Monday, October 30, 2017

Informative Arrangements

I’ve discovered that the key to writing great a cappella arrangements, especially if you don’t have any formal training, is listening. And stealing. More stealing than listening. About 60/40 stealing.

The great composer Igor Stravinsky once said “Lesser artists borrow. Great artists steal.” Don’t think of it as the negative connotation we apply to stealing- that you are plagiarizing someone else’s work. Think of it in terms of borrowing knowledge. Knowledge belongs to everyone and cannot be owned.  

"There's no ownership of a musical texture, vocal lick, or arranging trick." -Deke Sharon, A cappella

 I’m drawing inspiration from existing a cappella arrangements to help me learn. A chord here, a texture there- all adapted to fit the particular song I’m arranging. I don’t directly copy the material note for note, out of respect for the arranger I’m studying, but I use the musical material to help inspire me to create something new.

Sharon, the father of contemporary a cappella, has made this point before. In fact, chapter 9 of the book A cappella is titled “Steal from the best.”

To better help you improve your craft, I’ve compiled a list of arrangements or recordings that I’ve found to be extremely inspirational. (Or in other words...I've stolen from these songs...)

Q: How do I compose a more interesting and varied harmony for a song that originally only has four chords?

A: Listen to:

"Stereo Hearts" by Fermata Town
"Rude" by Accent
"Lady Madonna" by Swingle Singers
"Get Back" by Overboard
"Chandelier" by Twisted Measure
"Up On The Roof" by Countermeasure

Q: How do I create a really interesting rhythmic texture?

A: Listen to:

"Brand New" by The A cappella Group
"Everlong" by Tufts Amalgamates
"Cherry Pie" by Men in Drag
"Drive" by Seven On Earth
"Let Me Entertain You" by The Chordials
"I’ll Be Waiting" by the Northwest Undertones

Q: My group is really small or can only sing 4 parts maximum. How do I create an interesting arrangement with such few resources?

A: Listen to:

"Water Fountain" by GQ
"Who’s Gonna Be Your Man" by Honey Whiskey Trio
"Friend Like Me" by Dakaboom
"My Shoes" by The Bobs
"Say My Name" by The Funx
"Moments of You" by Rockapella
"Cheerleader" by Pentatonix

Q: My arrangement needs a really BIG moment. What can I do?

A: Listen to:

"Diamonds" by The Nor’Easters
"We Found Love" by Voices in your Head
"Expensive" by The Hexachords
"The Bridge" by ARORA
"Starry Eyed" by The Virginia Sil’Hooettes
"Uprising" by Pennharmonics

Q: I need to write a looped section. Where can I find good loops?

A: Listen to:

"I Want You Back" by Ithacapella
"Earth" by Imogen Heap
"Go Straight Away" by Julia Easterlin
"Plain Gold Ring" by GQ
"Walking Down The Street" by The Real Group

Q: What’s a good representation of a typical large group arrangement? You know, with one section singing pads, one section singing guitars, etc.

A: Listen to:

"I’ve Got The Music In Me" by Sing Off Season 2
"Better" by The A cappella Group
"Love Runs Out" by The Academical Village People
"Real Love" by Onevoice
"Blown Away" by Forte

Q: I have to write a medley. What’s a good representation of how to write a good medley?

A: Listen to:

"Bella’s Finale" from Pitch Perfect
"Super Mario" by BYU Vocal Point
"Ode to Donna" by Musae
"Country Dances" by Swingle Singers

Q: How do I write crunchy, shiny, complex pop chords that don’t sound jazzy?

A: Listen to:

"Where The Sidewalk Ends" by Euphonism
"Never More Will The Wind" by Ghost Files
"Run To You" by Pentatonix
"Hallelujah" by Cluster
"Poor Wayfaring Stranger" by Swingle Singers
"I Will Wait" by The Vassar Devils
"We Three Kings/O come Emmanuel" by Groove For Thought

Marc Silverberg

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Monday, October 9, 2017

A cappella Power

Okay. This one is going to get about 10% political. Apologies in advance…

I’ve been unable to blog the past couple of weeks, once because I had the black plague and the other because I felt that whatever I blogged about was just not important. The crisis in Puerto Rico. The shooting in Las Vegas. We seem to be hit with a large number of catastrophes lately and many of us have felt almost powerless to do something about it.

If you’re reading this, then you are part of an elite group of human beings who have the ability to make music. And not just any kind of music…a cappella pop music.

A cappella pop music goes a long way.

So firstly, I need you to keep an open mind.

Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican…

Liberal or Conservative…

Dog person or Cat person…

Morning person or Night owl…

Iphone or Android…

Coke or Pepsi…

It doesn’t matter.

Because you’re an a cappella person.

And an a cappella person can help people in need.

You see, I don’t think you really understand how much power you have. You have the ability to sing the music that people actually want to hear.

I’m not trying to put down unfamiliar music. We all need to experience unfamiliar music, because listening to unfamiliar music is how we grow as musicians.

But let’s be honest. The average non-musician doesn’t want to hear unfamiliar music. They want to hear “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s great, because we can sing Bohemian Rhapsody. We can perform the entire song without instruments in any acoustical space.

We can travel. We can sing in any environment. We can sing any song we desire. We can design a set of songs for a specific audience who only wants to hear Michael Jackson.

We have that power. And we have to put it to good use.

How you ask? It’s simple. We sing.

We put on benefit concerts that raise money, even if it’s just $100.

We make inspirational videos that give hope to anyone who watches.

We write and perform songs that show others we are watching, and we do care.

As an a cappella person, I’ve felt powerless these last two weeks, thinking there was nothing I could do to help.

I’m done feeling powerless. I’m ready to do something, even if it’s just a little something.

And so, if you’ve stuck with me to the end of this post, you have been challenged. I challenge you to use your a cappella powers to help.

It doesn’t matter who you help, or what cause you believe in. You can reach the masses faster and more efficiently than other artists.

I’ve been working on something myself, and when the time comes, I hope you’ll participate. I’ve been (slowly) planning and designing a collaborative album of a cappella superstars and any a cappella singer who wants to participate. I plan to record and release the album and donate 100% of the profits to organizations I support.

I don’t know how it’s going to work yet. I don’t know who’s going to help me. I don’t know if it’s going to fall apart before it even begins, thus ruining my credibility and reputation. I don’t know any of these things.

But I’m going to try, because as an a cappella person, I have the power to do something.

And so do you.

Marc Silverberg

Follow the quest:

*A portion of the blog post above was taken from You can read the original comic here: