How do I begin an arrangement?
Every musician has a different method of arranging. Some start with the bass, some start with the melody, some just arrange everything all at once. You'll eventually discover the process that works best for you, but here's a basic guideline list to get you started.
- Play the song as written. Pay careful attention to the melody and harmonies so you understand how the song is supposed to sound before altering it. Make sure you can play the song very well before moving on to an arrangement.
- Analyze the song's chord structure and form. Know all the chord changes and any key changes. Separate the piece into parts using the letter system discussed in this course; often, you'll be able to add some spice to an arrangement by simply knowing where a verse switches into a chorus.
- Look at the song's context to determine the appropriate sort of arrangement. For instance, if you're working on a classical lullaby or wedding song, you probably won't want to add western bass or a march beat. Of course, there's no rule saying you can't do that if you're going for a comical effect. Just be aware of the effect every sort of arrangement technique will have on a song.
- Change the bass chording pattern based on the just-analyzed song's context. Working with "Git Alone Little Dogies"? Try a western bass. A classical romantic song? Give upward inversions or arpeggios a go. Just keep switching the bass pattern until you find something you like. After awhile, you'll acquire the ability to naturally know what to do. Until then, try it all.
- Add fillers to the melody. Again, be aware of what's appropriate. If you're playing a western bass, try grace notes and twangs. If the song is in Alberti bass, add some glissandos or delicate octave harmonies. Remember that certain fillers, like runs or straddle-downs, work best when you're holding a half note or higher in the melody.
- Add dynamic variation. This is where the form analysis comes in handy. If you know a key or part change is coming up, consider the ways in which you can take the dynamic up or down to create a textured, interesting effect. Try not to make the whole song extremely loud or extremely soft. Remember, variety is the spice of life!