How to arrange music

Want to know how to arrange music? It often gets discussed under the general topic of music composition. Knowing the basics of it can be a life saver in many situations. As usual with our “tips…” articles, we don’t attempt to cover the enormous topic of musical arrangement in an academic way. We simply just try to highlight some parts of it that we consider being important and/or useful, whether you’re an absolute beginner or a professional composer. So you want to know how to arrange? Here we go!

Arrangement tips – spice up your music

  • Don’t allow instruments to play in the same octave, unless they are playing in unison, or they have a rhythmical relationship, in which they can coexist musically, forming a single element together.
  • Only leave any of the low end, midrange or high end empty if you have a clear, exact musical idea on mind that you want to execute. One that is related to the overall dynamics of how the song develops.
  • Use only as many elements for voices as the chords require. Only double in unison when necessary, for a more powerful, dramatic feel. Pay attention to the timbre differences between instruments.
  • If you have a bass instrument, don’t allow other instruments to go into bass territory, unless you are going for the tic-tac bass effect.
  • Try to create movement within the harmony, the bass line, and all the other elements, too.
  • how to arrange music like a champDon’t allow empty parts – parts when no changes happen – in your music for longer than one measure.
  • There’s no need for major EQ adjustment when you have a good arrangement. It happens when you avoided the overlap of the elements successfully.
  • Try to decide what effects you’re going to use early on. Pay attention to the amount of space you have as well. Sometimes an arrangement works pretty good while it’s still dry. Then you add in the delays and reverbs, and the whole shit turns into mud.
  • Train yourself how to arrange with listening to all kinds of genres and pieces. Try to count the actual voices playing together. Usually much less than what you would have guessed.
  • Using multiple rhythmical elements is good, as long as they don’t overcrowd your music. We like those transients.
  • Try to find a reasonable balance between staccato and legato elements. Using a lot of staccato elements can still work, even if it sounds a bit nervous and jumpy. Using legato elements for the majority of your music will end up flat sounding with no dynamics.
  • Not every instrument has to play all the way through the track. You need to create a story that goes from point A to point B.
  • As you dig deeper into the topic of musical arrangement, you’ll see that a valid approach is to constantly create surprises that you resolve later on within the song.
  • Try to visualize the dynamics of your song as a curve. Then you can decide on what kind of curve you’re going to use: a linear, raising one; one with the climax at the golden ratio point; or a wave shaped one with several low and high points.
  • It’s perfectly okay to stray from the verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure. As long as you can create something unique that still makes sense musically.
  • A great song can shine even through a mediocre arrangement. It works the other way ’round too: you can turn a mediocre song into a gem with a clever arrangement.
  • The basic process of composition may end with coming up with a good melody line and pick the chords that go with it, you’re still not done. Give every instrument its own little piece of music to play. That’s where composition and arrangement merge.

What makes a good arrangement?

  • A good arrangement is not when you throw a million musical snippets on top of each other. A good arrangement is when you use as little as necessary for still being able to keep up a constant interest and pleasant feel in the listener.

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