[Sheet Music]

Lesson 136: Arranging Part II - 10 Tips

10 Tips

  • The highest note of the background should stay away from the melody.
  • When you write one second voice, 3rds/ 6ths sounds best.
  • Contrast is important - when the melody moves, the background is still and when the melody rests, you can have more movement in the background.
  • Try to write an interesting bass line.
  • Write for the instruments. It is very important to know the instruments you are writing for.
  • Carefully consider and work on
    • the form
    • the genre/ style
    • the instrumentation/ orchestration.
  • Think about
    • countermelodies
    • harmonization and reharmonization
    • writing new sections, like an intro, an interlude, a solo section, a coda etc.
  • What do you hear? Improvise, sing lines rather than theoretically thinking about what might work.
  • Do not use too many ideas in the same arrangement/ in the same place. Save some good ideas for another arrangement/ composition. LESS IS MORE.
  • Listen to great arrangements, study the scores and learn from them.
  • Write a lot of arrangements ( both of compositions of others and of your own) and try to have them played.

An Apex, a Hook and an Element of Surprise

An arrangement/ a composition should have an apex and a hook.

The apex is the climax. It can be the highest note of the melody or another high point. It could occur at the golden ratio, which is about 0,618 of the way through, or you can also go for 2/3 or 3/4 or 4/5 of the way through.

You can think of a song consisting of

  • three acts or
  • a beginning, a middle and an end

A hook is a short musical idea - a melodic phrase or passage that is used to catch the ear of the listener. The hook will also make the listener remember the song and want to listen to it again.

It is also important for an arrangement to have an element of surprise, an unexpected twist, in it. A surprise can be an unexpected chord, a key change, a change of style, a plot turn in the lyrics, a solo on an unexpected instrument...


Listen to and study the following arrangements:

  • Birdland by Weather Report
  • The Feather Theme ( from Forrest Gump) by Alan Silvestri
  • Pasila by Kalle Koivisto
  • The Pink Panther by Henry Mancini
  • Recordame by Joe Henderson
  • Soul Intro/ The Chicken by Jaco Pastorius
  • Splanky by Neal Hefti
  • Time after Time by Cyndi Lauper


Recommended reading on the fine art of arranging:
The Professional Arranger/ Composer by Russell Garcia

2015 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.