challenging to find songs where you can make out a proper violin backing from the background. It's probably because the violin is such a powerful instrument that it would overpower the singers, that's why most people tend to play it as a solo instrument. Also the register already starts at the mid-to-high male voice with that 196 Hz G and only goes upward from there and the human ear tends to always focus on the highest clear note in a song, which is why it's really challenging to 'hide' it in the accompaniment. That's why you can find a cello more often, since that overlaps the best with the human voice-register and can sound more 'natural' in a song.

Generally the songs I heard which feature a violin either have a violin solo in between the verses... or it's a complete orchestra backing (which is a whole other story), or it features really soft (reduced volume) playing during the singing parts. I'll keep an eye out for good examples, since none of them pop in my head atm.

As for creating your own backing, you can pretty much follow the Christmas example above. Pick a song.. figure out the chords - these will often be progressions based on the circle of fifths (which is another way of saying that normally a song will contain chords based on the notes in the scale of its key).

For example the above song is in the key of D major. D major scale: D E F# G A B C# (that's why the sheet has 2 sharp symbols at the beginning) and since a simple chord is made up of the root, the third and the fifth of the scale (which would be D, F# A for the D major as you can see above) you can alternate between those notes as long as it's in relation with the melody line that's being sung. When it doesn't fit anymore you'll switch chords. In the song above you can see that it starts out with a D major chord (since the D, F#, A notes are repeated) all the way till the second line where it switches to a G major (aka. G, B, D since the G major scale is: G, A, B, C, D, E, F# and the root is G, the third note in the scale is B and the fifth is D) and so on...  Of course you can double these notes with higher octaves as well if you want to vary it up, you can see in the song above it doubles the D and uses the higher octave one as well in the progression, but you can double any of the other notes as well, not just the root.

Now, this information may be redundant to you, I don't know how much you know about chords and stuff and you may have been looking for something else, in which case sorry for the long post 🙂 But if it WAS what you're looking for then yea, chords are the way to go so try finding information online about that. How to build chords.. how to figure out which chords go for which melodies.. etc etc.. 

Or you can even look them up if it's a known song (generally guitar websites will have the most, like ultimate-guitar for example). You type in the name of the song.. you get the lyrics with the chords written above.. you then can figure out the notes on those chords and find a cool rhythmic pattern of playing them along that fits the song 🙂 

Hope this helps and have fun playing!

Ferenc  

It's actually OK to play a descant above the lead singer, as long as you stay above the lead singer. If you're doing that, it's better if you stay some distance above the singer. What really confuses the ear is when lines are in overlapping registers -- that's when the violin starts to drown out the human voice.

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Cearbhael
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Ferenc Simon said
Oh, well 30 years is a looooong time so you most likely know more about chords than I do 🙂 

But like you said, it's kind of a tough call the more I think about it.. 

For example one 'band' that popped into mind since, who sometimes use violins is Blackmore's Night.. they play renaissance music. (You probably already knew Ritchie Blackmore from his guitar career 😀 ) 

They have some faster songs where they use violins for 'riffs' basically.. sing a fast passage.. repeat something similar on a violin.. that sort of stuff... other times they pretty much use it as a backing 'shadow' for guitar solos.. like having an effect pedal... I even heard it used by simply holding out the root notes of chords to add some 'noise' to the whole thing... and other times I can see a violinist play the heck out of the instrument.. yet literally cannot hear a single violin sound lol.... 

Here's one example I found where they're live and there's actually a violinist.. this is more like the 'riff' category... 

 

And here's one where I can see the violinist play through the entire thing... but most of the time I absolutely cannot hear her violin.. like.. at all haha

  

@Ferenc Simon I listened for the violin and agree with you! It may as well not have been there for you definitely couldn’t hear it! I thought at first that they failed to amplify the violin but, there is a moment when the camera definitely caught the wires and mic! 

"Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one".- Albert Einstein 

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BillyG
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December 2, 2017 - 12:15 pm
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Interesting thoughts folks, interesting.

I struggle with this as well - for example in the mix I did for the small You are my Sunshine" project - it was largely an "experiment" - a "first-time-round" trying this out - and although it was a "virtual ensemble" and not played live  - similar issues - the violin can be "too present" to my ear (unless it is intentionally planned as a lead, or solo ) - the subtle mixing of the levels of the second vln, the two viola parts, the harp and the cello ( 12 audio parts in total ) - made it (again to "my ear" as the mixer-in-charge LOL) about as good as we could get.

Live performance @Rosco - now that indeed is another (but related) issue

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes. D'oh - guntohead.JPG

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

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Demoiselle
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Listening, listening, listening....  Buying lots of CDs is expensive, but there's lots of music on YouTube for example. You can connect your smartphone to a sound system and play those videos from you own playlists over and over again, switching the screen black. Researching radio programs online is very helpful and then you can record music programs which are in your favorite style. And then you play them day and night, whenever you don't sleep. That's the only way to learn that—by ear. Well, I said that again: people who know how to independently play from sheet music are music crazy and cannot stop listening. My brother asked me how he could learn to improvise and then admitted he rather likes to have it quiet over the day. So he's obviously not enough in love with music, therefore he won't ever learn it. Maybe he should look for another hobby or play just sheet music. There are people who tell me they want to play jazz, but they listen to pop music every day. What can I say? Don't these people every figure things? This makes me really speechless. I can only be harsh and say, "Well you won't ever learn it because you don't understand." But I'm not talking about you Rosco. You're far from being one of these hopeless cases.

Many people don't believe in having a favorite music style. Why, they can't learn all music styles at once! I don't trust those who say, "Oh, I like any kind of music, I don't prefer a certain style." That sounds shallow to me, not really indepth. I tried many styles over decades but  I always focused on one style for years. My main style was jazz decades ago. If I now want to be as much at home in baroque I have to continue to focus on baroque for years to come. Which I am doing since 1999! And I still listen to violin sonatas daily and look for more of them. God doesn't put ideas in my head, my improvisations are influenced by listening.

So if I want to learn how to accompany a baroque singer with my violin I listen to my CDs with singers who are accompanied by a chamber ensemble with one violin only. If I hear lots of those examples I will later automatically imitate them if I have to accompany a singer myself.

My violin is a 3/4 violin, made for right-handed players, though I play it left-handed. As I felt she was the best in the shop of all 3/4 violins I tried and the luthier agreed. I prefer Obligato strings together with Eudoxa E string.

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Demoiselle
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Rosco said
I’m trying to develop playing and composing techniques for accompanying singers with the violin. I play with various people in acoustic settings and there is often a guitar, a keyboard and a few other instruments contributing to the backup ensemble. I’m not a soloist, but consider myself sufficiently competent to contribute to the fabric of the background sounds and textures. I’ve done some improvising using pentatonic scales with mixed success… usually over-playing trying to get the best phrasing.

I’m hoping to find recorded examples of essentially easy-listening songs that contain violin in the background, for study… a more challenging search than I first thought. If anyone has suggestions, I would greatly appreciate recommendations of performers or recordings. Even cello background would be of help.

I’m also looking for online instruction (nothing locally available) for composing basic background violin arrangements, or for sheet music of such that I could study to grasp typical approaches. I would really appreciate any input that would help me along.

Thanks...  

I'm practicing myself right now and keep pondering this during breaks. I strongly suggest to you to attend jazz jam sessions too. Jazz is basic for all kinds of jazz-related music, there you have a field to actually learn everything.

I find it a bit confusing that you state you are no soloist. If you are the only violin player you're supposed to be a soloist for it would be very dull if there wasn't any variation and the singer was singing a 100% of the time. Now and then you should play an intro and also a solo in the middle of a tune. Let's say the tune follows the AABA concept. Then you could play the final A-part as intro and then the singer sings A, A, B and A. After that vocal you could improvise over AA, the singer then starts again with the bridge B and ends with final A. And finally you can even ad some sweet notes to the long final note of the singer and maybe even play the last notes of the song by ending on a trill or whatever. Which would be a soloist.

But you remind me a bit of the me between 1999 and 2009 who was listening to early 1700s song & dance pretty much all the time. It took me about 10 years to understand that minuets and other stuff from suites won't teach me hardly anything as recorder soloist. It was okay since I attended baroque dance class for years and also sang. But for my flute I needed REAL JAZZ. And that's what Italian solo sonatas indeed are in baroque music: JAZZ, very rich creative music. The French suite style is just for pretty show—song & dance stuff. It is the same with jazz and easy listening music. In jazz you learn everything you need for easy listening music. In jazz you have the perspective of fast progress, in easy listening you rather treat water. Which means, you should be both: a jazz violinist and accompanist in easy listening stuff.

This also reminds me of me and my brother in the late 80s. I became a huge Doris Day fan then and suddenly my brother also listened to Doris Day. To me it was useful because I was a singing girl too. But my brother wasn't learning anything from that. Maybe a saxophone player was improvising over a bridge in one of 30 tracks. In other short instrumental solos they likely play from sheets—the rest is big band section and string sections. If you listen to jazz CDs you have not just an 8 bars long bridge with some improvisation, you have thousands of bars improvisation on a jazz CD. The only thing my brother could make out of that Doris Day stuff was dreaming of Doris, how she would possibly kiss him. I say that, I don't know what he felt or dreamed. That music is very pretty, but not helpful....unless you want to become an arranger for big band and Hollywood style string sections.

My violin is a 3/4 violin, made for right-handed players, though I play it left-handed. As I felt she was the best in the shop of all 3/4 violins I tried and the luthier agreed. I prefer Obligato strings together with Eudoxa E string.

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coolpinkone
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Great topic and a lot of good information here.

I completely agree with listen, listen, listen.  I also agree with listening to the genre that you want to play. It makes good sense to me. I haven't been doing that and it could be some of the reasons for my current limitations.

Good talks.

Cheers.

Toni

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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Iridal
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I know the original post is 2 months old, but I came here looking to talk about exactly this topic, so I had to add something!

If you're still looking for good ideas, check out Chris Cornell's cover of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U".  Yes, Prince, it was originally a The Family song, though many associate it with Sinead O'Connor.  Anyway, it has a lovely cello part and from what I can tell the cello player doesn't use the C string at all, so it is easily adjustable to the violin (or if he does, somehow my ear found the part a home on the violin set up).  I started looking at it last night.  My only concern is that the pitch may get too high/present to stay a background instrument so the part may need to be changed some, but its a great starting point.  I can hear what he's doing and I think I can adjust to suit it to the violin better using his progression as inspiration.  The song also has a second acoustic guitar that solos over the bridge interlude, which is a great place for the violin to raise pitch and stand out as a solo if you were doing this as a duo.  That's our plan.

I also struggle with over-playing, mostly because I'm trying to find what works and I can't remember what I did last time so it doesn't feel like a cohesive experience.  What I just started doing over the last couple days was breaking out my keyboard, setting it to a synth pad, and playing along with a recording.  For me its way easier to clearly see and hear what I'm doing if I'm not worried about intonation and bow control to a part I haven't written yet.  Also, you can get sheet music programs that write from midi input, so you can take that keyboard part and "write it down".  I don't intend to play from sheet music but for the more complex songs (like Nothing Compares 2 U, he's doing more than just the root) having it documented so I can reference what I did and do it again is key for me.  I believe help me learn consistent parts, analyze already written parts so I can learn concepts better, and generally over-play less.

Just my $0.02.  Let us know how it goes.  🙂

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Irv
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The best example of one artist accompanying another that I know is the album "John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman."  John Coltrane (tenor sax) got top billing but he is accompanying the singer.  

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