Monday, March 19, 2012

Thoughts Arranging and Orchestration

Blog # 98: Arranging and Orchestration

I think the modern Jazz Quintet is one of the most underutilized groups around from an arranging point of view. Many musicians seem to fall into certain obvious roles: IE we'll write a melody for the sax/trumpet/guitar to double in unison while the piano player comps over chord symbols on the chart, and the bass and drums accompany that. We all the the melody, then take turns soloing, then the melody again to end. Everyone always playing at all times. Pretty generic. I've worked with Rock, Folk and Pop musicians over the last year and they are MUCH better than Jazz musicians at thinking about the arrangement and orchestration.

I've been thinking more and more of any group I'm playing in like its an orchestra. There are many many instruments in such a group: Trumpets, violins, cellos, bass, Oboes, Clarinets, French horns, bassons, flutes, various drums and percussion, and there are very few times all these instruments are playing at the same time. Combining them in different ways is what can make each piece different from the one before or after it. Also, the structure of the piece in classical music greatly varies too. Some piece bring back the main theme stated exactly as it was in the beginning, but many more use some sort of variation or end in a completely different way.

Lets start applying this thinking to a Jazz Quintet(trumpet, sax, piano, bass. drums). At any moment any combination of those instruments can play or NOT play; which is also a very interesting musical choice and can lead to some different textures and more variety in the music.

For example, here are some options, just dealing with Trumpet:

Trumpet + Piano + Bass + Drums

Trumpet + Piano

Trumpet + Bass

Trumpet + Drums

Trumpet Alone

Trumpet + Piano + Bass

Trumpet + Piano + Drums

Trumpet + Bass + Drums


You see the point I'm making, and how many different combinations there are with each instrument, by subtracting. Everyone doesn't have to play at every moment, whether that's during the head or during a solo. Add to that varied Dynamics, different comping patterns, forms, playing in the high or low register etc and there is a lot being underutilized within a jazz group. Sometimes these things are spontaneous, but there is also nothing wrong with planning things out too. Having specific events written into tunes can really make them special, different or provide some drama or excitement, after all isn't that what its all about?

Check out this tune of mine from a recent show. Notice how the instruments are combined in different ways, when things are doubled, when there are harmonies. I spend a lot of time thinking about form and ways that I can make each piece special or different.

Here are some other ideas I've used on tunes recently to mix things up a little:

1)Have the piano and bass double the melody and the horns play a supporting role

2)Have the piano solo start alone with an improvisation based on a two line counterpoint figure

3)Write a full section for solo piano before the melody starts and the band comes in

4)Start a song with a Rubato statement of a melody variation before the real melody is fully stated

5)Have a song with no solos from horns, piano, or bass and just a drum solo built into the form

6) Write a left hand figure for the piano, but let them comp with the right hand

7)Have each of the horns take turns stating part of the melody like a call and response

8) Use the same chord progression but write a different melody for the 2nd time

9) No solos in the form, all composed material.


Just some thoughts and ideas on Arranging your music to make it more interesting. Think outside the box. Try to be more creative.

1 comment:

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