It can seem like song arrangement requires some magic and artistic genius. You only need to really think about what the song is trying achieve. Once you have a clear understanding of the message and emotions contained, your goal should be to support and enhance them.
You’ve now written a great song. What now? Many songs require more than just the original skeleton of voice, piano, or guitar. How do you arrange these bones? How do you add orchestration to the song and what do you do with it?
We’ll share some tips that can help you create a high-quality arrangement of your song. These include how to arrange a song to make it a journey, what extracurriculars such as strings and horns, and how they can be used in sparse and dense arrangements.
Amateur arranging can lead to the temptation to make every instrument sing at once, which is a problem. Professional music is not like amateur arranging. Better to say “There is a time and place for everything”.
Although the ideas may seem simple, it can be difficult to execute them in your own music without losing sight of the bigger picture. This is not a problem that cannot be overcome by the tricks and tips provided in this article.
It is important to mention that you can always hire skilled arrangers if your efforts are unsuccessful. I have personally witnessed Supreme Tracks’ team of studio musicians take a basic song structure and transform it into a radio-ready masterpiece using their team of music producers.
Do not think that getting help is cheating. You would be given the title of principal songwriter. This means that the core of the work is yours and all credit goes to you.
Let’s get to it!
How to Arrange Music: Create Your Ensemble
Think of your song as a painting. Consider the lyrics and the story that you are telling and how they influence the mood.
Ask yourself “Will this serve the song?” Be sure to serve the song’s artistic expression and not your own ego.
Look at the options for drums or bass. Which beat and what type of percussion instrument will enhance your story’s impact on the listener? Would programmed drums be the best choice? What type of bass is best?
Pay attention to the relationship between kick drum and bass sounds, especially during recording. This partnership can make mixing low-end much easier if it works well. Make sure your kick drum and bass compliment, rather than compete with, each other
Once the rhythm section has been established, the harmonic instruments will add the color to the song. Which type of guitar should you choose? What kind of tone should you use for electric guitar? Is the song for an acoustic, Rhodes, Wurlitzer or organ?
Perhaps a combination of several? What kind of player can help you tell your story? Your imagination is the only limit to what you can imagine for your song.
If you have a group of talented players, most people will be able learn your song and make great arrangements.
It can be thrilling to see your music emerge from the fingers of your musicians. You may have different ideas about how the music should sound. Work together to find common ground.
Trust an experienced musician and let them know you are open to their suggestions. A master of one instrument will be able to understand the role better than a jack-of all trades. You asked them to work with you because you trust them.
Vocals will be your last element. Your lead vocal will be yours. Whether you work with a male vocalist or a female vocalist, may depend on your lyrics. The timbre of your voice can greatly affect the vibe. Which singer will best serve the song?
Next, choose a key that will allow the singer to really sing the song. You probably wrote the song, so it won’t really matter what key you choose because you will be singing it. These are non-negotiable situations. You can only practice, and then practice more.
Finally, arrange the harmony! Is a single harmony the best? Perhaps a group? What about a group? Sometimes the most important places for harmony are the choruses in your song or certain melodies and lyrics that you want to emphasize.
You can do this with additional vocals or an instrument. It is just as important to choose the right instruments for your song’s highlights and colors as it is to decide and compose what they play.
Song arrangement: Sparsity and Density
After you’ve put your ensemble together, you can access the entire range of their sound. How dense or sparse should the arrangement be in order to best serve the song’s purpose? Too sparse and it will sound like there is no foundation. Too dense and it can be distracting and overwhelming.
You’ll have to dance somewhere in between, as we discuss later. Remember that the lead cannot shine if it isn’t supported with taste or if too much instrumentation drowns it out.
You can ensure that your harmonic instruments (keys and guitar) are playing in different ranges and playing different parts to ensure you are at the middle. One instrument may be holding down the chords while the other plays melodic sounds that support the vocals.
The strum of a guitarist is a different color from a piano playing your chord progression. Different sections of your song may require different densities.
The verse is usually more sparse and the hook tends towards a more full-bodied sound. However, you can also apply the opposite depending on the song. Would a guitar or piano suit the song better? Or both? Should they play together or separate?
Pro Tip: Dynamics are not determined by density. A chorus that is fully colored in does not necessarily mean it must be performed with high energy and volume. Sometimes a sparse arrangement, such as a kick, a snare or a baseline, can pack a powerful punch.
How to Arrange a song: Simplicity or Complexity? Complexity
You can also use your elements on a different plane if you are dealing with simplicity or complexity. You don’t have to be a professional musician to play your song.
The secret to writing great parts? Choosing the best alternate melody, embellishment or reharmonization is key. Remember that the song’s primary purpose is to be served. Sometimes a jaw-dropping electric guitar solo or an arpeggiating, classical piano style can add depth and interest to your story.
Sometimes, it’s hard to let go of a great idea even if it doesn’t fit into the song. Don’t be timid and don’t let it go.
Contemporary pop songwriting is all about simplicity. But, don’t underestimate the power and potential of a complex musical arrangement like a jazz-inspired harmony or a gospel-inspired fill.
Tip: Listen to your favourite songs and analyze their arrangements What do they do for song-writing? Studying the greatest artists will help you develop your aesthetic quicker.
Music Arrangement Theory: Additionalcurriculars
Think outside the box. In this instance, consider the four-piece band. Think about the roles that strings, brass, acoustic and percussive sounds, as well as digitally generated noises, could play in your songs.
Could a cello, violin, or string section help your song? Have a look at “What’s Going on” by Marvin Gaye to see how the string section helps with the songwriting.
The song and the entire album carry a powerful message about equality and peace. The song feels timeless because of the orchestral strings that add an incredible, grand, orchestral sound. https://www.youtube.com/embed/H-kA3UtBj4M?feature=oembed
A saxophone or a full horn section would be able to play the song. Have a look at Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September” below. You will notice the complex horn arrangement.
They can alternate melodies or play thick percussive chords. Their duet makes for one of the most fun songs ever written. https://www.youtube.com/embed/Gs069dndIYk?feature=oembed
Contemporary songwriting and production can use anything, from the most traditional sounds (check out Bon Iver’s album “For Emma, Forever Ago” for some pots and pans), to the most digital sounds, such as Daft Punk’s robot music. These sounds can all be used to create your unique sound as an artist. Do not be afraid to try new things.
Tip: Don’t force the arrangement! Be true to the song’s integrity if the song requires a simpler arrangement. One guitarist and one singer can perform some of the most powerful songs, as in the case of James Taylor and John Denver. A tasteful and sensitive arrangement that is appropriate for the song will be appreciated by your listener.
Turn Your Song Arrangement Into A Journey
Listeners love music that builds and flows. Your arrangement can give each section its own meaning and help you create smooth transitions.
A little bit of “ear candy” can keep listeners interested and focused, as the music builds through your song structure.
Try adding an instrument or vocal harmonies to the first verse and chorus. Keep some of your new elements in the second verse.
This will offer the listener an entirely new experience, unlike anything they’ve heard before. So use your arrangement and your lyrics to keep them interested. Then, you can drop it all out and start again from the chorus’s post-chorus tag.
You can experiment with different sounds on your bridge. If your story and lyrics will be served by the bridge, you can break it down at the beginning and increase the density and complexity along its length.
Your final chorus will be your build’s climax. This is a thrilling moment that can either get people on the floor in an upbeat song or make them cry in a ballad. You can get out all your instruments to drive home the point.
Pro-Tip – A good arrangement won’t save a poor song. Great recipes can make a horrible meal with bad ingredients. Everything depends on the foundation of the song. You must keep improving the basic version.
Simple Song arrangement
Many musicians dedicate their lives to orchestrating and arranging music. This is a skill that requires creativity, sensitivity, deep listening and a good knowledge of the various musical colors.
Modern music producers do this all by themselves with samples and software. It must be a feasible goal. However, the competition is fierce!
These simple tips, along with studying your favorite tunes, will help you create high-quality arrangements for your songs. You can also inquire about professional song arrangement services to hire professional arrangers to create the best arrangement possible for your song. All the best with your arrangement!