Arranging Walkthrough 4: “Happy Birthday”


Making syllables can be tedious, lame, and difficult. However, they can also be lots of fun. So, this arrangement will have some fun in it too. Instead of generic and boring syllables, let’s be shameless:

“SmarterMusic” will be the basis for syllables.

This is in actuality a dumb decision, but as cited before, it’s my arrangement and I’ll cry if I want to. It’s a bad idea because the Happy Birthday lyrics are the focal point, and if they get obscured you diminish the arrangement. Lots of erroneous words distract and dilute the effect of a fun and spontaneous Happy Birthday. Keep this in mind whenever you work an arrangement with dueling words- they draw the listener’s ear in two directions, which can be great or terrible.

But let’s give this a shot. If we pretend that it’s a Boston-based female quartet and they pronounce their “Smart” more like “Smahht”, then the sustained Soprano 1 can sustain on “Ahh” and blend with the “Smart”. So, I’ll fill in some lyrics here…


I took some care to make the syllables match up somewhat. See the “music”, “ooh”, and “you” line up? The “ooh” phoneme will bring the four parts together. Here’s the second half with some more background lyrics:


The homophony of the last “you” will bring together the parts after the word salad in the previous measure…though it’s kind of like putting a band-aid on an amputation. Well, not that extreme, but this ain’t winning any KARA awards.


The SmarterTones prefer scores, so lets make sure to paginate and put in measure numbers. Most computer programs do that automatically. Resize the page so the arrangement fits nicely- nine measures works out fine, but page turns could be a problem with a 14-page arrangement.

Yes, this stage includes the boring stuff like putting in a nice heading and correcting the capitalization in the lyrics. This arrangement may be throw-away, but let’s put some dynamics and shaping in. A little louder with each sentence…a little grow near the end…a ritard here and there…who says a cappella isn’t an art? I like to put my dynamics in a place that can be seen without peering through all the parts; in this case, above the staff.

Here’s the final, finished arrangement and audio file:

Happy birthday! Tada!

Happy birthday! Tada!

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Not too shabby, eh? We do great work! I think the SmarterTones will love the arrangement.

(Side note: The Happy Birthday song is under copyright, so technically this was an illegal arranging. Be sure you secure the rights to other songs, unless they were written in the 1800s or before. Madrigals are ok, so you can breathe easy.)

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Good article, but I take issue with all the hidden parallels between the second and third measures. Also, where’s your fully ornamented suspension cadence? Did Davy teach you nothing about counterpoint?? :-)0

Written By Al on September 7th, 2009 @ 9:07 am

We all know that some parallel octaves and voice trading makes pop music transient and epic. That’s why nobody remembers Fat Lip by Sum41 or Flavor of the Week by American HiFi.

And are you talking about the unison F-E between the Soprano parts? Davy would have more issue with a voice part disappearing, rather than unison parallelism…but again, transient and epic.

Written By Dan Newman on September 9th, 2009 @ 6:06 am

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