Impact of string music on different genres

a set of simple principles. A string is pulled taut across a resonating body, and then actuated. The pitch of the resulting tone will depend on the length of the string – which means that a player can select a note by depressing the string at a certain point on the neck of the instrument.

It wasn’t until the classical period that these instruments were refined to the extent that they would be recognisable today. Bowed string instruments like violin, viola, cello and double bass are mainstays in classical music – but in more recent times, they’re also used in pop, jazz, film music and a variety of other genres.

The instruments used in elite string sections tend to be very expensive – and professional players tend to be backed by appropriate insurance policies. If you’re a cellist, for example, you might look at specialised insurance for cellos. But to cover this expense, you might find yourself performing in a wide range of musical genres. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Classical string msic

The role played by the string section in classical music is difficult to overstate. Name any given recognisable symphonic piece, and the chances are good that the strings are doing a lot of the heavy lifting. From the emphatic opening to Beethoven’s 5th to the shimmering runs in Wager’s Die Walküre, they’re a mainstay.

The size of the ensemble will vary tremendously across the classical repertoire. The string quartet, comprising two violins, a viola and a cello, is thought of as a pure vehicle for the music itself. In grander, more theatrical productions, like operas, a much larger string section is called for.

Folk music traditions

Just about every kind of folk music in the world makes use of some kind of stringed instrument. The lute was played thousands of years ago, and is synonymous with the idea of the travelling bard, wandering from town to town with a lot of ballads to perform. The truth is that the lute evolved considerably, along with the music itself.

The same might be said of mandolins, banjos and balalaikas, which are still used today. Harps and violins have also been used extensively in folk music – except the latter is more commonly called a fiddle.

Jazz and strings

As jazz began to emerge in the early 20th century, it could command many of the resources which had hitherto been available only to classical composers. There was plenty of experimentation from both classical and jazz composers, with Stravinsky and others seeking a break from traditional harmonic structures. By the 40s, Glen Miller and others had firmly established the use of strings in jazz.

While jazz might lend itself to improvisation, string players largely found themselves constrained. String players in jazz orchestras tend to distinguish themselves through the tone they achieve, rather than through forms and note selection.

Strings in contemporary genres

What about contemporary music? Certain pop, rock and electronic artists have managed to work orchestral strings into their sound. Since the advent of digital sampling, and tape-based instruments like the Mellotron, we’ve seen plenty of memorable uses of string music in contemporary genres. You might think of Massive Attack’s Unfinished Symathy or the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony – songs which owe their massive and enduring popularity to their string arrangements.