Session Super Stars: Tina Guo

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Dear readers, I am super excited to share this one with you!

This marks the first entry on a new awesome series: Session Super Stars. In each chapter we will meet a famous session musician and talk about their instrument and the many ways a composer can leverage their talents to create an amazing score.

Without further ado, I am very pleased to introduce our guest for this entry: the amazing Tina Guo!

Tina Guo

Internationally acclaimed, GRAMMY Award-nominated and BRIT Female Artist of the Year-nominated musician Tina Guo has established an international career as a virtuoso acoustic/electric cellist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and entrepreneur.

Known for her unique genre-crossing style, she is one of the most recorded Solo Cellists of all time and can be heard on hundreds of Blockbuster Film, Television, and Game Soundtracks.  

Full bio avalable at

Hi Tina, welcome on this series. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What instruments do you play and what other fields does your work extend to?

I play the acoustic and electric cello as well as the Erhu- I started music on the piano and still play a bit on that also!  I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and also dabble in stocks and investments 🙂

Your performances are featured in scores of enormous magnitude, such as The Lion King, Wonder Woman and Dunkirk just to name a few.  What elements of your playing do you feel are sought after by film composers?

I think that in this modern age of ultra-accessibility, it’s more important than ever to have your own unique voice, style, and signature.

Metronome vs conducted vs rubato. Which one you are more comfortable with and which one produces the best results?

All! There’s no one answer for anything- it depends on the music and the application.

For a session it’s very rare for something to not be to click (metronome) to keep all the pieces together- click can also be rubato too though, just programmed in 🙂

Are you always provided with note-by-note parts or do you do some improv work as well when working with film composers?

I do both- for improvised work, I oftentimes end up composing melodies and adding significant musical parts so in those cases, I become an additional composer or co-composer.

What should a composer tell you about the scene you are about to play against?

It’s best to just send a general description if the actual scene to watch isn’t available but oftentimes I improvise live to picture.

How do you feel about contemporary notation for film scores?

In a session setting where musicians are paid by the hour, it’s best to keep things simple and easy to understand- sometimes over-complicating things make them… complicated!  If there are crazy notation markings, it may be best to work together in person to save on time and maximize efficiency.

Are there specific playing techniques that you invented or that are very uncommon and you are proficient with?

I’m not quite sure… I think style of playing just happens without conscious planning of it- I think that for session musicians, it’s important to be well versed in every style and to also practice to have maximum technical proficiency as to not waste time during a session struggling with a part. 

Sight-reading is an essential part to session work, although sometimes composers who do not know how to play a cello struggle with writing parts that are actually realistically playable and then multiple stops and edits and overdubs can work- but really take up more time which is no problem at all for the musician but more costly for the production!

Do you find useful to listen to a mock-up to understand what a composer is going for?

Yes it’s always helpful to have context!  Mock-ups depend on the composer, I think just to have a general idea of where the part is for the musician is great reference.

Should composers provide bow markings/bowings on their Cello parts and why?

I rarely am given parts with actual bow markings (up, down, etc.) but slurs are important if you want something phrased a certain way- I think it’s dependent on the musician you are working with.  More experienced ones should be able to tell musically what would work best in the context of the piece and what is most efficient for that particular instrument, especially if the composer is not a string player themselves to really know what makes sense.

What are the things you really don’t like to see on the page?

Over-marked parts!

Any particular tip/s, pertinent to part notation, to maximise the whole performance/recording?

Not anything in particular- maybe just to make sure that the notes you’re writing are actually playable on a live instrument since everything is easier on a keyboard- sometimes impossible leaps and jumps between notes at a high speed takes a lot of time to record in real life and there are more efficient ways to write to save time and be playable live.

Are there specific tweaks you recommend implementing to the recorded performance in post (specific eq, filters, fx)?

Most composers and producers have their own signature sound that they want to implement, so I send dry stems.  I personally add my own EQ and reverb but it’s a matter of personal taste.

Thank you so much for your insight!

Thanks so much!

I can’t think of a better article to wish you all happy holidays and announce FST will come back on the second week of 2020, with some incredible content (big news ahead…).

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Giovanni Rotondo

Giovanni Rotondo

Editor in Chief of Film Scoring Tips. Giovanni Rotondo is an experienced film and television composer based in London. He has scored many award winning feature films (Elijah and the Rock Creature, Orphans & Kingdoms), TV movies (Il Giudice Meschino, Il Confine), documentaries (Ilaria Alpi - L'Ultimo Viaggio) and video games (Thunderbird: The Legend Begins). More info here:

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