Tips-for-Arrangers

by Lachlan Davidson, 2010

 

Improving your skills
  • Listen analytically to how good arrangers have written.
    • Analyse the roles of each instrument –
    • How they balance
    • Their strengths and weaknesses.
    • How they are combined with other instruments.
    • How the arranger has used melody, harmony, counterpoint etc.
    • The level of difficulty of a chart and for whom it is written.
  • Scores are a great source of information, especially when combined with listening.
    • Look at how the arranger has achieved certain effects.
    • Look at what they haven’t written, where they leave space, how they have shaped the overall form of a piece.
    • See how the arranger writes for certain instruments using specific effects and notations.
    • Learn the idiosyncrasies of writing for each instrument. (This is ongoing and takes many years.)
    • Look at how parts and scores are laid out and copy the good ones. Books on arranging are an invaluable resource and can save you much trial and error, but you do learn the best lessons by experience. Find one that covers the area of your interest.
Basic principles of arranging
    • Have a melody, a bass line, a harmony part and maybe a counter melody.
    • Present your scores well, with well laid out parts and scores.
    • Mark dynamics at the start of every section. Learn to use them as a musical device.
    • Hear the ideas in your head first, or on an instrument, before punching them into your software or onto the page.
    • Write music that is easy to play. It will sound better and cut down on rehearsal time.
    • Write music that is interesting to play. The players will enjoy it more and therefore, give it more.
    • Do the job as is required but allow yourself the luxury of putting in some of yourself.
    • Under-write rather than over-write
    • If an idea doesn’t fit, even if it’s great, chuck it out and use it another day.
    • Write with care and character. It takes a little longer but is worth it for the result.
Getting work
    • Look for any opportunity to write, and it will be for free.
    • Put up your hand but don’t get over-pushy. Nobody likes that.
    • Find or create groups to write for. It helps if it’s one you play in
    • Find your niche and your interest.
    • At first take any writing job until you are too busy. Then you can be selective, sometimes.
    • Transcription is a large part of being an arranger and you can learn a lot from it but be sure that you are creatively arranging too or you will lose your soul.