Thoughts on Arranging Music - My Personal Process Part 2: What is the final result you want?

To continue where I left off in part 1 of this series on arranging music, I wanted to talk about what the eventual goals of the piece you are trying to arrange are.

Why would having goals for your piece be important?  This helps you keep focused on what your final outcome will be.  If you don't maintain this focus, what you can end up with is a result that feels like lots of great parts that could sound good independently, but which collectively don't match very well.

How can we go about defining these goals?  While I usually don't write out the goals for my arrangement, I have always taken the time to think about what my goal for the final result is.  Here are some questions I go about asking:

-What can I expect the players in my group to be able to do well with as far as key signatures, time signatures, etc.? (see "Thoughts on Arranging Music - My Personal Process Part 1: Who are you writing for?")

-What do I want this arrangement to sound like?  Like a very close version of the original, but for different instruments?  Or do I want to create a more classical sounding version, or a more fiddle-like, a more jazzy, etc. version?

-What was the composer's, song writers, etc. original intention with the song?  Do I want to closely mimic this intention, or create something new and original from it?

-What patterns do I see in the music which I can use to help unify the sound, while create rhythmic, harmonic, melodic interest?

-What do I want from the overall shape of the arrangement?  Does it need to feel calm?  Does it need to become more intense?  How do I create my shape using the instruments that I have?

Let's take a look at a few different examples of some arrangements that show how these guiding questions helped drive my decisions.

The first is an arrangement the Garland Waltz from Tchaikovsky's ballet "Sleeping Beauty."

With this arrangement, I had a more beginning group of students, and so I knew the first thing I wanted to do was to put this arrangement in a time and key that wouldn't be too unfamiliar to the class.  I decided to put this in 3/4 time and in F Major, as I knew these would work well for the students in the class.

While the main melody is what would be recognized from this piece by both the students and audience since it was in the Disney film "Sleeping Beauty,"  I also felt that I wanted to stay more true to Tchaikovsky's original version.  I then took some of the opening section from the ballet and put it at the beginning to give the arrangement the same exciting entrance as in the ballet.  To make it more manageable, I simplified some of the rhythmic and melodic figures and condensed it to allow the audience to get to the more famous melodic section earlier.

Throughout the music, I heard some awesome use of hemiola to give an off-kilter feel to the music, and I wanted to make sure that this was included.  As this was a waltz, I also knew that I wanted to keep the "Boom" "Chuck, Chuck" feeling underneath the melody.  I also wanted to make sure that ideally not only one instrument would be left with these "Boom" "Chuck, Chucks."  (As a violist, I appreciate composers who trust the viola section with more interesting figures)

Finally, the overall shape needed to have that same feel of growth in intensity, sudden calm, followed by a triumphant finish.

In contrast to this arrangement, let's look at a pop arrangement:  Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl.

For this arrangement, I knew that the orchestra that would be playing it would be a little more advanced, and that I could use some of the pop rhythms from the original song to give the piece a more authentic sound.

I loved the bass line in the beginning of the song, and I wanted to make this more present at the beginning and in the middle, so I put the bass line in the cello in pizzicato and had the violins help with a pizzicato harmony above it to make it more prominent.

I wanted the overall piece to feel like it had a drive to it, and so I had the harmony instruments either play a syncopated rhythmic pattern underneath the melody, or a driving 8th note rhythm to give a feeling of the forward motion I was going for.

As the chorus is the most popular part of this song, I wanted to make sure that when we heard it, it would be very prominent.  In this case, I chose to not do all of the verses of the original song so that I could place the chorus at the very end and ensure that it would be the first time the audience would hear it.  I also wanted to make sure that this was such a prominent feature at the end, that I had the violas in harmony with the same rhythm underneath the melody.

Whenever I arrange a pop song, I like to give it at least a slightly classical feel.  For this arrangement, I used the very common 8th note driving rhythms and some scale and slurring patterns that are more classical sounding.

As you go about arranging or composing, I would encourage to consider the overarching goals you have with your arrangement.  Doing this will help create a more interesting and unified sound that will draw the listeners in.

Look for the next article on arranging, in which we'll spend time talking about how to create colors with harmony and voicing.


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