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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