How do you fit a violin, flute, trumpet or oboe etc into a band set-up?
Featuring orchestral instruments at appropriate moments can add a great dimension to the sound. Often slower songs with spacious arrangements will give the most room for such instruments to shine. On the other hand, certain song styles do not usually lend themselves to these instruments. I can’t think of many examples of an oboe being successfully used in a rock song! So be sensitive to when you’re adding something special, and when it’s just ‘playing along’ for the sake of it.
Avoid playing the tune if it’s being sung – a harmony part around the melody usually works better and we don’t get ‘melody overkill’. Also, expect to use the instrument only in certain sections of the song, e.g. verse 2 and the chorus, rather than all the way through, so that when it enters it has more impact. Featuring a solo instrument playing a melodic 'hook' in intros and turnarounds can be very effective.
Do I have to improvise?
No, but it’s undoubtedly a useful skill to be able to improvise around the chords with a solo instrument and make up something good on the spot! If you’re unsure of where to start, try picking one note from the current chord and play that, and move to a new note with each chord change. Then look at adding passing notes to make the part more melodic. Think about which register you’re playing in. As a rule, the lower octave will be mellower and quieter than the higher octaves which tend to cut through more.
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What about pre-written parts?
It’s sometimes helpful to work out parts and score them beforehand. It is a bit more work, but by sitting down and working out what you’re going to play and at what point, you will probably end up with something that makes more musical sense than random improvisation. This is especially true if there’s more than one orchestral instrumentalist. You can work out parts that will definitely fit and not trample across one another.
Make sure that other instruments - particularly electric guitar and keyboards are not taking up all the space when a solo instrument is supposed to be featuring.