Hi, I’m Sarah. I absolved the preperatory course ‘Filmscoring and Production’ at Musicube Academy and now I am a first year student for Composition for Film and Theatre. In this blog I’m gonna share my personal experience as a student at ArtEZ in Arnhem.
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One of the most difficult tasks for a film composer is to know how to play every instrument. I don’t mean that you really have to be able to play it but at least you have to know how a professional would play it in theory. I think it’s the only way to be able to compose appropriatly for an instrument.
This is the reason why we’re gonna discuss strings in our next 6 weeks of main subject lessons. After these weeks we are supposed to write for a professional string quartet called Matangi. Last October, we (the first years) had the chance to be there when the last first year students recorded their pieces. This was only possible because the recordings were postponed because of Corona. Another moment where we can honor the benefits of the whole Corona-Misery. Always look at the bright side of life… 😉
For me this was again a moment where I realized the big difference of librarian music and real instruments. Lots of composers are a little disappointed because now there are human beings behind the instruments and not a machine. And humans are not perfect. But in my opinion these ‘mistakes’ and flaws, in pitch or note length or whatever, are exactly what makes the music alive. It makes it natural and therefore beautiful. Sometimes, when you’re really used to let your computer do the work, you need some time until you get used to the unknown natural sound not the sterilized sound of a machine.
But to get to the point to be able to write for strings you need to understand the instruments first. So I asked a friend of mine that I knew from old times at school. Back then she already helped me in all kinds of projects. She is a violinst and plays in many orchestras alhtough she studies psychologie.
She came to one of our lessons and answerd tons of questions and showed us how you play the violin. Especially to not only hear the things in theory but to see them life was super helpfull to understand what a real professional player would be able to do.
All the string instruments are luckily kind of similar to play so we could translate the stuff we learned to other instruments as well (Cello, Viola, etc). As a film composer at ArtEZ you have the possibility to learn a new instrument every year. I chose the cello for this year which was such a good decision for me. In general is this a really good opportunity to get to know all kinds of instrument famlies in detail even though you might not become a professional player after one year 🙂
Especially in the beginning lots of composers use strings as a pad sound or write melodies where a professional would probably just leave the room without saying anything 😀
On the one side is the ‘infinity’ of a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) quite helpful in terms of creativity but on the other hand it sometimes creates an image of how instruments work that isn’t really how it works in real life. Of course, our technical programs can be really helpful to get started ’cause very few of us have the possibility to write for real instruments and to record it as well. This is an ability that is quite important for film composers but not less important for any other kind of composer.
Every intrument sounds different in different pitches and velocities. The DAW doesn’t consider this always and in my opinion it’s really important to make the effort to get to know the instruments you’re writing for. If you know all this you can even work properly with your DAW to make your sound more realistic. I personaly really like this process and find it exciting to widen my horizon so I’m really glad to do this during my studies!
All the best,