How to Write Music

16. Arranging


Old (2005-2010) Article Series

Lesson 16: Arranging

Once you have a "basic" song—chords and melody—you probably want to create a fuller, richer version of it (an arrangement), with several instruments playing together. (If you don't have a basic song yet, you can go back to Expanding an Idea into a Song.) Each instrument plays its own part in the arrangement, and when you invent those parts, you're arranging.

Communal arranging. In these lessons I'll usually assume that you're creating your arrangement by yourself, but I should mention that there's another very popular way to do it, which I'll call "communal arranging". This is when you take your basic song into a band rehearsal or recording session with other musicians, and each musician invents (or helps invent) their own part. Everything you learn in these lessons will still help in a communal arranging setting, since it will help you make suggestions to the other musicians.

Saving your arrangement (DAWs). A hundred years ago, the only ways to save an arrangement were either: (1) teach it to a group of musicians and have them play/sing it over and over until they memorized it; or (2) write it down as written music. Today, the most popular way to save your arrangement is to use software called a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), which can save the parts you compose and play them back all together. I'm not going to teach how to use a DAW in these lessons. There are many different DAWs (ranging from free to very expensive), they all work differently, and the documentation for each DAW should explain how to use it. You might actually play or sing your parts and save them in the DAW, or you might enter the parts into the DAW one note at a time with your mouse. In these lessons, I concentrate on musical ideas and skills which you can use with any DAW. However, I can suggest a great place to learn about DAWs: the KVR Forum.

Vanilla arrangement. In the long run, of course you want to create great, interesting, original arrangements. But as a first step, if you want help getting started creating an arrangement at all, go to A Vanilla Arrangement.

Analyze existing songs. If you already know how to create a basic arrangement, then the best way to learn to create better arrangements is to analyze the ideas and patterns in existing songs. You can see arrangements analyzed in these lessons:

Why these particular songs? I just picked them from a "greatest songs" list. If you have other songs or musical styles you'd like to see analyzed, tell me on my Facebook page!

However, in the long run, the songs I analyze are just to help you learn to analyze music yourself, so that you can learn from the music you like, not just the examples I pick. To analyze music yourself, you need to be able to figure out the notes, chords, and rhythms you hear in a song. You can do this without any specific training, with a lot of practice, by just playing notes on your instrument, hunting for the notes you're hearing. But you can also study this skill systematically, starting with Ear Training.

by Conrad Albrecht 2015. Questions, comments, ideas? Tell me on Facebook!

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