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Arranging for acoustic instruments                                                       11 April 2005

Arranging your songs

The basic concept of arranging and producing are very simple: The music should serve the song.

Every record bought or song heard has been arranged and produced by someone. The arrangement of the song is the groove, the bass line, chords played by the guitar and keyboards and background parts such as vocals or horns. The introduction of the song ,the sequence of the verse and chorus have to be planned out or arranged so the song can be recorded efficiently and cohesively. The musicians playing the song need to have direction. A producer makes the final decisions: The musicians chosen for the recording, the parts they will play, the sounds and studio effects used, the mixing process (how loud each part will be on the final version), he is like the director of a movie.

When it comes to instruments used I say once again: the music should serve the song. If the song is about bunnies ,you wouldn't used a heavily distorted guitar, loud drums and abrasive effects. More than likely a violin or flute would do, they play softer and higher notes . If you want to use a horn section realize that the trombone, tenor and baritone sax play lower notes while alto sax and trumpet have a higher range.

If you want a smooth, mellow sound, a mix of trombone and tenor sax and even a flugelhorn would suffice. The trombone has a warm, breathy timbre, which mixes well with vocals. With it's sliding ,brackish over- blowing ability, it can be a humorous sound as well. Which works well for children's songs. Different combinations of instruments give different results. Experiment and be creative. Musical acts such as Steely Dan have used two or more saxes for their recordings instead of a whole section (and you only have to pay one player and just overdub his parts). The sax has a more raspy timbre, but it can play both high with trumpets or low with the trombones. It's a very versatile instrument and most sax players are good soloists ,too, which can add variety to a recording if mostly guitars and keyboards are being used. But, if you need a" screaming, tear the roof off the joint", horn part you must use trumpets. After hearing Tower of Power in concert, I was convinced that the Walls of Jericho could be blown down by trumpets. This instrument has the highest range and a clear, strong tone. I was glad when the synthesized horn parts fell away from the recording business ( although it is still used ). Nothing can replace the musical power of a horn section !

When scoring parts, the alto and baritone sax are in the key of "E flat" and the trumpet and tenor sax are in the key of " B flat ". That means, that in order for an alto to play an" A " note , they should be reading a "C" on the music staff .For trumpet to play a "C" they should be reading a "D". If you don 't know how to read music, there are books, and even computer programs that will print out the notation of your parts. When voicing chords for horn parts, always be aware of the motion between chords. If your song had a chord progression of a" C" (C-E-G) to an "F" (F-A-C ) your motion will be from the E to the F and the G to the A. Having a part go from the E to the A would be awkward.

I would recommend listening to as much recorded music as possible . If you want a horn section part, listen the masters :Duke Ellington ,Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Bob James, or the band Chicago or Tower of Power. The phrase "a place for everything and everything in it's place " works well for recording songs. The music should be a "cushion" for the lyrics (which in children's music is very important.) It is very easy to bury a vocal by putting too much instrumentation in a song. Let the vocal say a phrase and then let an instrument fill in the space. Look at country music for an example. Shania Twain and her husband producer Mutt Lange were criticized for taking the elements of country music and adding a modern rock approach to them. The songs had a heavy beat and rock guitars but there were fiddles and pedal steel guitar mixed in. It was as if country music industry said "Hey, he can't do that." But, the producer and his concept changed music all together. As his and her success proved.: if the song is catchy( easy to sing and remember), energetic, well put together and well played it will find a huge audience.

But back to recording; there are a lot of things that can be fixed in the mix. If you are recording a guitar solo and he continues to play once the singer has come in, he can be" faded out" to clear a path for the vocal. Volume and tone can be adjusted by the engineer. Check out a few studios to find someone you feel comfortable with and is not too expensive. Studio time can range from 10 -25 dollars up to 65 to 85 dollars per hour. Unless you have a huge record company financing your cd ,it's better to use a smaller studio so you can experiment and learn as you go. I have an advantage living here in Nashville because there are a lot of studios and I have many friends who are great musicians .And they work cheap. They ,like me , will play music any chance they can get. But, I'm sure, wherever you live there are good players. Just go out and hear bands , listen to different players and see if they are compatible to your style of music.

Some musicians will bring enthusiasm and energy, more so than technical prowess, and that may be the best thing for your song. Audiences of any age respond to personality. Don't look for perfection in a recording, few of the best ones are. Look for feel, heart, and soul, and you will communicate with the audience.

(Bill Crosby is one of our select artists with cds in The Portal Store and tracks in the Listening Room)