The Bridgerton Buzz: pop music on the violin

Reading time: 4-5 minutes

If you’d like a longer soundtrack to accompany this read, click on the video below (~8 minutes long). For a short, “Whistledown” medley, hold on until the end!

The Bridgerton buzz

Let’s face it, there’s not much to talk about at the moment, except what we’re watching on tv or Netflix. When small talk starts drying up, weekly catch ups with friends inevitably stray to our current series-binge!

The buzz of the moment is all about Bridgerton on Netflix. It’s a saucy period drama with a modern twist, based upon the Julia Quinn’s novels and set in Regency era, London. Juicy dating news of the season is reported by Mrs Whistledown in her widely circulated gossip column, with all debutantes jostling to be in the “what’s hot” rather than “what’s not” list. If you like period drama and want Emma in the style of Gossip Girl – it’s for you!

A pop twist

One element of the show that is regularly commented on, is the clever twist of classical stringed instruments playing a mixture of the usual background film music alternated with pop song covers. It’s actually not the first show to do this, joining Reign (amongst others, I’m sure) in making a period drama music relevant for the younger viewer.

Why do people like it?

Well, I have a few ideas!

  • In the context of Bridgerton, pop music played by a string quartet spices up what some younger viewers may consider an outdated genre.
  • It also helps the viewer understand what it was like dancing to contemporary music of over 200 years ago – experiencing classical music as “popular”, rather than a thing of the past.
  • In a broader context, pop music played on a string instrument keeps the musical vibe classy.
  • It draws different musical tastes together.
  • It makes people smile (and feel clever!) when they work out where they know the tune from.
  • It draws the listener in with the combination of familiarity in a different setting.

What doesn’t work?

To be honest, the purists would say all of it. I disagree.

Some covers can sound cheesy. Some can sound surprisingly lovely. However, some just don’t work!

A lot of pop songs of the last few years base their verses around as little as 3-5 notes, with strong beats, rhythm, riffs and lyrics taking a more prominent role. Take Bad guy by Billie Eilish for example. (Love that song!) This just wouldn’t work on solo violin. It’d be dull played by a string quartet.

Here are some of my big NOs of when a pop cover on violin doesn’t work:

  • The violin is a melodic instrument. It’s job is to play the tune. If the tune isn’t that tuneful it doesn’t sound good!
  • If the pop cover relies heavily on strong beats, rhythm, riffs and lyrics to make it sound intersting, move on.
  • If the song is very repetitive, it’ll sound like a woodpecker at a primary school choir audition.
  • If the voice of the original singer is key to the overall delivery of the song e.g. thrash metal vocals or a particularly unique voice such as Björk, it will likely disappoint.

What works well?

  • Tune is key. Choose a song that people can easily sing or hum. What’s your favourite carpool or shower song?
  • A song that has been used in a film or tv series: The visual and emotional connection will help the audience enjoy it better.
  • You can rarely go wrong with a bit of Disney!
  • Songs which have stood the test of time: Will it be played on the radio in 10 years time?
  • Tried and tested string covers: There are some fantastic pop cover artists out there including the The Piano Guys and Lindsey Stirling. Check them out!
  • Will the audience be singing along in their head? If the answer is yes, you’ve found a good one!

My experience

I’ve played violin at weddings and events for over 12 years now and have had some truly lovely pop cover requests in that time. They’ve broadened my repertoire and made me smile, especially when they work really well! I’m always honest if I think it won’t work, but am very happy to discuss musical preferences and special songs with my client.

What is most important to me, is that my audience enjoys the music that is most meaningful to them. When I first started out, I didn’t realise how rewarding it was to play other people’s preferences, not just my own. To me, playing music for others is what it’s all about.

And now a short pop medley reward of some of my favourites! (1 minute long)

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