Arranging For Women’s Voices 3: Common Challenges

FAQ Style, everyone’s favorite!

Did someone call me?

Did someone call me?

How do I get started?

Figure out the key, time signature, and how many staves you want. Listen to the general structure of the song so you get a feel for its arc, as well as the important themes. Jot that down, be you at a keyboard or holding a pencil.

Ahem. Next?

It’s wise to get into the habit of dictating (writing the musical notation down as you hear) the significant parts first. The Alto 2 line is usually one of the most quickly developed, as it often includes the bass line. Most people find the bass line quite easy to dictate. Chances are, if you’re a woman, you might be attracted to dictating the higher parts first. It’s just the way we hear things, make sense of things, and churn it all out into something we can replicate. Always remember, Alto 2 lines are more flexible than bass lines in that they can move to new inversions and use homophony.

I seem to be very lost. What is most likely the problem?

One thing’s for sure, each arranger has spent a chunk of life in extreme frustration as a hairy problem wrestles him or her to the ground in a frenzy of pain and confusion. Don’t fret! Here are a few questions to assess the quality and extent of the problem.

Most likely it’s a music theory conundrum that’s throwing you for a loop. Don’t be shy about digging into old Theory textbooks. Or you can try here.

This is one battle you may want to avoid.

This is one battle you may want to avoid.

  • Did it change key? If yes, how does it transition; what are the keys including their mode (major/minor)? Make a choice about how you’re going to write the key change, be it using accidentals or a new signature.
  • Did it displace a rhythm (hemiola) or did it shift beat accents? Check that you’re music is rhythmically precise first before messing with harmony.
  • Still no? Chances are it could be a super stumper… did it switch from swung time signature (smallest subdivisions in 3) to straight (in 2) or vice versa? No? Did things jump around too quickly that you couldn’t catch the notes? Try slowing it down on WindowsMediaPlayer if you can. If you’re on a Mac, just try some patience: repetitions are key. Or try this.

I’ve established my song’s general chord and song structure. Now how do I exercise my creative muscle?

I’m so glad you asked, because being creative is the best way to leave your trademark. What’s your a cappella legacy? This is exciting part where you get to express the way you think this song should affect the listener! wOOt.

  • Are you sure you have completed chords throughout the chart? Next, look for opportunities to include 7ths and 9ths. For example, if there’s a progression in major, [ii – V64 – V7 – I], why not try adding a 7th to the ii to be come a ii7? If it makes sense in the end, why not try adding emphasis your cadence with a V7/V instead (raising the 3rd of ii7 to make it a dominant 7th chord)? Experiment with richer, tighter harmonies, and make them a staple — or not, if that’s not your style.
  • Imagine the song as playful banter between soloist and block. Utilize rests to create juxtapositions, color changes, and/or moments of surprise that heighten drama. Think about rhythmic duets, and the contrast parts can achieve using specific register differences. One suggestion: try breaking up the usual verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge gulag with a subito-piano opening to the 2nd verse or bridge.

    Beware of your creative muscles going underdeveloped.

    Beware your creative muscles going underdeveloped.

  • Go through the whole piece thinking about the way bass and drums are the spine and body of this music. Edit out places that don’t lend themselves to rocking out as hard. You do want to rock, don’t you? Go big or go home.
  • It may seem hokey, but try to look at it from the crowd pleasing angle. Any place to insert a bell chord? Is your ending as cool as you want it to be? Is your entrance? These simple tweaks can work magic with a lively audience.
  • If you haven’t yet, this is the time to think about your syllables… What interesting color patterns and percussive elements to you want in this song? How will your moving lines differ from held lines?

How do I notate faster?

Other than practice, practice, practice, I will offer this advice: go download the newest version of Finale Notepad for free, and then complete the free tutorial that should say something like NotePadEntryExercise… try it out, and get used to the rapid entry techniques. As well as it is more stimulating, getting your ideas down quickly as they come to you is more effective and efficient. So you can get to more important things… like deciding which consovowels to use!

How do I make the next one even better?

Never use the same method for doing things exactly the same way twice. Let your hair down, loosen your tie. Most importantly, let the spirit move you… blast the original track and try harmonizing. Dance along, flail your limbs! Your brain is slowing working through ideas of aesthetics, and it is soaking up new knowledge every time you analyze new music. Trust your instincts and your intuition, and let your music muscle be your guide!

« Go Back


This is fantastic — excellent muscles you are flexing.

Written By Yuri Broze on December 23rd, 2008 @ 7:58 am

ok…i am so confused…i joined a group and volunteered to sing bass in my older women’s acappella 13 person choir…and last night i told the director (a young-un) that trying to get me to sing the A below the C which is below middle C is ….crazy….I can sort of sing the D below middle C but not always comfortably unless it is early in the morn…an E below mid-C is about my comfort zone….who is the crazy one here? there is another bass in our group who can sing low but can barely make the E above middle C…so the rest of us are forced to sing in her lower range….and to consider this natural/do-able…i must be a mutant if i CAN’T do it….
and while trying to convince the young-un that she should move the song up a half step and not down two whole steps..where I would have to hit the super low A .she sort of screamed at me and said that she couldn’t do it cuz it would be too hard for the other 3 parts….
guess i am not a team player….or else i need another team….the song is now kept as is with me trying to hit a low C…so what am i doing to my voice?
over and out….

Written By gaila on October 2nd, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

Please YackBack:

required, yo.
required, will be kept top-secret.
optional, your blog address