music composer
music composer music composition techniques cubase tutorials music essays reviews contact

writing melodies tips 1 to 3 counter-melodies & chorus/verse melodies tips 4 to 6
melodic intervals & leaps tips 7 to 9

Song Structures
basic song structure examples repeated verse and AABA
pop song structures verse/chorus & bridge
pre chorus song structures verse/prechorus/chorus bridge & coda structures

Music Arranging
orchestration & midi arranging tips 1 - 3
recording & arranging tips tips 4 - 6
more music arranging tips tips 7 - 10

Becoming a composer how to become a composer tips one to five
how to become a composer tips six through to ten
how to make a demo CD tips on making and marketing your showreel

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music arranging tips

part one - tips 1 - 3

Definitions first:

What is music arranging?

Composing music is to do with the fundamental elements of a song or instrumental work, such as the melodies, harmonies (chords used), rhythms etc. Arranging is the process of taking these ideas and developing them with instrumentation (e.g. guitars, piano, orchestration etc) and additional harmonies, melodies and percussive lines as appropriate. Sometimes the edges can become blurred between musical arrangement and composition.




1. Orchestration techniques

Here's a few of my top tips on music orchestrating:-

doubling a flute melody with a piccolo an octave higher causes this line to "carry" more in the arrangement. This is especially useful if there is a lot happening in other sections of the orchestra, or at "tutti" moments.

doubling a cello line with a double bass an octave lower will cause the bass to have much more impact on the overall sound. This effect can be further augmented by the Contrabassoon - and instrument especially useful for thickening the bass texture and providing extra weight.

When orchestrating for strings I try to avoid playing them as I would a normal piano chord. Give the strings more space by moving the third of the chord an octave higher (to the violins). For example, with a C minor chord, instead of scoring it (from the bottom up) C - Eb - G, score it C - G - Eb.

If the strings are providing a supporting role to a melody or section, I try to make this arrangement as "smooth" as possible. Always look for shared notes between chords, and try to hold notes through as much as possible. For example, if moving between G and D chords, hold the "D" note throughout. (Sometimes it's necessary to replay each note if the section is more rhythmic in nature).

Use the percussion as punctuation. Look for the "full stops" and "capital letters" in the music (usually the ends of sections or the beginnings of musical phrases), and employ cymbals or timpani to emphasis key moments. These "moments" can be further enhanced by cymbal, snare or timpani rolls with short, dramatic crescendos just before the "full stops". Remember to use this device sparingly as the ear can tire of it if over-used.


2. Layering the real with the midi synths

This is a little trick I use when working on recording arrangements with tight budgets. Let’s say that a string orchestra is called for as part of the composition.
To begin with, I record the strings in the computer using a VSTi plugin such as Halion Orchestra or Garritan Strings (using GVI) and play this in via a midi keyboard. I then “layer” a real violin on top of this, usually about four times. I ask the musican to perform it slightly differently on one or two of the takes (e.g. by using a different bowing pattern etc), so that the recording does not become too uniform. This real element (along with a cello for the lower lines) is then mixed in with the midi parts, and fools the ear into believing that it is hearing a full string orchestra. The technique can be applied to other elements of orchestral recording such as woodwinds and brass.


3. Compare and contrast

This is a technique that I use very often when arranging tracks. When I hear the song or work for the first time I ask myself – are there any other pieces that move in a similar way? For example, let’s say someone has asked me to arrange a soundscore for dramatic chase sequence. I would begin by listening to something that is already in this style, say for example, the James Bond theme:-

Here's how I would analyse the instrumentation - what sounds are being deployed to evoke drama and action? Here the brass play a pivotal role, as do the strings, constantly repeating the restless harmonic movement - the upper part moving by semi-tone step - (basically an E minor chord with the top note moving from B to C to C#). Notice also the way the percussion punctuates the entry of the melodic themes, heightening the drama and tension.

I would then seek to apply some of these principles to the commission that I was working on. However, remember that there is never such a thing as a “perfect match” for an arrangement, and so it is always important to then apply these findings so that they “fit” with the tempo and style of your song arrangement or musical work.



Further Reading:-

music arranging tips - part 2

The next page in this series on arranging music. Featuring tips on how to become more objective and critical of your own work, and how to "thicken" the sound of an instrument in a recording.

arranging music tips - part 3

The third page in the series on arranging music, with a look at how the beautiful "Riverdance" performance is both rhythmically and orchestrally cohesive. Also with tips on how different instruments can evoke differing energy levels, and how to maintain the interest of a listener as a song develops.

the use of the pre-chorus in song structure

A look at how the pre-chorus (or "channel" as it is sometimes referred to) can create contrast between the verse and chorus sections of a song. The harmonic pace (the rate at which the chords change) and harmonic movement usually change at this point in the song, and this page illustrates this change with reference to songs by Oasis, The Feeling and The Beatles.

m-audio keystation pro-88

A look at the popular 88 key keyboard from m-audio, discussing it's pro's and con's. Whilst this is one of the cheapest mother keyboards around, there are inevitably some catches!



music arranging tips p.1 - p.2 - p.3


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