Setting the Stage



Who are you? What are we doing here? What is the airspeed velocity of unladen swallows? Why is Monty Python quoted to death when their humor was predicated on an element of surprise? Initial considerations, or initial questions — they could certainly persist just about forever, but at least we have a place to begin. We’ve talked about enrichment in the Prologue, and that’s all fine and dandy as a philosophical tenet, but it doesn’t tend to do much to inform our particular techniques of arranging and how the whole process comes together. First, it’s good to have a feel for the types of people you’ll be arranging for, why you’re doing it, and that sort of thing. List form seems pretty fantastic for this section, so let’s do it:

The Arrangement

  • How many people are in my group and how many do I expect to be singing at a given gig? The difference between an arrangement for a large group and a small group is rather important already, but what if you need to write one that will sound great for a group of 16 AND a group of 8? Musical chaos!
  • Do I have at least one person who can sing this solo competently? Ugly things happen when this isn’t considered. Ugly.
  • Should my arrangement be tailored to make a good recording or a good live performance? Important as well — these are not necessarily cross-compatible, especially with all the new-fangled “we are computer synthesizers like Cher in 1998” production that’s being done. Then again, maybe the computers will rescue us all.
  • How much dancing and bandying about will by group be doing on stage while they try to sing this? Will it be usually outdoors or indoors? With or without microphones? You’ll have to temper the difficulty, or eliminate thinly-scored sections, depending. Unless you like people to roll their eyes and walk on by. Then again, if you really don’t want to perform for unwilling audiences, you probably shouldn’t be in a cappella anyway.
  • What abilities do my singers have already? If you’re arranging for a specific ensemble, understanding the group’s abilities is key to producing an effective arrangement. Be sure to consider the ranges your singers can cover and where their strengths lie. And making note of your singers’ gender might just be important as well. Conversely, however, it’s important to also challenge your singers and stray a bit from their comfort zone (continue reading).
  • Which skills do I want my singers to learn? Enrichment strikes again! An arrangement is the best tool around for teaching a group new tricks (syncopation, sight reading, intonation, soloistic singing, effects). I highly suggest writing arrangements that are instructional tools, and force your group to do at least one thing that they can’t already — then, you’ll have a better-sounding and more-skilled group of performers on your hands.

The above sums up some general considerations to have in mind when working on an arrangement — don’t be too intimidated by making something perfect, though. Everybody’s first handful of charts are usually garbage anyway; don’t expect to write a bang-up arrangement from the start. And thinking on that:

This image perfectly captures the SmarterMusic way of learning: it is a lifelong pursuit.

This image perfectly captures the SmarterMusic way of learning: it is a lifelong pursuit.

The Learning Process

  • Try and try again. The only thing that makes any song, work of art, or composition “final” is the deadline. Don’t fear the deadline, just let it be and look forward to your next project. And don’t be George Lucas; Han shot first. Revisionism is a great way to reflect on mistakes you might have made, but it’s always better to move on and create more anew.
  • Accept feedback and criticism. We all have strong feelings about our arrangements, but it’s best not to get too defensive. Accept suggestions from others with an open mind and you will grow more quickly than you ever could alone. Learning by experience is valuable, but so is learning from the minds of your peers.
  • If you’re somebody who can jump in with a splash, scribble some crayon onto construction paper, smear on glue and playground mulch, and hold it up proudly and triumphantly for all the world to see, then congratulations: you have what it takes to be a fantastic arranger! If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yet, then take baby steps. Heck, maybe practice on non-metaphorical construction paper.

And finally, our favorite,

The Politics

Avoid them. This guide is written to help people learn how to arrange and to become better overall musicians. Love music, love knowledge, and pursue the art. That said, the more people in a group who can arrange, the better. Additionally, even if the arranger is not the musical director, they still most certainly can play a role in educating the group about music, singing, performing, or otherwise. Remember, it’s all about the enrichment of your group and the enrichment of the audience.

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“…consider the ranges your singers can cover and where their strengths lie”

A good point to start from.

Written By joseoscar on February 8th, 2013 @ 11:51 am


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