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Accompanying with the violin
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Rosco
Connecticut
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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
Connecticut
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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
Kansas City, Mo.
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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
Sacramento, California
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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
Minnesota
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December 2, 2017 - 11:39 am
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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
Brora, North-east Scotland
December 2, 2017 - 12:15 pm
Member Since: March 22, 2014
Forum Posts: 2286
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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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