First-Time Arranging Advice

Your first arrangement won't be ambitious as this one.

A reader wrote in requesting some pointers on arranging for his high school a cappella group, and I thought I'd post a few here: advice for writing your FIRST arrangement.  These tips do not necessarily apply to ALL arrangements and are not general rules, but are good ways to make sure nothing goes too haywire from the start.  Enjoy!

  • The best advice for somebody who hasn't tried it before would be 1) to map out the structure of the piece, 2) to figure out the chords and make the arrangement conform, and 3) don't write women's parts -- even the sopranos -- higher than an an A or B.  Things can get very messy very fast.  Exceptions exist, of course.

  • Make sure vowels match between parts.  Have at most two different vowels happening at once, but really writing a homophonic texture is good.

  • The way I arrange is by singing first.  So, sing along to the original song, improvising a line that you think might belong in the arrangement.  Then, I go back and expand it through harmonization, and/or fill in the chord with other parts.

  • More specific to the song you're working on, try to find a midi of it with a decent piano transcription, or find piano sheet music.  This can help take a LOT of work out of the project.

  • Your first arrangement will probably have lots of repeats in it, and that's okay.  You can repeat a section COMPLETELY and just instruct the choir to sing different vowels, and it's a good quick way to make the piece sound like it's growing.  Sustained oos can turn into sustained ohs or ahs.

  • The most important part about writing a good arrangement is making it FUN for everybody to sing, since that makes all the difference in how well they do it.  So, make sure you sing every single part of your written arrangement on your own, and see if you enjoy it.  If you don't, fix it.