The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Weekend!

In “theory”, you could “arrange” to have your discussions here.

The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Weekend!

Postby Strymon » Sat Nov 05, 2011 7:40 pm

Hello!

I'm Edward Mace. I'm a composition major at Washington State University, and just beginning to write A Cappella arrangements for my group, Singapation. I tried posting this on the Young Composers forum, but haven't gotten any responses yet (though 6 people have downloaded the score. :/) I only just found CASA, but I'm signing up now, it looks like a tremendous resource!
I just recently finished my first arrangement ever: Eleanor Rigby. I wrote it in two days, and my group began working on it last week. It sounds... ok, but not great, to my ears. It's likely I'm being overcritical, but I still feel there is plenty I could do to improve it. One issue I came across was keeping it interesting for all the performers, since the harmony remains mostly static throughout the piece. I tried resolving this by having parts exchange notes of the same chord, though so far that sounds odd. There are also some range issues. The original piece is in E Minor, but that would have made me (the bass) have to sing down to a low C, so I wrote the piece in G# Minor. However, even at that range, the G#2 in the Baritone is having some tone issues. I would raise it, but the Alto is already at an F#5 during her verse, which I am concerned about and would change were it not that it was so perfect having each person besides the bass have a verse of the song.
Another issue is in part writing, some of the parts have odd jumps that make learning difficult, and some parts (most notably, the 8th notes in the sopranos and alto) are physically challenging
Most short syllables are somewhere between "Chm" and "Jm" to represent the quick bowing of a string.
Any help or advise you could give me would be great!

Here's the score, and a midi:
PDF: http://www.mediafire.com/?0iep2cu0kkoi801
MIDI: http://www.mediafire.com/?b5eh88311222bvo

Thanks!
Last edited by Strymon on Sun Nov 13, 2011 1:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Beginning Arranger looking for Feedback!

Postby ceegers » Mon Nov 07, 2011 1:35 am

I will take a look at this probably later today, but in the meantime I just wanna mention, keep in mind that you don't have to totally match the original...
For example, "keeping it interesting for all the performers, since the harmony remains mostly static throughout the piece." Well one solution would be to change things up a little. Add a 9th to a chord... change a chord to the chord a third below it (keeps most of the notes the same, but can change the feel)... creating a moving part within a chord... just little things that can help without totally messing with the audience's (or performers') heads.

C.J. Smith Hempfield HS R# founder/director 03-05 U. of Hartford Hawkapella 05-09 Currently doing many musical things that do not include a cappella groups :-( :-(

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Re: Beginning Arranger looking for Feedback!

Postby ceegers » Tue Nov 08, 2011 3:34 pm

By the way, at least here, if people aren't answering, it's probably because they're busy. Cause the people here are generally pretty darn helpful if they have the time to be so :)

Exchanging notes in the same chord the way you are is most likely going to be more harm than good. Different voice parts sing the same note differently, so there's going to be an odd effect of the sound of a chord changing every time. That might be cool as a purposeful effect in some circumstances, but you noticed it sounds odd here.

The Alto range issue... this can depend on the person, but if they're real altos, they might be more comfortable singing the whole verse down an octave, as going down to G#3 might actually work better, especially if the backgrounds give them room to not have to work too hard to get the notes out. I also am skeptical of the high B's in the Tenor 2 and Soprano parts. Particularly the Soprano... sure, it might be in their range, but notes that high have potential to sound very out of place if not done really well. I don't know your singers, but it's something to consider.

There are also some voicing things. Having a non-root down so low will often sound muddy, especially when it's the third of the chord (Baritone in measures 3 and 4), or below the root when it's not specifically a chord that's supposed to be an inversion (Baritone in measures 1 and 2).

A couple other general points: a quick google seems to show you guys are a pretty new group. I don't know how good you guys are, but 7-part arrangements can be tougher than expected, even if you have 2 on a part.
Also just wondering how much singing background you have. As a composition major, it could definitely be very worth it for you to really study great a cappella arrangements and even great classical choral pieces to notice what they do that works well. And also try to figure out what parts of other arrangments you specifically don't think worked.

Ok, well I'm often around if you have other questions and such :) Good luck!

C.J. Smith Hempfield HS R# founder/director 03-05 U. of Hartford Hawkapella 05-09 Currently doing many musical things that do not include a cappella groups :-( :-(

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Re: Beginning Arranger looking for Feedback!

Postby Strymon » Sat Nov 12, 2011 8:25 pm

Thank you so much Ceegers for your response!

You're right, it really did sound strange. And on top of that, the parts are kind of unintuitive for the performers which makes it sound worse as they are not performing the parts with confidence. I'll probably rewrite it, though I'm having a difficult time finding other harmonies that work. So far my experimentation into other harmonies either distract from the melody or just simply sound off. I'm not very comfortable adding ninths to pieces that already include extended harmonies, I had originally tried arranging this with lots of 7ths, but even then the unstableness was less than satisfactory to my ears. Still, I have heard the King's Singers arrangement of Eleanor Rigby, so I know it's possible to use extended harmony to great effect even in a piece like this one. I'm just still uncomfortable and inexperienced preparing a piece to put chords like those to good use. Any ideas you have for effectively adding harmonic interest would be more than welcome!
I have begun to notice that being "within the range" is not necessarily the same as being "able to project with good tone." This definitely presented itself with the parts exchanging chord members. I've learned that if a Soprano is singing a B3 while a tenor is singing G#4, there's almost no way that's going to wind up being balanced. I don't happen to have any material on-hand dealing with the common register ranges of voice, only the extreme high and low ranges, which I'm more and more beginning to find must only be used with extreme caution. Do you happen to have material detailing on the ranges of common voice registers? You're also right about the soprano, and I have since dropped her last part an octave. The only problem there is the lower notes aren't projecting very well.
You're also right about writing too low. I've begun to learn this when dealing with jazz arrangement, though for some reason I hadn't expected it to apply to a cappella. How low would you generally write (when you're not pursuing special effects)?
We are definitely a young and developing group. I'm currently writing 7-part because that's all we have, and I didn't feel I'd be able to really do the pieces justice with just 4-part (though figuring out what to do with baritone has increasingly become an issue.) We also, unfortunately, have a range of experience, most of us have several years of advanced choral background (that is to say, advanced chamber choir experience. Knowledge of proper singing technique, etc.) Unfortunately, our Soprano 2 is quite weak. Unable to read music, and no singing technique has really stuck with her so far. This has made arrangement involving her a pain because I have to figure out a, quite simple, part for her to sing. Sometimes that feels like my hands are tied.
I've wanted to begin studying some choral pieces, primarily for effective uses of range, etc. I don't have any great examples of a cappella on-hand, though. Do you have any suggestions of any good scores to study?
Since I wrote my last message, I have also written another piece, Fix You by Cold Play. Each weekend I'm going to attempt to write a new arrangement so I can become more experienced writing hands-on, while also increasing the repertoire for my group.
This one has been mostly more successful than the other one. One big reason for this, I think, is that I allowed many of the parts to remain constant, rather than attempt to add interest to the piece. I also made a point to keep the sopranos lower except for at the end where the highest note, the sustained G#5, is present. However, there has still so far been an issue at section G onwards between the Alto and Tenor 2. I had hoped that the two would be able to blend at E4 and B4. That has not been the case, unfortunately. I'm not sure whether it's the arrangement, or the performers that are causing that, since I wouldn't have expected any of that, with the possible exception of the B4 in the Tenors, to be so far out of their ranges to cause intonation troubles. The accents have posed some difficulty, but I'm confident that will clear itself up in a matter of time. The only other concern there is that the sixteenth notes don't quite sound like the same duration between the alto and tenor, could this also be because of the register? I'm beginning to learn that having two different voice types share a single melody must be done very carefully indeed or blending issues will occur!
Here's my arrangement for Fix You, if you see any locations where I might be able to effectively add some harmonic interest, or otherwise improve the piece let me know!

Fix You - Coldplay
PDF: http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?e66jzu6y8ldfwrb
MIDI: http://www.mediafire.com/download.php?kqbt1c2w8pxnv7x
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Re: Beginning Arranger looking for Feedback!

Postby Strymon » Sun Nov 13, 2011 1:09 pm

Hello again!
I'm starting work on my next arrangement, this time I'm arranging Dashboard by Modest Mouse. I felt it would translate very well to A Cappella, since there's so much happening in the original song, it would be easy to make it exciting and interesting for all the performers. I have also, since, studied several choral scores, including a King's Singers score I happened to find among my collection, and checked the ranges of each part. It helped me a lot in deciding which voice would receive which part of this next arrangement, I think most of it should fall more comfortably into each person's voice now. Though I'm singing the lead, which means I'm definitely going to be using falsetto for some of it. It gets monstrously high (for a bass)
I'm currently trying to figure out a good way to get across the etherealness of the breakdown/bridge in the middle of the piece: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=penvn9VL32Y&ob=av3e 2:17) I tried using a whole-tone scale, and promptly discovered that whole-tone scale was a very bad idea. Ha! Does anyone have any ideas how I could best get this across, and divorce it enough from the rest of the piece?

Here's the work I've done so far on Dashboard:

Dashboard - Modest Mouse
PDF: http://www.mediafire.com/?1z19dkzbb9pusvb
Midi: http://www.mediafire.com/?pzcbvjcifq06hkz
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Re: The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Week

Postby michaelmarcus » Mon Nov 14, 2011 11:56 am

Though I'm singing the lead, which means I'm definitely going to be using falsetto for some of it. It gets monstrously high (for a bass)

Oh, dear. This should be a major red flag. I'm sure you have a fantastic voice, but perhaps this song just isn't right for you. Falsetto should be a deliberate choice on the part of the singer for emotional effect, not a necessity based on the range. As a fellow bass/baritone, I feel your pain.

The single best thing you can do as an arranger is to bring the song down into a key that's comfortable for you and base the rest of your chart around that lead line. Failing that, you should think about giving the solo to someone else, or (and I know this is painful) abandoning the song entirely if nobody in the group can do it justice.

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Re: The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Week

Postby Strymon » Mon Nov 14, 2011 12:16 pm

Thanks for the reply!

Changing the key is definitely something I was planning to do, so I can get it more comfortably in my range. I can get F#s if I need to, but As are a pipedream. Once I finished arranging it, I planned to adjust it down at least a 3rd, though then I'd have to check each other person's part to make sure those are also within reasonable ranges for tone and projection. Though, if I'm not mistaken, I feel the original piece actually uses some falsetto. It happens very quickly, but it the higher points don't sound quite like full voice. I feel that some less than "proper technique" is being employed in the original piece. Once I get more of the piece sketched down, I'm going to look into working with the exact tone.
Would you say that I would generally want to avoid falsetto in all male parts (for a co-ed group), including harmonizing parts? So far, I've noticed that when my performers have employed falsetto to reach certain parts, the results have been less than satisfying.

By the way, Columbia Nonsequitur?! I've heard your performance of Reckoner by Radiohead! Easily one of my favorite a cappella arrangements ever!
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Re: The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Week

Postby michaelmarcus » Mon Nov 14, 2011 12:36 pm

Though, if I'm not mistaken, I feel the original piece actually uses some falsetto.

I don't doubt it. The problem arises when you need the emotional impact of a belt, but you're stuck in falsetto territory. (Emphasis on "you" - your interpretation might be different from Isaac Brock's.) Know your own voice and use good judgment.

Would you say that I would generally want to avoid falsetto in all male parts (for a co-ed group), including harmonizing parts? So far, I've noticed that when my performers have employed falsetto to reach certain parts, the results have been less than satisfying.

Not necessarily - but do it for a reason. Do it for a specific texture. As for the merits of using falsetto in a mixed group, that discussion probably deserves its own thread. :)

By the way, Columbia Nonsequitur?! I've heard your performance of Reckoner by Radiohead! Easily one of my favorite a cappella arrangements ever!

Wish I could take credit, but as you can see from my sig I haven't sung with the group in quite a while. :) Still, as a co-founder, I'm tickled that random aca-people are hearing and liking their stuff.

This brings up another great point, actually - when you find arrangements you like, figure out what you like about them and incorporate those ideas into your own stuff. Learning from artists you admire is one of the best ways to get better.

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Re: The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Week

Postby RandomNotesLLC » Fri Nov 18, 2011 12:27 pm

Strymon wrote:Once I finished arranging it, I planned to adjust it down at least a 3rd, though then I'd have to check each other person's part to make sure those are also within reasonable ranges for tone and projection.


You should be arranging it in whatever key you plan to do it - not arranging first and then moving the arrangement to a different key. If you can really nail the solo in a particular key, then that's the key. Period.
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Re: The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Week

Postby aekoutzoukis » Fri Nov 18, 2011 3:04 pm

RandomNotesLLC wrote:
Strymon wrote:Once I finished arranging it, I planned to adjust it down at least a 3rd, though then I'd have to check each other person's part to make sure those are also within reasonable ranges for tone and projection.


You should be arranging it in whatever key you plan to do it - not arranging first and then moving the arrangement to a different key. If you can really nail the solo in a particular key, then that's the key. Period.


and if that sounds like it's easier said than done, it isn't really: either write down the chord progression for yourself someplace and work off of that, or use some sort of basic audio software to pitch shift the original song to wherever you need it. like tom said, it's way more effective to work in the final key so your parts make sense from the beginning.

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Re: The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Week

Postby ceegers » Sun Nov 20, 2011 9:37 am

Hey, sorry, I'm kinda back to my normal life, aka, not as much free time. Good to see other people jumping in!

You know, in actuality, a 4-part arrangement, that pretty much just follows the song like a mini-transcription, that your group can sing confidently, will come across better than a complex, impressively creative, 7-part arrangement, if the group doesn’t sing it confidently. I don’t know your group, but just be careful to not take on more than you all can handle. If it’s solid, has emotion, and has energy, it can be simple and still work really well. Heck, a solo that nails it can be really powerful all by itself.

Ranges are gonna vary from person to person... you might just ask your group members what they feel comfortable singing. If necessary, do some individual warmups, testing highs and lows, louds and softs, to find out what works well with whom (that’s a lot of w’s...).

Just to be clear, I wasn’t talking about it being too low simply based on the pitch (though it may be... again, depends on the singers). The root of the chord (or whatever the bass is playing) should generally be lowest. It’s when you have the 3rd or 5th of the chord that you have to be careful. It’s even scientific in a sense why you don’t want another note too low.
Say you have 3 guys singing an A chord. Not even based on who’s singing it, A2, C#3, E4 is, in most circumstances, not gonna be as nice as A2, E3, C#4. Having the baritone sing the root an octave above the bass is many times a perfectly good option. Space on the bottom, closer up top.

Thinking of dealing with different instruments as compared to voices, when I’m writing something vocal, I Hate midi voice aahs, and sometimes I don’t like voice oohs either. I often stick it all on piano, and to test if something is going to sound good, I prefer to bang it out on a piano myself, and that seems to work better than listening to midi. (Piano’s a good thing to learn if you don’t already know it)

Regarding the soprano 2: this is another excellent reason to Not use only 1 person on every part. Have her join the soprano 1 or the alto, and suddenly there’s somebody else to help her out, making her more confident.

Well a number of arrangements on the Sing-off (if you aren’t watching it, WHY NOT?!?) would qualify as “great examples of a cappella”. This season in particular, though some are probably more complicated than is useful for you. But really, doesn’t necessarily need to be a cappella stuff, choral stuff can be really interesting and useful.

Man, with an arrangement every week, you'll get the hang of arranging quickly!

C.J. Smith Hempfield HS R# founder/director 03-05 U. of Hartford Hawkapella 05-09 Currently doing many musical things that do not include a cappella groups :-( :-(

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Re: The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Week

Postby Strymon » Sun Nov 20, 2011 3:35 pm

Thank you all for your feedback!
That's a good point, Michael, about being aware of the emotional content of falsetto when using it. I generally try to keep the tenors below G4, though sometimes I really want to have something in a higher range, but I already have the women busy with other parts. It hasn't really occurred to me before that I'm doing myself a disservice by forcing them into falsetto. I generally want them up there for intensity, but with falsetto it's often anything but. The tenors I have to work with after all, are really much closer to baritones.
RandomNotesLLC and aekoutzoukis, that's a good point, also. I had indeed been "transcribing" it in the original key first, because it's much easier to hear the harmonic content that way, rather then hearing it, and taking the extra step to adjust what I hear whatever I decided to change the key to. It's a great idea to just adjust the piece. Do you two work with any particular audio editing software you might recommend for that purpose?
Ceegers! Thanks for your time, as always!
I really hate limiting myself to four parts, though I'm sure that would lend itself to an easier learning process. I in fact hate limiting myself to 7 parts, we just got another alto, and I'm seriously considering adjusting my transcriptions to add in an 8th part. There is often so much cool stuff happening in the original pieces, I really want to capture it all and I can't choose what I really want to leave out, since it's all so cool. For example, on Fix You by Coldplay there's a sweet G5/F5 line near the end of the piece. I wasn't even sure I heard it at first, but now that I have, it's probably one of my favorite elements of the piece. It's interesting to me having something just floating above all this activity everyone else is doing. If I were to limit myself to four parts, I'd probably have just the solo, the bass, and some variation of the sixteenth note electric guitar pattern between the alto and soprano. I feel like it would be missing something then. Also, when we had 7 people it would have been 2 on a part. So there would have been some concern towards balance issues, too, since the Alto would still be alone.
As for the harmonic structure of the chord, (who has the root/third/etc) I think my Jazz Arrangement class may be sabotaging me. I am aware of the harmonic sequence and how it's generally ideal stacking chords like root, octave, fifth, (seventh), third. However, I also learned from Jazz Arrangement that often it's preferable to have the bottommost or topmost voices on the distinctive parts of the chord. The most distinctive note of a triadic chord, even beyond the root, is the third. So, I've often not shyed away from putting the bass on the third. Though now that you mention it, and with consideration to how some of these chords have turned out, and with my parts so bottom-heavy, I agree with what you're saying. I think some of this is coming together on it's own, too. I'm most pleased with what I've done with my Dashboard arrangement so far, and I think some of it was because it wasn't too bottom heavy. Me being the bass, and singing the lead forced my hand in that area, because then the baritone would have had to be on bass, and I've noticed he can't really sing a G2 with any kind of good tone to it.
As for the Soprano 2, I've been mostly keeping her at least rhythmically the same as her neighboring parts. I think this has helped matters a lot. I was surprised to find that she had her part memorized last Monday. This leads me to believe, unfortunately, that it has more to do with her personal interest in the piece than any kind of technical issues. If she's not as interested in the piece (Eleanor Rigby) she won't devote the attention to make her part good, like the had done with Fix You.
I have been watching Sing-Off! It's been a great inspiration for me, I really like the Pentatonix or whoever that group is that does almost dubstep acappella covers. Those have been very impressive, and it's great to listen to what ideas these other groups have had to help add their own flavor to the piece. i was really disappointed when Sonos left, as I've liked their arrangements the most so far. Partially because they were so different. I'd have been interested to see what they would have done with future challenges. The only thing I regret about Sing-Off is it doesn't really get into the arrangement process much, that would have been very interesting to me!
Yup! One arrangement a week, at least, and hopefully more once I get more and more comfortable with it! I'm gonna try and get at least two done this week, since I'm on break at the moment. This week, Kiss on my List by Paul and Oakes and Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder. :D
=
Also, one thing I've been working to start doing is try to do more actual arrangements, and less transcriptions. I feel I'm doing pretty well transcribing pieces, now, but most of the arrangement I've been doing has either been filling out chords I'm pretty sure are there, even if I can't hear them, or voice leading decisions, like what I did with Dashboard. I was wondering if you guys had any thoughts behind adding more personal flavor to a piece, or if you guys just feel it. One thing I'm going to experiment with this week is add some more jazz influences to the two arrangements I have, since the two pieces are already somewhat jazz influenced. I've also been listening to some other classical works, and thought I'd try experimenting with some things, like elements Eric Whitacre used in Lux Aurumque to achieve polytonality and complex harmonies without being too crunchy.
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Re: The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Week

Postby RandomNotesLLC » Mon Nov 21, 2011 9:02 am

I don't use audio editing software to adjust keys, I just arrange it in whatever key it's going to be in (regardless of what key the recording is in). I'd really recommend you get accustomed to doing that - it makes everything a lot easier! :-)

Your jazz arrangement class is probably sabotaging you, yes. I'm a huge proponent of using jazz techniques in arranging, but it sounds like you're applying your lessons more dogmatically than is probably ideal. Especially with the bass - changing the bass note has a HUGE impact on the entire chord (and on what that chord says about its context), so make sure you have the best bass note for what you're trying to achieve first, THEN move on to structuring the voicings above. And you should generally avoid putting the third on top if you're using any sort of voicing that has a #9, #11, or b13 in it (third on top with a b9 is fine) - though that's not an absolute (e.g., it can work if the third is doubled in a different octave as well). To take a step back, though: don't worry about the individual chords so much - worry about the lines. In particular, the top part. Make it a good line first, then worry about how to fill out the meat of the chord.

Finally ... good luck achieving Whitacre-esque polytonality without being too crunchy. :-)
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Re: The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Week

Postby ceegers » Wed Nov 23, 2011 11:13 am

Strymon wrote:For example, on Fix You by Coldplay there's a sweet G5/F5 line near the end of the piece. I wasn't even sure I heard it at first, but now that I have, it's probably one of my favorite elements of the piece.

Yeah, I love discovering a part of a song I didn't particularly notice before. Now every time you hear the song, or somebody else's arrangement of the song, you're going to want to hear it.

Speaking of which, unless you changed your arrangement, I noticed you did Not catch MY favorite part of the piece. During the tears stream part... so normally the progression is 1,4,1,5,6,4,1,5 right? Well the last time, when it's "tears stream down your face, I promise you I will learn from my mistakes", the chord progression goes 1,4,1,3!!!!,6,4,1,5. Almost all the a cappella arrangements I've heard totally miss that! First, I love the 3 chord, and secondly I think it's a really good thing when a song has a section where the part has approximately the same progression repeating, with just a chord or two slightly different. It's such that you can have the same (or close to the same) melody, but still have something that varies just enough to add something interesting in. I love it!

C.J. Smith Hempfield HS R# founder/director 03-05 U. of Hartford Hawkapella 05-09 Currently doing many musical things that do not include a cappella groups :-( :-(

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Re: The Help-A-Beginning Arranger Thread: New Work Each Week

Postby Strymon » Wed Nov 23, 2011 3:08 pm

You're right! I hadn't noticed that!
I wonder if that's actually a V/vi, sounded like it might be, awesome! I'd been looking for an excuse to put in more chromatic elements into the piece, thanks for pointing that out to me Ceegers!
It's possible that's actually what got me to like that G/F line so much in the first place, actually, since that's when it comes in, too!
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