Published on September 1st, 2012 | by Tom0
5 Steps to Better Songwriting – Step 3 Arrangement
So far in this series we’ve looked at:
Now it’s time for step 3:
You’ve developed your song to the point of having chords, words and melody.
Now, what instruments will you use? How will you use them?
It used to be the case that we were limited by the instruments and players we had available. That isn’t the case anymore – you might need pros to get a pro recording but when it comes to sketching out an arrangement anyone with a computer has a full band at their fingertips.
Garageband and Reaper are two great examples of cheap music programs you can use to sketch out an arrangement. Using them is a different subject for a different blog post but I’d definitely advise you have a go – just download a program, read a few tutorials and start recording!
What makes a good arrangement?
For most kinds of popular music you’re going to have a groove of some sort. Plenty of genres are defined by their groove, in paticular what the three main parts of the drum kit – bass, snare and hi-hat – do for most of the song.
Choosing the right groove is vital – is this a rock song? Reggae, jazz, folk? There are grooves that fit with each of those genres so listen and try things out (only the most distinctive unique drum beats would be under copyright – most are standards that you can borrow without fear of come back. – drum beat that is, not recording, using sample is a different issue).
This is where technology can really help. EZdrummer for example, is a great and relatively cheap programme that has a very useful library of common grooves.
You’ll need a bassline too – one that marks out the chords and fits with the groove. Again, this is a matter of genre and feeling – do you need the driving root notes of a rock bass player, or the sparse, tastefully chosen notes of a reggae bassline?
Which instruments are going to play your chords? How will they play them? Are you going to have a rock organ blaring out powerchords, or lightly played guitar arpeggios? How will this change from verse to chorus?
Will there be a sax solo? Guitar fills? Apart from the vocal, how will you make sure the listener always has something interesting to keep them engaged?
Perhaps this idea should be first rather than last – Development, change, is the key to a good arrangement.
Your second verse is exactly the same as the first, apart from the words? Then the listener is going to switch off. You need soomething new in every new section. It doesn’t always need to be radically different – an extra drum fill, a countermelody, a flourish from your melody instrument.
There should be something new all the time and you should be aiming to create a sense of increasing interest as the song progresses.
Music that stays the same for extended periods of time becomes background. That might be what you want, but generally speaking popular song shouldn’t be background – make sure your song develops and they’ll keep listening.
For the comments, what do you think makes a good arrangement? Got any examples for us to listen to?
- Bobby Owsinski on Arrangement
- 5 Steps to Better Songwriting – 1. Sketching
- 5 Steps to Better Songwriting – 2. Developing Ideas