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Which Ensemble Should I Choose?

At City Six Strings, we offer a range of ensemble sizes, from lone strolling violinist to opulent, Bridgerton-worthy string quartet. It makes sense that choosing an ensemble might get a little bit confusing, given that the only obvious differences between the solo, duo, trio, and quartet are the price and the number of musicians.

To explain the differences to people, I sometimes say, “Think of this like a cake.” (And who doesn't like to think of cake?)

Take, for example, our soloists. I like to think of them like icing (the most important part, to me!). Usually a cellist or violinist, they do a great job fitting in small spaces, adding a touch of glamour to smaller events like engagements or intimate weddings. Since they’re only one person, though, they can usually only play the melody of whatever songs you want to hear. That’s great, if that’s all you need! I can live on icing alone, a lot of the time.

But what if you want something more? That’s what a duo provides, with the lush bass line of a cello or viola providing a chocolatey foundation for the sweet serenade of the violin. One layer of cake + icing is a solid dessert. It tends to fit in anywhere, from outdoor wedding to cocktail hour to candlelit dinner. This versatility and simple beauty is probably the reason the duo is one of our most popular bookings.

If you feel you’re missing something, then there’s the trio. The extra layer, usually a viola, fills in the harmony and spices things up with a countermelody. A string trio sound is lush and full, but the ensemble doesn’t take up much space and lends an intimate feel even to larger events. It’s an excellent middle ground between the two voices of the duo and four voices of the full quartet.

The string quartet is the full three-layer cake with icing, and therefore my personal favorite. The two violins, viola, and cello offer all the sonority of a chamber orchestra and all the flexibility of a soloist. There is something timeless about things that just work well -- and the string quartet has been doing that for centuries! Whether on a stage or filling the room with a light background hum of music, the quartet is often the standard in elegance.

Of course, one’s cake selection has much to do with personal taste and budget. The same goes for string ensembles. Unlike cake, though, there are some extra things to consider:


Though all of our ensembles can play any song you request, you might want to consider how well your playlist fits. Does the melody stand up on its own, or does it need some harmony or rhythm underneath to make more sense? This is especially true of some R&B songs, country songs, and classical pieces.


Try as I might to fit my cello in a tiny corner, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Some spaces are just better suited to smaller ensembles -- for a concrete example, we never book anything larger than a string duo for Gervasi Vineyard’s lovely, intimate Conservatory venue. At the same time, soloists can be swallowed up in large banquet halls or churches. Outdoors, with acoustics and wind sometimes playing havoc with our instruments, a solo or duo might not be heard at all without amplification, while a quartet might sing out just fine.


Having live human beings making music in front of you is, for many, a memorable experience. A lot of time, discussion, and sometimes laughter go into our duo, trio, and quartet rehearsals so that we can communicate ideas with eye contact or body language alone. The more instrumentalists you add, the higher the energy is raised -- we love what we do, and we’re excited to play for you!

I hope this helps to clear things up about the most popular ensembles we offer. Of course, we work with other musicians like pianists and singers, too, but that’s a whole different slice of cake.



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