What Makes a Good Arrangement?


    Recently I was asked to construct a backing track for a cover of the song ‘Greatest Day’ by for a well known boy/man band. All I had to do was replicate the arrangement with the parts of each instrument, easy you might thing, until you actually listen to the song, not just listen, but analyse what each instrument is doing in detail.

     

    This got me thinking, most arrangements are taken for granted nowadays, those little melodies on guitar or synth that are carefully constructed to weave around the melody, the bass line and string melodies just blend in to make one sound to most people.

     

    Take Greatest Day, the song I replicated. The intro is made of acoustic guitar, which is backed by a organ bed with a pulsating synth. The main part of the song is the driving eight note piano still with the organ bed and acoustic guitar, accompanying this we have bass and percussion, the bridge adds strings and two electric guitar ideas panned Left and Right. Verse Two carries on in a similar vein. Bridge two adds kick drum/hi-hat, then the first chorus adds a different string part and backing vox, drums are in properly with their own part, not just a straight 8th beat. Last chorus/outro add yet another string part and backing vox along with the other parts from earlier in the song. As you can see it is very easy to end up with 25/30/35 tracks for what, on the face of it, seems like quite a simple song.

     

    Next time you listen to music, don’t just listen to the overall sound, try listening to a particular instrument and try to work out what it is doing, even if it is not your chosen instrument. It will definately help develop your musical ear and it could even give you a different approach to the parts you create on your own instrument.

     

    Good reference is Good Company by Queen on the ‘A Night At The Opera’ album. Brian May, who is a master at creating ‘parts’ for the guitar anyway, replicates all the parts of what sounds like Dixieland Jazz band, the strings and woodwind section, all with his guitar. It is amazing that he could record them all in the analogue age, there wasn’t endless tracks as we have today, but his creative vision is more astonishing, to hear all the different instruments that make up a particular sound and then emulate them on the guitar, one great song among many, they are a band that put a lot of thought into their arrangements and the parts they created.

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