Know your string tessituras


After the string arrangement of a phrase, I will spent some time on questioning if the melody has been placed in registers that will bring it out at its best. To come to a good balance between the character of the melody and the string tessitura (register color) you need to know how the different tessituras on every string sound.

I am not a string player and therefor cannot check this first hand, I have my information from different orchestration books but especially from a source that is called the Spectrotone Chart which can be bought from the same company that publishes the “From piano to strings” book. This chart is only available as a PDF download: The Spectrotone Chart.

Here is a basic overview of the instrument tessituras I mention in this blog:

On the violin, viola and cello, the first octave of every string except the highest string, has the most interesting tessitura (color). Above that, the sound is described as “dull” which means that it is losing character.

– On string number IV (the lowest string), this 1st octave is described as sounding “mellow ”.
– On string number III, this 1st octave is described as sounding  “rich”.
– On string number II, this 1st octave is described as sounding  “pleasant”.
– On string number I (the highest string), this 1st octave is described as sounding “bright”, and the range above this 1st octave is described as sounding “brilliant”.

The double bass it is described a little different. Instead of an octave range, the first tessitura has a range of a 4th:

– On string number IV (the low E-string), the lowest range of a 4th is described as sounding “mellow”, the range above that is described as sounding “dull”.
– On string number III (the A-string), the lowest range of a 4th is described as sounding “mellow”, the range above that is described as sounding “warm”.
– On string number II (the D-string), the lowest range of a 4th is described as sounding “rich”, the range above that is described as sounding  “mellow”.
– On string number I (the G-string), the lowest range of a 4th is described as sounding “pleasant”, the range above that is described as sounding “rich”.

Of course these are just words, you need to hear these differences to understand the descriptions. But it does explain that there is indeed a different kind of character in these different tessituras and you could keep them in mind while giving your melody to a specific register on a specific string instrument.

Advertisements