Arranging Walkthrough 2: “Happy Birthday”


In this arrangement, we’ll keep the melody line in one of the parts. The audience can sing along! So, let’s do the work and transcribe the melody.

You may be asking, “What’s an easy way to do this?” I answer, “Practice.” The skill of transcribing is one you can’t really fudge when you’re an arranger. Do a lot of it, and it’ll get easy. Sorry, there’s no trick.

Here’s the melody line:

Happy birfday!

Happy birfday!

Let’s put this in the Sop 2 part. Why? Just because.


I’ve been raised on roman numerals, so I tend to think in roots and dominants. It’s a powerful way of attacking an arrangement: hearing how chords function lets you transpose and analyze any piece that isn’t too complicated. That’s music theory ear training paying off, finally. But anyways, back to the chord transcription.

A tonic chord in F major is an F major chord- it sounds like home. All the words that sound like home are:

Now with tonic!

Now with tonic!

The D’s in the second and fourth measures as well as the E in the seventh measure are non-chord tones…they won’t fit into the chord of the measure, but they resolve into the chord of the measure. In a nutshell, they sound a little wrong then sound right, which makes it all sound pretty.

The dominant chord in F major is the C major chord, sometimes with an added Bflat (making it a dominant seventh chord). They sound like they should go home on the next chord. Added into the picture above are the dominant chords:

Plus some dominance...

Plus some dominance...

The subdominant chord in F major is Bflat major. A subdominant chord can go lots of places- to the dominant, back home to the tonic, to Venezuela…long story short, it’s the chords that aren’t the dominant and tonic, like this:

...rounded off with some subdominance.

...rounded off with some subdominance.

That’s the whole piece! Knowing the chords means you can take any note that is in the chord and it will work for a part, you just have to pick who sings what notes and how to make the parts horizontally pretty (voice leading and the such).

Let’s do the bass part next.

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Hi, im making an a cappella club at school and we are planning on doing mixes for our songs like what the girls in Pitch Perfect did toward the end of the film. Anyways, i need help cause im teaching the percussion and bass section. I dont want everyone to have the same part, i figure that everyone with a different part will add better sound and uniqueness to the songs we do. So im asking for help on 1.) getting across to my section what a cappella percussion is. 2.) how to compose music for my section. If you could email me back as soon as possible, i can give you my better contact through email. Thanks and have an amazing evening!

Written By Elijah Smith on October 1st, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

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