A cappella arranging: Fine tuning your song arrangement | Choir With Knut | Ep. 10


[VOICE OVER] Hey! I finished the arrangement of “Leave
A Light On”; I’ve attached it below. Signed, Knut, attachment: [CHOIR SINGING “CHOIR WITH KNUT”] Thus far in the series, we’ve looked at each step of the arranging process, and, if you’ve followed it until now, you’ll be pretty close to finished with your arrangement. However, before you press the print button, or bounce the tracks from your recording software, let’s have a look at a few potential issues that may have popped up while you were working, which we’ll have to sort out before we can consider the arrangement already for a rehearsal. First, if you’re arranging by ear,
you need to go through your arrangement and make sure you’ve condensed all the different recordings into a discrete number of parts. It might look something like THIS at the moment, and we need it to look like THIS. If you’ve got some idea of which section
is going to sing which part already, it’ll be easy to move stuff
into the right position. However, there’s something you
need to keep in mind while doing this, and it’s something that pops up when
doing an arrangement in notation as well. Voice leading, or how well each note in a particular part “leads” to the next note, is very important in all melodic music making. It’s particularly so for voices, as very few singers can pick a note out of thin air, and most are going to be dependent on the information that their ears, eyes, and general musicality can give them. The place where I often spot problems when it comes to voice leading is when transitioning to a new section of the song, so for example from the verse to the chorus, as the later section may have been arranged in isolation rather than as a continuation of the preceding section. The most important thing to look for
is sudden jumps up or down in a part, as these can be difficult to sing
in tune if not set up correctly. Anything greater than a fifth
needs to be handled with care, and should usually be followed by moving
in the opposite direction afterwards. I’d avoid jumps larger than an octave,
unless you know for sure that it’ll work. If you’ve got a section in the song
where large jumps happen, try to sing it yourself to
see if it feels comfortable. There are some further guidelines for voice
leading which may be useful to look at, and I’ll cover these at a later time. [VOICE OVER] Sorry, I made some
changes to the second chorus. I’ve attached the new version below. Signed, Knut, attachment: A good arrangement is satisfying for all parts to perform, and something to watch out for is too much repetition for a section of singers. This often happens to the bass section when performing pop music, as a lot of pop music uses four bar loops, with little variation in the bass part. Some repetition is fine, but once a section of singers is singing the same thing over and over for a long time, chances are, they’ll get bored, and maybe miss the cue to go to the next section. My favorite trick for avoiding leaving the basses doing the same thing for a long while is to give them the melody at some point, as most people love to sing the melody! The alto section is also often the victim of too much repetition, or of being stuck singing the extra notes in the chords. However, the alto range is perfectly suited for pop music, so it’s definitely a missed opportunity not to give the altos a bit of the melody. You can also have the sopranos harmonizing above the altos, to avoid them singing too low. That being said, don’t
fall into a similar trap, which is “almost the
same, but not quite”, where a section repeats
something they’ve sung earlier, with one or two notes changed. What inevitably tends to happen here is that
half the singers will sing the line correctly, and the other half will sing
the earlier version of the line. I’d sooner recommend too much repetition
than “almost the same, but not quite”, as at least the line will be
correctly performed every time. If you find that your
arrangement has this problem, it might be worth considering a different
approach to the section of the song where it happens. Have a look at the episode
about backing vocals, and see if you can rearrange the section
using some of the examples I give there. [VOICE OVER] Actually, there
were a few mistakes in the outro, and I wasn’t really satisfied with the
intro, so I changed that as well. Sorry about this; just delete
the other versions I’ve sent. Signed, Knut, attachment: Now, let’s get our materials ready! If you’ve been arranging in notation, there’s a few commonly missed indications and symbols that we need to make sure are there. Let’s do a little test: I’ll display a detail from the first page of the “Leave A Light On” arrangement on the screen, and there will be five things missing from it, which I need to put in. See if you can find what they are, and pause the video if you need to. Have you found them? Let’s take a look! The first is that the name of the artist or composer
should be on the first page of an arrangement. There’s at least two other songs
called “Leave A Light On” out there, and another called “Leave THE Light On”, so this will make sure the singers know which
one to search for if they want to listen to it. The second thing I need to
put in is the time signature. It’s common to see songs in 4/4
without a time signature put in, as notation software tends to default
to this signature if none is put in, But we still need to indicate it,
or people might get confused. Also, it looks quite unprofessional,
and that’s not what we’re going for! Third is the tempo. Again, notation software
defaults to 100 beats per minute, which might be the tempo
that your song is in, but there’s nothing on this page to tell the
performers or conductor how fast the song is. So, don’t forget to put it in! You don’t have to use Italian terminology, as it’s commonly done in classical music; just write it in English. Also, metronomes are easily
available these days, so you shouldn’t have any trouble putting in
a metronome marking, if this is appropriate. If you google “metronome”, there’s
one built into the search engine itself, so do that if you have to. Fourth, there’s no dynamic
markings on this music. I can’t overstate how important it is to
actively use the dynamics when arranging, yet time and time again I see
music with no dynamics present. My best tip to avoid this is to not
leave the dynamics until the end, but put them in as you work. This way, you’re actively thinking about them
while you’re developing the arrangement, and they may even give you some ideas about
how to approach different sections of the song, like going very quiet or loud suddenly, or having a section with continuous
growth in loudness until a climax. So don’t forget about the dynamics, and make time for them
while you’re arranging; hashtag “dynamicsmatter”. Finally, and this is kind of optional, chord symbols in the piano part are
useful to have if you’re doing pop music, as they ease reading, and make space for the
pianist to improvise a little if they want to. Also, if you find that you’ve got a
guitarist for your performance, the guitarist can use the chord
symbols to play the music, as they’ll be more helpful
than the piano notation. But this is optional, and leaving the
chord symbols out won’t get you arrested! [VOICE OVER] Hey again! There were
some wrong notes in the bridge, and I think the alto solo in the outro
wasn’t really needed, so I removed it. This will be the last version, I promise! Signed, Knut, attachment: Now the arrangement should be well presented and structured, and you’ll be ready to teach it to your singers. Before this, though, consider making practice tracks for them, so they can learn in their own time, or catch up if they’ve missed a rehearsal. If you’ve done the arrangement by recording yourself, you can simply export the recorded parts as practise tracks. If you’ve done the arrangement in notation software, there’s also a way to create makeshift practice tracks. Let me show you how you
might do this in the Sibelius 8. Okay so I’ve got my arrangement
open in Sibelius here, and the first thing you want to do
is go to the “Play” tab, this one, and press “Mixer”. You can also use hotkey “M” if you want to. Now, to make your practice
parts is pretty simple, you just use this mixer like you
would in a recording software. You want to pan the
parts to either side, and you want to make
sure the part you want to have as the main part in the practice track is
on one side, and all the others on the other. So I usually put the main part in the
left ear and the others on the right ear. So, say I want to make a part for the
sopranos, I want to pan it to the, to the left,
which it’s already pretty well panned, and then I want to pan all the
other parts over to the right, like so. Next thing you want to do is you want to make sure you
crank up the volume of the part that is the main part, and then you put these
down to about 70 or so, to make sure it stands out. But you don’t want to remove them all, altogether because you do need to be able to
hear the other parts somewhat. You can choose whether or not
you want to use the metronome. I would probably mute it in this case,
because this arrangement has the piano playing on every beat, which kind of
works a bit like a metronome anyway, but, especially if you have a song that
doesn’t have this, where it might be hard to find the beat, then having the
metronome on is pretty useful. Next thing you want to
do is go to the “File” tab, go to “Export”, “Audio”, and you can just export it as
“Leave A Light On S” for instance, like so, and then, oh, this doesn’t really matter. Export. Does it for you, and you just want to do this
with all the different parts. It takes a little while, and it’s perhaps not quite as good as
having recorded parts, but it is something. I also usually make, uh, a part that has all the
tracks kind of distributed a bit more evenly, so you’d have the soprano there, alto there, in this case the baritones here,
and perhaps the piano like here. And just sort of put them
back to the default position, and then you can get a more
sort of neutral practice track, which I like to use because I prefer
to hear all the parts sort of equally, but this will depend on your
choir, and you can make a judgement call on that
based on their skill levels. And that’s all there is to it! And there you have it;
your arrangement’s finished! Or, is it? The real test of your arrangement
comes when you’re rehearsing it, and hearing how the
singers get on with it. So, in the next episode we’ll look
at how the rehearsal experiences can be brought back
to the drawing board, if you need to revise
your arrangement. [VOICE OVER] On second thought, the alto
solo was pretty important, so I put it back in. A few changes to the last chorus,
and a few fixes in the intro as well. Delete the other versions;
this is the correct one. Signed, Knut, attachment: [INAUDIBLE] [INAUDIBLE] [CHOIR SINGING “LIKE,
COMMENT, SHARE, SUBSCRIBE”]

Michael Martin

2 Responses

  1. Do you generally need to go back and edit your arrangements? If so, is there a common problem you need to fix that pops up often?

  2. Haha, this is so accurate…it's hard to ever be 100% satisfied. I keep revisiting my "finished" arrangement especially when I watch these videos and learn new things

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