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The violin as a composing tool

Joshua Iyer

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Published: June 26, 2015 at 3:54 PM [UTC]

Last night was probably the first time I truly used my violin... as a composing tool! Normally when I write my music I head out into the forest preserve in the morning (or whenever of course), sketching out my ideas and hearing the birds chirping, and then head home and test out how the harmonies sound with the melodies on the piano. When I'm writing a string quartet, however, a piano just won't cut it to help me make sure certain techniques are playable. Basically, at the end of the fourth movement of the quartet (which I just finished, so now I only have the middle two movements to work on!), I have a technique where there are triplets that are to be played quite rapidly but across all four strings, like a quadruple stop that's rolled. Originally, I had something like a 1 on the G string, a 3 on the D and A strings, and a 4 on the E string. I'm sure it's playable, and I could get it to sound okay, but getting to it was quite awkward, especially when there's literally just one beat of preparation. So, I rewrote it by adding more open strings and making something that was much more playable, but still had the general harmony I wanted. (And I had to edit this for the second violin, viola, and cello parts!) This is an example of how something in my head doesn't go as planned. I usually can picture where my fingers will go on each string but when I write music I don't always think about how playable it is. This is why, as a composer, I am very glad to be a violinist!

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