Arranging 2

So what exactly is arranging? It is not composing in that the basic material already exists, although it might be about to undergo massive transformation. Many people mix up arranging with transcribing. Were I to take, for example, a Mozart string quartet movement and rewrite the parts for guitar this would simply be transcription – even if I changed the key (transposition) to a more suitable one for multiple guitars. Transcription is an art in itself but it is more to do with accuracy than creativity. For something to qualify as an arrangement, some changes have to take place in the music which will benefit the intended instrumentation – although the melody is usually retained. Below are some possibilities:

  • Changing the general style of the accompaniment
  • Changing the speed of the accompanying parts relative to the melody*
  • Reharmonising some of all of the melody**
  • Adding counter melodies
  • Adding rhythmic figures to increase the drive of the arrangement***
  • Combining the melody with another known melody e.g. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen with The Pink Panther
  • Transferring a melody which was on top into the bass and transferring the accompaniment to the top (and vice versa)
  • Using accompaniment ideas from a different historical period to the melody e.g. a hip-hop version of Greensleeves
  • Using accompaniment ideas from a different culture to the melody – Mhairi’s Wedding with a samba backing

* either underpinning a soaring tune with an agitated accompaniment or sedating a very active melody with a more serene, spacious accompaniment

** this has a similar effect to changing the adjective with which a noun is paired i.e. the sense is retained but nuances of mood are modulated. For example, a person’s immobile behaviour could variously be described as catatonic; serene; sedate; focussed; watchful; edgy; stunned

*** in tunes which originally featured drums, rhythmic figures have to be included to compensate for their removal

Exactly how one comes up with ideas is difficult to pin down but contributing factors include:

  • Keeping within the reading and playing range of pupils of varying ages
  • Choosing keys which feature resonant areas of the instrument (this is often caused by notes causing matching open strings to vibrate sympathetically)
  • Choosing voicings (order and spacing of notes) of harmonies which lie naturally on the instrument
  • Making up for the limited sustain of guitars by adding material in the hope of avoiding any drop in intensity

Nothing enables one to spot a good arrangement as keenly as having heard (or even bought) many poor ones. This sounds very negative but is very common in medical research where function is studied via malfunction.

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