Home recording guides: Music arranging step by step
There are lots of ways to get to Rome. Some prefer to arrange songs on the fly, just playing and singing and experimenting. If that's your approach, terrific. The method I propose is more detailed, and requires patience and time. Each of the steps can be a good day's work. The end result will be an arrangement which is polished, dynamic, and satisfying.
A good song is a good story. That is my operating principle for arranging and composing. A story keeps the listener interested, thinking about what each event means, wondering what will happen next. You want your listeners to stop and wonder as you take them on a musical journey.
By the way, going back to arrangements, a good arrangement makes the music SOUND better, even if the recording quality isn't professional. Ultimately, music can be created brilliantly if the arrangement is compelling and uses a storytelling approach. With these two elements together, you are on your way to a great song.
This is not only accomplished by the composition -- words and melody -- but by three important elements:
- Arc of energy. If a song has only one energy level and flavor, it gets tired very fast, the story has been killed. The best songs build to a climax, then may drop for an interlude, and build again to the finale. That is interesting, that is dynamic.
- Counterpoint and drama. Counterpoints are secondary melodies. They have their own internal flow, but complement, support or " dialogue" with the main melody. Counterpoints can be used most effectively at the ends of phrases. They become a sort of " answer" to what the melody just stated, creating a musical dialogue.
- Constant freshness. There are lots of great ways to keep each moment and section fresh. It might be as simple as changing one note in the lead melody, or as complicated as using an entirely different rhythm. Textural changes, varying chords, adding breaks, fills, tempo changes all keep it alive. If you do it well, you can come back home at the end of the song with the original feel. But that original feel will itself be fresh, just like it feels to come home after an exhilarating journey.
Good luck on your arranging, the world needs more good music!