The Art of Arranging (Guest Post)

Hello everyone! I'm Sally from Treble Clef, and I'm really excited to be posting here on Vividry. Thanks so much Melody for this opportunity :)

And so without further ado, I give you...

The Art of Arranging
(Sally's exclusive secrets on how to arrange phenomenal music)

Arranging music is, in my opinion, harder than composing your own music because it has to actually sound somewhat like the song you originally started out with whereas in composition you can literally put any rhythms and notes together and you're fine. When you arrange, you are basically taking a song and formatting it for your group. You can make an easier piece harder (or vice versa), make a song compatible for your instrumentation, or play around with the bass and harmonies while keeping the melody relativity intact. When arranging I am most often doing the second two things in that list.

One of the things that I spend a lot of my time arranging for is an 'Arts Alive' week at my summer camp. If you follow or read Treble Clef  then you probably read part or all of my arranging experience for this camp over the past year as I took on the task of arranging the song 'Bring Him Home' from Les Miserables. This was a challenge, but a very fun challenge at that. I began actually arranging in January (the camp was June 26-July 2) but had done pre-arranging work for months beforehand. It really is a long process. Recently, I have actually started the process again....for next summer. It may seem crazy, but I think that after you see how much will be put into this project, you may re-think that thought.


The first thing that I do when starting to arrange is sketch out a plan. This is kind of confusing, so I took a picture of the one I did the other night for my upcoming project. 
The first thing I have to do of course is lay out some possible music ideas (very important). I go through some books of mine that have songs that fit the theme I'm trying to match and also look on the internet too. For this particular group we tend to do a lot of movie music- especially ballads. In the past we've done The Black Pearl (Pirates of the Caribbean), Eight Days A Week (the Beatles), A Whole New World (Aladdin), and Bring Him Home (Les Miserables). (All my arrangements by the way.) This is where I start. After looking at a BUNCH of stuff, I wrote down my four most likely possibilities- something by the Beatles, Hallelujah (Shrek), The Rainbow Connection (the Muppets) and Can You Feel The Love Tonight (the Lion King).

The next step is to analyze your chosen songs to figure out which one of them you want to work with. *do NOT choose a song that you are not TOTALLY in love with- you won't be very enthusiastic about arranging it and therefore you won't have as stellar of a product*  After careful consideration of difficulty, known instrumentation (see lower left) (although in my case I don't know all my instrumentation yet so I have to make an executive decision from my know facts and speculation as to what we might have. I will find out much later what my full instrumentation will be), popularity, and other factors, I decided that the song that I would work with over the coming year would be Hallelujah. After choosing the song I laid out some basic ideas that I want to use in this arrangement, and then I'm finished with my first step on the road to arranging an awesome piece. (I just used the reference to my upcoming project as an example because it is a bit confusing otherwise. The above step and those below are the ones I use for EVERY arrangement.)

After you've spent some good time on your sketch, make sure to look it over one more time and double check everything that you've done so far. When you have finished with that, congratulations! It's time to move on to step two!

Remember, to arrange music you are taking someone else's composition and arranging it to fit your group, so to do this you're going to have to find some sources that you can work off to create your arrangement. These will give you ideas about key signature, time signature, melody, harmony, chord patterns, and the general way that the song is put together. I usually look three places to find my base music- first I look in my own personal library, then the internet (free or cheap downloads are GREAT), and then at my local music stores. I usually like two or three pieces of base music because then my arrangement has a lot of neat variety. One thing that is the most helpful in arranging is finding a piano part that has the melody line on top, along with guitar chords. This is good because:

(a. the piano part is the hardest to write, so it's really nice to have one right in front of you to build off of,
(b. the melody is right there ready for you to work with as you wish and
(c. the guitar shows you point-blank what chords are being used.

Choral arrangements are great too for ideas on harmony.

For both Bring Him Home and now Hallelujah I used/am using the piano/melody/chord arrangement and a choral arrangement to help me with my arrangement. 

OK! You are now ready to start arranging! Before you go to the computer though, take a look at your base music and mark in some thoughts. Things like 'cello solo here' and 'trumpet descant', etc. This will help make it so that your brain might not end up quite so fried after finishing your arrangement.

Speaking of fried brains...If you've done all the above in one day without really taking a long break (which I do not suggest...) STOP. Go take a hot shower, put on your PJ's, make some popcorn, and watch a movie. Do not work on your arrangement again until a least the next morning. Rest is good. And if your parents complain, well, tell them I said so.

To do your arrangement you are going to need a music writing software. I suggest Finale Notepad which is great for writing music and is only a $9.95 download.Once your software is up, get it ready with your key signature, time signature, etc. Don't necessarily add all your instruments right away, but you can if you want to.  The first part you should start writing for is your piano accompaniment. The easiest way to write this part is to simply take the piano part from your piano/melody/chord base music and plug it in your score. Then go in and change it up a bit to make it your own. The end product of this part could be drastically different from the base music you started out with but it makes it a whole lot easier on you if you work directly off the base music to create your hardest part.

Once you have your accompaniment it's time to start on your melody. You can have the melody stay with one instrument, but it's a lot more fun if you bounce it around different sections and create interesting section combinations with the melody. Make it fun- fun to write and fun to play. You can also mix up the melody to really make it your own too, by putting in accidentals, rhythm changes, whatever floats your boat. Remember, you can ALWAYS go back and change things later. I do :)

The next step is to add in the background parts to your melody. These include (but are not limited to) your harmony, secondary melody, descant and bass line. Use your knowledge of chords (especially the guitar part in your base music), balance, instrumentation, and music theory, to write these parts. Use the playback feature often to make sure everything sounds the way you want it to. You want your score to be absolutely amazing.

If you don't really love how things are coming together there is no reason why you can't change it. Deleting and completely changing your piece are natural parts of the arranging process. If you get discouraged, just take a break and come back later. This is the longest part of the process and it is extremely important to not get frustrated with yourself. As I said before, it is a hard, long, brain-frying process, but eventually it will all come together and you'll have something that you can be really proud of.

Once your parts are finally written, add in dynamics, articulations, fermatas, measure markings, tempos, etc. Look your piece over one last time and listen to it very carefully. Fix anything that needs to be fixed and once you are totally satisfied, split your score into individual parts and print.

Congratulations! You have now arranged your first piece of music, a truly great accomplishment.

If you want more guidance on your own arranging endeavors, I'd love to talk with you and share some tips and listen to your music. If you want to hear more about my own arranging, especially about my next project with Hallelujah, catch me on my blog where arranging is a common subject that I cover. You can contact me at trebleclefblog@gmail.com and/or pop in at my blog Treble Clef. Seeya!

thanks to Melody for letting me guest post!


Hi, I'm Sally, and I run the blog Treble Clef. I'm a fifteen year old Christian, and I'm about to go into my sophomore year at my local high school. I'm not your average teenage girl though, in fact, far from it. I'm a feisty, smart, talented musician, standing at only 5'0'' but that doesn't stop me from wielding a mighty powerful trumpet. Want to learn more about me, and join me on my journey? Catch me over at Treble Clef (link above) where I share my story, the drama, the love, the adventure, and most importantly, the music.

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