Strings Articulations (How to Compose Music for Strings)Strings are simply amazing. Then have so much emotion, incredible dynamics, so much beauty! And the have a bigger range of articulations and expression options than any other instrument family.

As a composer, you really need to learn how to use these articulations in your VST plugins and Sample Libraries with strings.

I created this Guide (Cheat Sheet) for you with the most common articulations (playing techniques) in the orchestral strings family.

String Articulations Guide

Sustain

The normal bowed sustaining notes. Sometimes called “Arco” which means “play with bow”.

Vibrato

A slight pitch variation above and below a note. Adding anything from light, to medium to heavy vibrato to the sustained note.

Legato

Play the transition between the notes so that it is smooth, with blurred note attacks.

Portamento (Glissando)

A portamento (or glissando) is a continuous slide upwards or downwards between two notes.

The difference is that a portamento can be thought of as a longer version of legato, while a glissando is more focused on the gradual pitch-slide, than connecting the notes in a legato fashion like the portamento.

Marcato

An accented note (heavy accent), with a sharper attack than the surrounding notes.

Staccato

Playing short detached notes.

Staccatissimo

A shorter version of a staccato.

Spiccato

Playing very short notes by lightly bouncing the bow on the strings.

Pizzicato

Plucking the strings.

Bartok Pizzicato

Plucking the strings so hard that they hit the wood of the instrument, creating a dramatic percussive effect.

Col Legno

Striking the strings with the wood of the bow, for a percussive effect.

Sul Tasto (Flautando)

Play the strings over the fingerboard, which creates a softer sound with less body and harmonics. Sometimes Sul Tasto is called Flautando, which means “flute like”, because of the soft sound this articulation creates.

Sul Ponticello

Play the strings as close to the bridge as possible. As a result, higher harmonics are increasingly excited and an overall sharp tone is produced. This is basically the opposite to the soft sound of the flautando or “sul tasto”.

Con Sordino

Play with a mute on the strings. This creates a darker tone with reduced harmonics.

Harmonics

Playing the harmonic overtone without the fundamental being present, which results in an eerie and magic-like tone. This articulation is also sometimes called “Flageolets”.

Tremolo

Playing in a rapid repetion style for a “trembling effect”, like the note is vibrating. Can be either on the same note, or on 2 notes with a fingered tremolo.

Trills

Rapidly alternating between 2 notes, most often either a minor 2nd interval or major 2nd interval.


My name is Mikael “Mike” Baggström, and I am a composer, sound designer, artist, video creator, coffee lover, and true nerd…

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