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Tips for Arranging Instrumental Music

Dan is a hobbyist musician and producer. Some of his instrumental music can be heard via his LinkedIn page.


Arranging music is an art. When the various parts of a song are written and combined into a composition, it is said to be arranged. Arrangements for digital, distributed music are typically done in DAW or digital audio workstation software, before being published.

Those who arrange music—typically the composers who write the individual parts—desire an audience to some degree. Most of the music that people listen to is arranged using certain conventions, whether the music has lyrics or not. Therefore, if the composer desires a large following, it should be arranged with some key concepts in mind.

Music Arrangement Preparations

It should be understood that arranging music with the potential for a large following requires an understanding of how to construct interesting melodies and harmonic accompaniment—that is unless the arranger is incorporating parts of a song written by another composer.

EDM music producers often incorporate parts of music into their arrangement that they themselves did not write. Unless coherent melodies and harmonic structures are used, it will be difficult for any arrangement of music to keep a listener's attention.

The Melodic Vision

Envision an arrangement and sound you would like to achieve. It helps to listen to instrumental music already written and published to get some ideas for arrangement and sound. If the sound sought after is high-fidelity, record or choose samples for the arrangement carefully.

For example, if there are two guitar parts in the song being composed, it will help with instrument clarity in the production process to separate the rhythm guitar and lead guitar by one octave—it helps reduce muddiness and clashing of frequencies. In general, choosing or recording samples carefully, for the arrangement process, will help. Not all parts of a song mesh well together in an arrangement.

Music Arrangement Definition

The busier any section of music is, the more difficult it is to represent individual instruments with clarity. The different parts of a song can be recorded with an arrangement already in mind, or they can be recorded with an experimental mindset. Some composers arrange music after the parts have already been recorded. In either case, mindful arrangement helps with clarity in the song.

After melodies and harmonic content are written and recorded, it's time to start placing them in the arrangement. One approach for arranging instrumentals is thinking in a small-to-big mindset. Start with relative simplicity, build up to a climax, and bring it back down to an outro.

Not all melodies are created equal with regard to drama—inserting a less dramatic melody into the introduction of the song, and building on it is a good way to move the song towards the climax. If too much melodic information is given to the listener in a short amount of time, then there won't be much excitement left at one or two minutes into the song—to look forward to.

Building up to a climax or chorus and repeating, however, it not the only way to arrange music. Another type of arrangement referred to as through-music is an acceptable way to arrange. With this type of arrangement there is no verse, chorus, or repetition in general—Bohemian Rhapsody written by the artist Queen, for example is arranged this way.

Concepts in Music Arrangement

Bringing accompanying percussion in gradually can help to achieve a climax-building effect. At any point in the song, adding melodic content or effects that have not been played previously—especially in subsequent instances of the chorus (which can be the climax)—can generate interest. For the outro of the song, using a modified version of the introduction melody is sometimes done—effects can be added as well, such as a delay or flange, to give it a different vibe or feel.

The Big Picture of Music

When it comes to arranging music, it's all about art. There's no right or wrong way of doing it. However, there is an inescapable element in that more experimental and less familiar music tends to be harder to sell and gain a following for.

Songs at the top of the charts tend to be arranged with traditional rock-n-roll style characteristics, although as time has progressed, the envelope of this has been pushed. At the outset of writing a song, the composer should consider what type of audience is desired. With these concepts in mind, the music composer will be able to arrange with a high probability of success.

© 2021 Dan Martino

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