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How to do violin other than melody?

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  • How to do violin other than melody?

    Hi everyone,
    I am a newbie here. I am working with one of the high school girls in my church who plays violin (classical instruction) but who has a real heart for worship. I don't play violin...just your run-of-the-mill guitarist w/out a lot of music theory background. But I am working with her to play with our worship team. I don't think she really knows much music theory either. She is playing with us on the 20th, and so we practiced with lead sheets and her playing the melody. (She did well with that.) I would love for her to be able to learn to begin to improvise, but have no idea how to help her get started. Thoughts?? Suggestions??


  • #2
    I'm in a fairly similar boat, my sister plays the flute, and doesn't know that much music theory. I play piano at small weekly meetings, and she usually plays the melody, either written out beforehand or just by ear. Last week she asked about learing basic improv. I know a fair bit of theory, but more to do with chords on the piano then making up a fill or harmony or whatever. So I'm very interested to see what suggestions you get!


    • #3
      Hi Monica...what a fun problem. Here's the bad news: there's no "quick-fix" for this unless this girl has phenomenal pitch. That said, anyone can learn to improvise over a chord chart, particularly when it is in support of the melody line and not a true improvised solo. So with the hope that I don't get too technical right off the bat (that's fair warning), here's a couple of steps to get her started.

      1. Learn all the modes. Improvising always begins with knowing the modes (scales starting on notes other than the root note) that chords are built off within a particular key. Any classically trained player should know all the major and minor scales. Unfortunately, improvising in pop music isn't as simple as saying that a Dm chord will be built of a D minor scale.

      Example: In the key of F, playing over the Dm WILL be a D minor scale since the key of F has a Bb in it. But in the key of C, there is no Bb, so a D minor scale will clash. Badly.

      A good explanation of modes can be found here

      2. Have her practice playing simple harmonies against the written melody line. If she has any working knowledge of intervals, have her play above the melody line as if she were singing a harmony part with her violin. This will almost always be a 3rd or 4th above the melody line. This will help her begin to hear the different textures that can be created when playing something other than the melody.

      One other thing to keep in mind. The violin is different than most other single-line instruments in that it sounds great on long, sustained notes behind the melody line. So have her try and play a single note per chord change - something in the chord that isn't the melody note - and over time she'll get more adventurous and try to move within the time that each chord takes. Either way, it's going to take some time on her part...and a lot of patience on yours.


      • #4
        Great suggestions so far. I'm an all around instrumentalist, but got my start on trumpet in church.

        On some songs I'd have parts written out for me, and others I was given the freedom to improv.

        What has been suggested about modes and scales is right on. Though, I'd suggest you can start simple with the KEY and use that scale. Say for instance, the key is G. Have the violinst go up and down the scale (not necessarily all the way up or down...this is where "feel" comes in). Have them do this over the chord progressions. It should fit.

        What you can suggest to keep things from sounding to chaotic is to have the violinst play around these few notes. Root, 3rd, or 5th.

        So for instance your chord prog is G - Em - D - C the violinst could start on the 3rd (B) and go up a few notes to the 5th (D) and just kind of "hover" around those few notes. When they get up to the 5th (D) they could go up to the 6th (E) and then back to the 5th (D).

        Honestly, you can "learn" to improv by learning all the major and minor scales and then learning which keys to play the "relatives" to. Say you're in Em (as in a worship song that "feels" like Em: Em C D Am etc) 0 you can play the "relative major" scale which is Gmajor and it usually sounds pretty good. Until you throw in Bmajor (the 5th) then you have to adjust for that. But that's getting into the "theory" side of things.

        All that being said, I'd work with the violinist SEPARATE from other musicians on improv. I wouldn't put them on the spot and say, "Just play a G scale, it'll fit!" I would even make a recording of several chord progressions for them to learn to improv to. So they can practice at home.

        Look at the majority of your songs. What are the two or three most used keys that you play in? Use that as a starting place. Get them improving in those keys and then they'll learn quickly in the others.

        Also, I'd try and write out some "pseudo-improv" (which aren't really improv at all) parts for them, and have them play in between vocals, during interludes, between choruses and verses, etc. You could easily have them double melody, but sometimes having an instrument NOT play creates better music than having them play all the time. So that when they do come in their parts carry a lot of sweetness to them!

        Above all be patient, and be specific with what you want them to do. Nothing is more frustrating and even intimidating than trying to coach an inexperienced musician vaguely (for them that is). You have to either demonstrate what you're after or at the very least articluate what you're after. If you have to...SING some improv parts for them to hear.

        Good luck!
        Associate Director of Worship & Media at St. Simons Community Church .He is also the content curator and editor here at The Worship Community.


        • #5
          Anyone have any youtube clips of a good violin implementation? I'd love to know how to do this because I have tons of kids in my church who play violin but don't play the guitar, bass, drums, or keys. I'd like to get them involved somehow.


          • #6
            Don't know of any clips, for regular ol' church worship. But if you can find some clips of Gungor and his Beautiful Things performance, that'd be a neat starting place to be inspired from.
            Associate Director of Worship & Media at St. Simons Community Church .He is also the content curator and editor here at The Worship Community.


            • #7
              Originally posted by Sambekzx View Post
              Anyone have any youtube clips of a good violin implementation? I'd love to know how to do this because I have tons of kids in my church who play violin but don't play the guitar, bass, drums, or keys. I'd like to get them involved somehow.
              There are some great examples of using violin in worship on Michael W. Smith's worship CDs. They're not my favorite arrangements, but there's no denying that the violinist can really play, and he works some very interesting parts into the tunes.
              Eric Frisch


              • #8
                I can't post the clip because I can't open, but the New Bethel Live CD "Here is Love" has some GREAT cello improv on the song "I Love Your Presence."

                You can search the clip on youtube.


                • #9

                  Thanks for the suggestions. It's really helpful to have some others to connect with...this forum is great!


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Sambekzx View Post
                    Anyone have any youtube clips of a good violin implementation? I'd love to know how to do this because I have tons of kids in my church who play violin but don't play the guitar, bass, drums, or keys. I'd like to get them involved somehow.
                    We use violin on Revelation Song. It sounds fantastic. Also use it on Praise You With a Dance. YouTube - Casting Crowns - Praise You With The Dance Our church LOVES this song.


                    • #11
                      Does she sing at all? If she can sing and adlib little descants vocally, she can record them and then learn the fingering. I have done that a little bit with the flute. I know scales fairly well as well, so that also helps, but it it faster the other way for me. She just needs to be aware of where the "holes" are to fill and to not compete with the melody.


                      • #12
                        if ur wanting her to play something other than the melody or the same not that the chord is than honestly... its her responsibility to learn and she should want to. you can help and give her a program but she should learn to be flexible... alot of times... throwing someone into helps them learn quicker... i didn't learn lead guitar(or really have clue how to play it) until a leader looked at me and told me to learn lead or not play... i learned lead and now its the main thing i play.


                        • #13
                          A good starting point is learning some lead guitar licks from songs that you play. Find something with a lead guitar part that isn't crazy fast or jumpy and pick it out for violin.

                          Kari Jobe's latest CD has some string parts that are pretty simple.

                          For learning improv or working on parts, you might look into Band in a Box software. You can plug in the chords to a song and have the software loop over them multiple times so you can learn what to play over them. It's somewhat jazz-focused but has many different styles built in.


                          • #14
                            I'll throw in the much more basic suggestion than some of the theory heavy suggestions, just in case you are not there yet. The most basic and often subtley powerful violin parts is to just play the root note of the chord progression. (Russ almost suggested this but added a layer of complexity.)

                            So if your playing a progression of C-G-Am-F, violin drones/plays C-G-A-F / G-D-Em-C, violin drones/plays G-D-E-C.

                            The next step would be to link those notes with a single "passing" note. I would start with the previous/next note in the scale. Taking C (for lazy purposes) Drone C, then on the way to playing the G add an F, then on the way to A add a B, then on the way to playing the F add an E.

                            Then encourage her, in rehearsal, to try two note "passing phrases". Etc. Simple and easy things like this will build the confidence to try other things on the way to "learning all the modes" and jazz comping over chord changes.
                            I need pictures of your drummer in his booth/cage/room http://drummersbehindglass.com


                            • #15
                              Color instruments (flute, violin, sax, irish whistle, etc.) always sound best with the worship team when they are not playing the melody on top of the singers.

                              There are pretty much two ways to do it:

                              1) Play the intro/vamp/outro parts when no one is singing - either the melody line or a countermelody instrumental part (which you can get from a recording or make it up).

                              2) Play a countermelody or harmony throughout the song. Again, the color instrumentalist should make sure they are not doubling up on a note someone is singing.

                              Flutes in particular can really clash with female voices, but any color instrument is likely going to be playing in the same range as a vocalist, and assumably the congregation is going to be trying to sing along with the lead voice(s).

                              It may be easiest for the instrumentalist to write down their notes and have a recording they can play along with for practice.

                              For someone starting out, start simple with a short (4-bar?) melodic theme, then they can play around with improvising pieces of it and repeat it throughout the song.