Arranging guitar tracks seem to be easy as pie; on the surface. However, when a producer or musician with less experience starts adding guitar tracks on top of each other, it might end up sounding like a train wreck. And it often does. Pop/rock arrangement is both art and science at once, and guitar music is no exception. Here’s seven tips on how to tackle this problem elegantly and efficiently.
Arrangement – where small means good
1. Think small: While it’s always true, when it comes to guitar, “less is more” gains an even greater importance. The more elements/instruments you are going to use, the smaller your guitar tracks need to be, so they take up only a well defined space within the music.
2. Watch the low end: Do you know those scary looking bass players who look at piano and keyboard players in an eerie, blood thirsty way when they hit heavy bass notes with their left hands? They do the same with guitarists as well. Avoid the thick, heavy low notes unless your guitar track will be the only thing occupying the low end.
3. The higher the gain, the less amount of notes you need: Distortion adds harmonics, and harmonics make single notes sound like multiple ones at once. The heavier the distortion you use, the less amount of notes you can stack on top of each other, without sounding incredibly dissonant. Speaking of dissonance…
A little clash doesn’t hurt
4. Dissonance is your friend: At least if you use it judiciously. Don’t be afraid to arrange one or two clashes – weird chords or double stops – in your music. Guitars are awesome for this, especially distorted ones; they can be your surprise element that makes things more interesting. Just don’t overuse this technique.
5. Double tracking and stereo – only when needed: Stacking several takes of the same piece is a well known and well used trick, and stereo guitar tracks work really well in certain situations as well. However, if your arrangement is already thick from all kinds of other sounds, putting those wide guitars into the mix might be overkill. There’s a lot more freedom if you use mono tracks (and their ambience).
6. Single note lines are awesome: Note that down. So many times, people go for full six string strummed chords, or heavy power chords. When you arrange your guitar tracks, don’t underestimate single note runs. They might carry just the perfect amount of musical information, without overwhelming your music.
7. Make your guitar tracks groove together: Yep. Creating several smaller guitar parts that work and breathe together as a whole, that’s what I call a masterful arrangement. Create a rhythmical system and arrange the parts to play their own smaller roles in it. Play around with it; add effects and render different tonality to each one of them. Make sure that they are dead on rhythm wise. It’s often worth the time to edit sloppy takes right onto the beat.