Kabukibear's Way Too Long Arranging Tutorial
A lot of people ask me how I go about arranging music and if I can teach them how to do it. Well, as flattering as that is, I'm no expert arranger and I don't really know how to go about teaching something I was never taught. That being the case, though, I decided to go ahead and attempt to write something of a mini tutorial on arranging, using a simple tune. I will go step by step from beginning to end and arrange a piece of music, writing down my thoughts, problems, etc. to try and illustrate what I do to arrange something. The way I do things is by no means the only way to go about it, but I hope it will interest and possibly help some of you who would like to get into arranging but don't really know where to start. So, let's begin!
The arrangement process for me is broken up into phases. These are:
1d. Importing and Converting Midis
2a. Time Signatures and Keys
2b. The First Steps
2c. The First Hurdles
2d. Finishing Up
3a. Trimming The Fat
3b. Finishing Up
Just like anything else, preparation and having the right tools will significantly cut down the time and frustration involved in doing what you need to do. Just because you CAN paint a room with a single paint brush doesn't mean you shouldn't look into using a roller. With music, the same principle applies. I'll go through a few tools I use and where to get them.
Transcribe! ( http://www.seventhstring.com/xscribe/download.html) - This program is one of the most valuable tools when it comes to transcribing music by ear. It allows you to see the whole track, select sections to replay over and over, slow down the music without changing the pitch, change keys, and even will try to pick out chords or notes played. I <3 Transcribe.
GuitarPro ( http://www.guitar-pro.com/en/index.php?pg=download) - This is another tool that is very helpful to guitar tabbers and while it isn't free and has some issues that I don't like, it's still a decent program for tabbing music. Again, you can try finding it online or buy it, or google some of the free alternatives like PowerTab. I'm just putting what I use.
Now technically that's all you'd really need to tab music, a way to hear the music without having to struggle with a music player, and a way to write the music down in a nice clean format. I'll put down the last program I like to use but this is optional.
Finale ( http://www.finalemusic.com/store/demos.aspx) - Now this software is more involved than the rest. It really is for actual music notation and , that being the case, is pretty serious and deep software. The reason I include it is because it has the nice function (as does GuitarPro) of being able to import midi files you find online and converting it to sheet music. It can even read scanned sheet music and turn it into midi files. I use it once in awhile to take music and transpose the key to find easier ways of playing music and the interface is a bit easier to work with than GuitarPro. This is just a personal preference though.
Alright, so now we have the basic tools to hear and write our music, what's next?
1b. Choosing The Right Piece:
There is so much great music out there, it's hard to know where to start. However, we're not just listening to music, we're going to try to get it to fit on a single instrument, and a limited one at that. So, that being the case, we've got to be picky if we want to come up with anything decent and save ourselves some serious frustration. Now don't get me wrong, pretty much ANY piece can be arranged, but we're just starting so we don't want to have to get too wild to get it to work. Here are some things to consider when choosing a piece to arrange:
Well Defined Melody and Harmony: This is extremely important. Start with a piece that has a definite melody. Stay away from pieces that are ambient or use a lot of motifs. A motif is a fragment of a melody that gets repeated here and there to draw an otherwise abstract piece together. You want music that you could easily hum along with. The reason for this is two-fold.
1. It will be easier to pick out the melody during the transcription phase and 2. You won't have to get too wild during the arrangement phase. Choose music with movement in its melody and harmony. A guitar is a plucked instrument so the notes die out rather quickly. This being the case, music that has a lot of sustained chords like slow string pieces aren't really recommended at this stage. As you progress in your arrangements you will learn how to "fill up" the empty space in pieces but for now, let's let the music do that for us.
Range: Another thing to be aware of is how high does the piece go relative to how low? What I mean is, you're going to be arranging in such a way that you'll be playing melody along with harmony. Is the piece you're looking into doing practical? Are there extremely high notes with extremely low notes? Are the low pitches on the guitar playable without having to bring them up an octave? A rule of thumb for me: If the lowest note in the piece goes below a low D (detuned 6th string) and bringing it up an octave will interfere with the melody or other voices then, at least for this beginner tutorial I would consider a different piece. The same goes in reverse, if you have to play very high notes along with very low notes and the stretches are impossible, again, consider looking at other pieces. Once you get better at arranging you can tackle voicing and how to make it work, in this case, keep it simple. If you have to stretch more than 5 frets between two notes chances are a lot of people won't be able to play it. Keep in mind the physical limitations of the guitar when choosing your piece.
Complexity: Let's face it. We are trying to take a complete piece of music and fit it on a solo instrument. That being the case we need to realize the inherent limitations of this. My outlook on solo guitar music is to make it interesting but also to make it playable. You can arrange incredibly dense and complex music but if no one can play it then it's pointless. The same goes for choosing the music, and this follows along with being aware of melody and harmony. Find music that is complex enough to be interesting, but not so complex it will be impossible to play. Even though you can water down music to make it playable, a lot of the time this will also make the music itself less interesting which defeats the purpose. When you gain experience at arranging you can look into the more complex music because you will know how to alter it to make it playable, but for now, let's stick with simple pieces.
Just a quick word on this, with the vast resources of the internet at your disposal you should use every bit to your advantage. There's no reason to transcribe music that's already been transcribed, there's no reason to start with nothing when you can base your arrangement off of an arrangement that's come before it. While I'm not suggesting stealing other people's work I don't think there is a problem using simplified arrangements as a starting point for your own. For example if you are doing an arrangement of Final Fantasy music, consider looking for other arrangements of the piece and see what they do with it. Regardless, it will have to be altered for the guitar but it can't hurt to see what others have done. Some places to look are:
1. VGMusic ( http://www.vgmusic.com/ ) - A large repository of midi files for games spanning many many systems. You will find my view on midis a little lower, but you can find a lot of music on here that can just be imported into GuitarPro or Finale and really give you a head start in arranging as it does all the transcribing for you.
2. Blue Laguna's Media Archive ( http://bluelaguna.net/ ) - I like this place because you can find mp3s to soundtracks that are hard to track down anywhere else, like from the Final Fantasy series and others.
3. Galbadia Hotel ( http://gh.ffshrine.org/soundtracks.php) - This is a mother load of soundtracks, arranged by game, alphabetically. The only catch is you have to download the tracks individually. On the plus side, you can sign up on the forum and download entire soundtracks in their entirety so I highly recommend this one.
4. FF Sheet Music ( http://ffmusic.ffshrine.org/ ) - This is a place to download both Final Fantasy midis and Final Fantasy piano sheet music. I am posting this because of the piano books mostly. You can easily base your own arrangements completely or in part on these piano arrangements as they are not wickedly hard like the piano collections books. They will be of help to you I'm sure.
5. Square Enix Music Online ( http://www.squareenixmusic.com/sheetmusic.shtml) - This goes along with the FF Sheet Music site in that it has a lot of sheet music scans not only for Final Fantasy but other games as well like Xenogears and the Chrono series.
Make good use of these sites as they will aid you tremendously on your way in making your arrangements. If you've found an mp3 you want to do check to see if there is a midi of it as well. Make sure it's accurate, though, if you want to use it. Also see if the piece you want to do has been done in any of the piano arrangement books. You can use it as a barebones guide when making yours and it will save you the time of the initial transcribing, you can skip right over to arranging.
1d. Importing and Converting Midis:
Once you've decided on the piece you'd like to do the next step is to transcribe the basic structure of the piece. In the same way an artist sketches out a portrait before painting, you should try to get the overall foundation of the piece before starting. You don't HAVE to transcribe everything perfectly for an arrangement as far as the harmony goes, but try to pay close attention to at least the melody and the bass. Those are important but luckily are the easiest to figure out. For this tutorial I have chosen "My Sweet Cranky 'Ol Mom" by Aubrey Hodges from the old adventure game "Freddy Pharkas Frontier Pharmacist." Now as strange as the names of both the piece and game sound, take a listen to the sound file. Finding this piece goes through the "Choosing the Right Piece" and "Research" sections of this tutorial. I happened to play this game today and thought it would be a nice piece to do. So I did some research and found a midi file for the music. Go here to download the midi file for the purpose of this tutorial -
*A note on midi files*
-Generally speaking, I do not recommend using midi files for transcribing or arranging music. This is because I do not trust whoever made the midi file to necessarily be 100% accurate, and if we are transcribing, accuracy is important. That being said, I chose this midi because I know the source and know it's accurate. I also wanted to show how to go about transcribing midis that can't be imported into notation software and how to get them to work with Transcribe. This is kind of a worst case scenario as, chances are, if you are using midis they will be legible or you will be working with mp3s, which don't need to be converted in the first place. So, think of this as an all around learning experience.
Most midis, when you open them in a program like GuitarPro or Finale, will break the music down into instruments which are then easily viewed. There's not really a reason to write a tutorial on how to do that as all the music is there to be seen, you will not need to do anything by ear and can just go about combining instruments until you come up with something you like. Others, however, will not be so accommodating.
Now if you try to open the midi above in GuitarPro you will find its pretty ugly looking. Even in Finale it's not really a good looking file, though it's legible. You will find this is the case for midi files that sound more "realistic," because the more real it sounds the less "mechanical" it plays, therefore the less "straight notes" will appear in programs that try to decipher the file. Most of the time midis will be okay to import so don't be shy.
Anyway, looks like we'll have to do it the hard way; by ear, but before we do that go ahead and look at some of the notes the midi has transcribed. Let it play and find where the melody and bass are. Make a note at least of the starting notes, as this will give you a spring board when you start doing this be ear. If you don't own GuitarPro or any other program that can import midis don't worry, it's not important really, it's just helpful in the sense that it can give you a leg up when we start transcribing by ear.
Once you've looked over the beginning (You should have noted that the melody starts on F# and the bass starts on D) we're going to make use of the program Transcribe. Download it from the link above if you haven't yet. You'll notice, though, that you can only open mp3's with transcribe. Use the links I posted above to try and track down the original soundtrack. If you can't manage to find it it's time to convert the midi to an mp3.
Scroll down and click browse, navigate to the midi you want to convert, click ok, ignore the rest, and click convert at the bottom of the page. Wait a second and let it do its thing, and then right click "download your mp3" and choose "save target as" in the context menu, and save it to your desktop.
Now that you've got an mp3 file of the midi take a listen. If there were any errors or you feel it's too muddy sounding try and convert it again but up the quality settings and see if you can get it to be clearer. Usually, though, it'll be fine. Go ahead and fire up Transcribe and click and drag the mp3 file on your desktop right on top of the big grey area in the transcribe window. It should load up the mp3 file and you should now be able to see a black representation of the sound file.
Well, it's a start isn't it? Now it's time to get down and dirty.
Now click and hold the mouse button down on the beginning of the sound file, and drag it to the right about an inch and a half. Once you've done that click the play button. You should hear 3 notes before Transcribe repeats. This is one of the nice features of Transcribe, you can select small sections and work your way through a piece little by little.
So listen to what is being played. You should be able to hear something that sounds like a harmonica and also a much lower guitar. Since we are just mapping out the skeleton of the song these are the only two things we should care about right now, the harmonica being the melody and the guitar being the bass. A feature you might consider using is found on the toolbar, near the middle of Transcribe, just to the right of the yellow magnifying glasses. You'll see a series of percentages, 25% , 50%, and 100%. Notice that it's set to 100% right now. This is how fast it will play the piece so try clicking the 50% button. Notice how that even though the music slows down the pitch does not change. You can use this to figure out notes in music that is going by very quickly. Now try clicking 25%. As you can see, it really will drag the notes out so use these if you're having trouble with quick runs of notes.
Now pause Transcribe and open GuitarPro or whatever tool you're going to be using to write out your arrangement. I like to set it up like this:
That way I can use both programs without having to struggle with the windows.
2a. Time Signatures and Keys:
First of all, why bother? Well, time and key signatures are important to not only keep a piece easy to read for someone who is trying to play it, but also to save you some time. Composers and arrangers are notoriously lazy and if we can keep from having to write out every little flat or sharp we will. So it's a good thing to learn how to set this correctly now, so you will not only produce arrangements that are easy to follow but will also save yourself a lot of time in the process.
So let's get started; we need to figure out the time signature of the piece. In transcribe, set the tempo back to 100% , deselect the area you selected earlier by clicking the beginning of the sound file and click play. Now tap your foot, bob your head, clap your hands, do whatever you want, along with the beat. You should tap your foot in equal beats and with this piece in particular, the beat is very apparent since every note is basically on the beat. So starting at the beginning you count and tap and listen to how the music flows. It's almost like a waltz isn't it? The music seems to come in sways every 3 beats. Count from the beginning with the music: 1 - 2 - 3, 1 - 2 - 3, 1 - 2 - 3.
You now know that the music is playing on the beat and plays in sections of 3 at a time.
So go back to Guitarpro and click the time signature button.
You'll see two numbers, one above the other. Ignore the stuff on the bottom. The top one of the numbers tells you how many beats are in each measure of music. A measure is just a grouping of notes. So what did we learn from listening and tapping? We learned that there are 3 beats per measure so let's change that top 4 to a 3 by clicking the drop down button, scrolling up, and choosing 3. So now it should read 3 over 4. The bottom note governs which notes get the beat. We don't really need to worry about that this time because it just happens to work, but that is something you should read up on later on your own. So we've figured out that our music is in 3/4 time. Click okay and you should see the numbers at the beginning of the staff change.
In order to figure out the key signature we're going to have to do a little transcribing first so we know what notes are being played. What a key signature is is a little collection of flats or sharps at the beginning of the music that shows on what lines or spaces flats and sharps are played. For example, rather than having to add a # sign to the note F to make it read F# every time, we can mark at the beginning that all F's are F# and then write the rest of the piece just using F. The person playing knows that because of the key signature that any time he or she see’s an F they have to play it F #.
It's the difference between the first and second examples here:
You can see by showing that F, G, and, C are all played sharp (#) that you then no longer have to write every sharp out again, the program will do it for you. If you are finding yourself a little lost by all of this take the time now to google key signatures and read a little about them. They're not as scary as they seem and are really very helpful to learn.
Another thing to know is where the notes lie on your guitar neck. It's easy to read a tab and it says to play a 5 on the 3rd string but it's incredibly invaluable to know what the note that you're playing is called when you do that. Memorizing this will take practice and I don't expect you all to learn it immediately, it will come as long as you work at it. It will really open doors to you as an arranger since, if you're reading this, I assume you want to be. It will allow you to make use of music on other instruments like piano and adapt them to fit your own arrangements. So, with time, I hope you will consider learning the note names for the frets on the guitar and where those correspond on actual notated sheet music. Here is a simple example for some of the notes:
Okay, so now that we know what the time signature is and we have our sheet to tell us what the key is once we get a few notes written out, let's start transcribing.
2b. The First Steps:
Alright so get Transcribe and GuitarPro up like I showed you and select only the very first beat of the music. Click play and let it repeat over and over. Annoying isn't it? What you're trying to do right now is get your ear grounded in the key, even though you aren't sure what key it is yet. It's a funny little thing how our ears will do that. That's why when you hear music being played and someone plays a wrong note, even though you may never have heard the tune before, you can tell that it just "didn't sound right." Your ears already know what even your brain doesn't yet. So take your guitar and let's start with the melody. Try and match that harmonica sound. It might help to put Transcribe to 50% so the sound will play a little longer and try to match it.
If you look down at the bottom of Transcribe you will see piano keys. Whatever you select in a section of music Transcribe will try and listen and figure out the notes played. It will also even give a suggestion of the chord if you look all the way to the right. In this case, you see it thinks it's a D chord. Now look on the keyboard itself, you will see some spikes and some green dots on some of the keys, and little spikes over some others. The bigger and sharper the spike, the surer Transcribe is that that's being played. This is where knowing note names can come in handy because while you don't have to use the piano there, it really makes things a lot easier. Listen to the sound file repeat a few more times the pause it. Try pressing the middle of the large green dots. Transcribe will play the note back to you. Well, that sounds like one of the notes played but it sounds a bit low compared to the harmonica.
Try the same note up an octave. What I mean is notice how the piano keyboard is laid out in a pattern. Look at the black keys, it goes 2 blacks, 3 blacks, 2 blacks, 3 blacks, etc. So when you play the middle of the 3 big green notes you're playing an F#. It's the first in the series of 3 black keys in a row. Move to the right until you get to the next series of 3 black keys and play the first one. You'll notice it's the same note as the one you just played, just higher. You've just played an octave. The reason I'm going on about this is something to be aware of when you're arranging is that you don't always want to play a note exactly the same octaves as it's played in the sound file. Because of the limited range you have when playing a guitar you have to always be aware of what you can and can't do, or what would be very awkward to play versus much easier. As I've said before, I try to walk a fine line of being both interesting but still playable for the average player.
All that being said, let's just worry about getting the melody transcribed. We can deal with moving octaves around doing the arrangement phase. Also, don't worry about fingerings yet. That comes during the Finalizing phase when we try to make it as easy on the person playing as possible.
2c. The First Hurdles:
So after listening this is what I came up with after about the first 30 seconds of music.
Like I said, at this point we're not worrying about making it playable, so I don't care that it's all on one string, but we've run into a bit of a problem. We're only 30 seconds into the piece and we're already hanging out around fret 14. There's a couple reasons why this is a problem at this point. 1. We're already at the top of the music's range, there's no where to go dramatically. This is a problem because now the piece is going to go nowhere and sound repetitive. 2. Playing up this high is tricky if you want to play harmonies underneath it. You're going to be limited in what you can and can't do. and 3. It's not going to sound as good because the guitar's intonation ( whether or not it's playing in tune) is very tricky up there, it's easy to have notes sound out of tune and weak. We can head in that range at some point in the piece but as it is we're going to be playing the entire piece up there and that's something we probably should try to avoid.
So we have to make a decision and I chose to bring the entire melody down an octave as seen here:
Some of the reasoning behind this I went over before but what this does is it will allow us to not only play it a little easier, but it will let us take the music somewhere. At this point I want you to listen to the sound file again, all the way through. You see how the music starts slowly but builds by bringing in more and more instruments? It doesn't get any faster and the melody doesn't change much, but by adding more instruments and filling up the music seems to grow broader and move somewhere. We have to try and emulate that by starting simple and slowly building up our own way with chords, possibly jumping back to that upper octave near the end to really drive it home. You should follow your heart with this sort of stuff, though, let your own ear guide you. I'm just trying to give a general overview on how I do it and the way I go about achieving certain effects.
At this point we can also fill in another missing element, the key signature. Looking over the piece it seems like only 2 notes get a sharp sign over and over, which are the F and C notes. Looking back to our key signature sheet we find the key that shows those notes with sharp signs and it's the key of D. My favorite! So look up to GuitarPro and right next to the button we pressed earlier to change the time signature you'll see 3 # signs. Before pressing that make sure the little yellow box that shows what measure you're working on is in the first measure, because when you change the key it will change the key based on where that is. You want the key signature at the beginning of the piece of music so put your cursor there an click to make sure the yellow box is in the first measure, then click the button with the 2 # (sharp) signs. Click the drop down menu and change it to D, it will have two sharp signs next to it and click okay. Viola, the key signature is set and you'll notice all the sharp signs in the piece of vanished. Now, you won't need to add them by hand anymore and it will be easier to read.
So this is where we stand right now:
Looking pretty good! At this point you can either continue transcribing the melody to the end or move on to the bass. I've decided we'll move to the bass to start drawing this music together.
To keep things neat we can switch over to the bass voice by clicking the button pictured here:
You can see how it has darkened lines on the bottom meaning you will be dealing with the bass voice. It works just like the melody so don't worry, it will just keep the notes separate so one can hold a note while the other is still moving. It's purely a cosmetic thing. If all of the notes turn light gray when you change voices click the button right next to the bass voicing, just to the right of the one you just clicked and they should come back. It is just an option to hide whatever voice you're not currently working on, meaning if you're inputting bass notes it lightens the melody, and vice versa. Anyway, so click the button I circled and let's do some of the bass notes.
Just like with the melody start with the first note. It's a D and a pretty low one at that. We're in standard tuning at the moment which means we can't play a low D without changing the tuning. So here we come to another choice. Do we start the bass on a low D by changing the tuning?
Or do we raise the D up an octave? The great thing about the key of D is that it allows for drop d tuning which, in my opinion, not only allows for greater depth of tone but also makes it much easier when you need to play higher notes but keep low bass notes. However, a lot of people don't like drop D so let's see if we can do it in standard tuning. We can always change it later.
So starting on the D which , because we're already playing F# on 4th string 4th fret, is 5th string 5th fret, go measure by measure, adding only the BASS notes. I know in measure 2 the guitar strums other notes but right now we are only worried about the lowest basic notes. So after going through we come up with this:
2d. Finishing Up:
Nice! So we're slowly building our arrangement layer by layer. I'm going to go ahead and transcribe the rest of the sketch so we can move on to the arranging. This is pretty generalized at the moment but we're looking for only the foundations so we can decide ourselves how we want our arrangement to sound.
So here's what we have:
The stuff you've by now transcribed are the important pieces of the music. You've got to include this in some way, shape, or form or people won't recognize what you're playing. Now that's not to say that you can't get creative, change harmonies and rhythms around, etc. but we're not quite to the arrangement phase yet and even then we are still learning so we don't want to go too wild with changing the music around. Not until we've got a better grasp on the how and why and when to significantly alter stuff and when to leave it alone. That's something that will come in time with experience, practice, and knowledge. The good thing is all three of those can be attained by anyone who sincerely wants to improve, so don't be lazy! Practice practice practice.
Okay, so now that we're satisfied with what we have so far what we're going to do next is start filling in chords. Since we took the time to write out the bass notes and the melody, this part should be a snap. Even though we are going to start getting into the more complicated stuff, I still want you to start simple.
A few points to think about when we start filling in the chords. First of all, if a note is in the bass, have it somewhere in the harmony we are adding. Meaning if we are playing an A in the bass, when we are adding the notes to fill in the chord, stick an A in there somewhere. We may or may not keep it there but for now, do it.
Also, be sure to have the 3rd of the chord in the harmony somewhere. I will explain more on this in a second but just know that it needs to be there somewhere, if not directly in the harmony then the melody needs to play it.
If this is all a little complex don't worry too much about it, I will go through it step by step below.
The first think you need to do, starting at measure 2, is look at the bass note. In most simple music like this you will find that the bass note is the foundation of the chord you need. What I mean is, looking at measure 2 you see that there is a G in the bass. This means that more than likely the chord you need to play here is a G chord. Now, here is where a little knowledge of chords comes into play. The most basic of chords cotains three notes and is called a triad. An easy way to figure out a chord's notes (though this doesn't work all the time, but for now it's okay to do) is to start on any note, and think PLAY SKIP PLAY SKIP PLAY. For example, is we started on C we would play a C, skip D, play E, skip F, play G. So the the notes in our C chord would be CEG. If that's the case, what would the chord be if we started on G? If you said GBD you are right; play G skip A play B skip C play D. Don't forget once you get to G you have to go back to A. These are the fundumentals of all basic chords. There are a few exceptions to this rule but because of the key this piece is in we don't have to worry about it.
Okay, so that's fine and all, we know how to figure out which notes are in each chord if we know the bass notes, but which notes do we put down? To start off with remember my rule above? It said to double up the bass note somewhere in the harmony, so the first note we can put down is a G since the bass note is a G. Go ahead and add that (open 3rd string) Now, we've got two G's and a B so all we need to add is the D to make the chord complete. You don't want to add the D above the melody so it's going to have to go below it on the open 4th string. Make sure you're inputing on the bass voice. Look up at the voicing buttons in the GuitarPro toolbar and make sure the one with the lower dark lines is selected.
Now, move on to the next measure. You've got an A in the bass so the chord is A C# (don't forget the key signature!) and E. Looking at that measure you see that we've got A in the bass and C# in the melody so add the E (4th string 2nd fret). Again, complete the A chord by adding the other A just under the C# (3rd string 2nd fret)
Finally, the 3rd measure you see a D in the bass so the chord is D F# (key!) A. The melody has the A, the bass has the D, so add the F# right in the middle there. We can't add another D without sticking it above the melody so don't worry about it. You might have to change the bass notes so the D is played on 5 and the F# is on 4 if you haven't already.
I'm just going to go through the next few measures with you and then you're on your own, so let's finish this up. Notice measure 6 is pretty much the same is measure 2 so you can add the same notes to the chord.
Measure 7 is essentially the same as measure 3 with a small difference. In measure 3 the C# was the melody, but this time the melody is higher and is now on the E up there on the open 1st string. While you COULD just add the same notes you did in measure 3, which were an A and an E, because the melody is no longer playing the C# you would be leaving out a critical part of the chord. The middle note of the chord when we named our chords (such as A C# E or G B D) is the most important note. It defines the chord itself, so you really need to keep it in there somewhere. In the case of measure 3 we didn't have to bother with it because C# was played by the melody, but in measure 7 you have to be sure to add the C# in there. So add the C# under the E (2nd fret 2nd string) Good, now don't forget to double the bass with the A and that measures done.
Last, but not least, measure 8. We look at the bass and it's a D and we know that a D chord is
D, F#, and A, but what's this? The melody on that chord is playing an E? That's not part of a D chord! Don't worry because look at the very next note in the melody. It's an F# which IS part of our D chord. The E note is called a "leading tone," as it sort of leads us into that F#. Play that measure right now and you'll see how that note seems almost like it HAS to go to the F# to resolve the chord. So, even though we don't have an F# for our chord until the 2nd beat of the measure, we can treat it as though we do. The reason I'm going on about this is because, according to our rules so far, you would think that on that first beat, since we have a D in the bass we need to add another D, but also an F# and an A. However, because it leads into the F# in the second beat we find we only actually have to add a D and an A. If you want you can see why by adding the F# just above the bass D and then the A above it. First off, it's akward to play and secondly it doesn't sound very good. Luckily, we don't have to play it like that. So add the D and the A in between the bass and melody; the D is 2nd string 3rd fret and the A is 3rd string 2nd fret.
So now play through what you have so far. It's extremely simple but our arrangement is starting to take form, and if you've managed to stay with me so far that's a good thing! Now go through the rest of the bass notes up to measure 17 and complete the chords. Because the chords are repeated quite a bit in this piece it shouldn't take too much to do it, just look back at the chords we've done so far and me sure to remember the rules we've talked about.
Doing that should look something like this:
Hope you're hanging in there with me! Now that you've come this far you should have no trouble doing the same thing for the rest of the piece. Just follow the rules we've laid out so far and you should be good to go. Here's how it looks up to this point:
The last thing you want to do at this stage is to go back over and look for any glaring errors. Play the original while following along with your music and if you can play your music while the original is playing. Check and double-check. There's nothing more annoying than having to go back and change stuff because of minor mistakes. Once you've given it another look and are satisfied with it we can move on to the creative stuff.
This is probably going to be the most difficult part of this tutorial to teach as it's something that is purely subjective to the arranger. Some people like to make really jazzy arrangements, some people like to stick close to the originals, while still others like to almost rewrite the arrangement into something completely different. How ever you decide to do it there are a few important things I think you should consider.
1. Figure out what it is you like about the original and try to get that same feeling into your arrangement. It's the little things in music that keeps us coming back for more so pay attention when you listen to a piece. Try and find the parts you like and the parts you don't like as much and include or take out that in your arrangements. If you really like some of the harmonies, don't change them. If you like how simple the melody is, don't over complicate things. You chose to arrange a piece of music for a reason so make sure you can get that reason across in your arrangement.
2. Make sure your arrangement is guitaristic. What I mean is, every instrument has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Guitars are limited by the fingers on the left hand; they can't play more than 6 notes at a time and you can only stretch your hand so far to reach notes. They can't hold notes out so you will need to come up with something to fill up empty space such as arpeggios or things of that nature. You can do interesting sounds on a guitar like harmonics, slides, bends, etc. so make sure you at least consider these things while you're arranging.
3. Be aware of your audience. If you are a good player it can be tempting to arrange incredibly difficult stuff. This is fine some of the time but it really limits who else can enjoy playing your music besides you. I've mentioned a couple times in this tutorial but my take on this is to make the music is complex as you need to without making it overcomplicated and no longer fun to play. Don't dumb the music down at all but look at it objectively and decide if a person could really pull it off with some work.
4. Take your time! Don't rush through a piece of music in an hour and consider yourself done. Look for ways of improving your arrangement. Play it over and over and then let it sit overnight. Come back the next day, you may have a new idea for a section or might want to rewrite another part. Show it to your friends and take their criticism or compliments constructively. They are the people, ultimately, that will be judging your creation so their opinion counts. If you like your arrangement but everyone else hates it, I won't say trash it, I would say look it over again and see if there is anything you can improve on. Arrangements are not static things, they develop over time and evolve as the arranger does.
5. Have fun. This is important as well, arranging should be fun for you and shouldn't feel like work. If it ever starts to feel like a burden stop IMMEDIATELY and go do something else. Come back to it when you feel you're ready. There's nothing more frustrating then doing something you hate and music should never feel like a chore.
3a. Trimming The Fat:
Okay, now when I tell you to do this try not to kill me. In GuitarPro, if you're not viewing it like this already, click View up at the top and choose Horizontal Screen Mode. Also in the view menu choose Multi-track view. Next a few places to the left of view in that top menu choose Track and choose Add. Click OK and OK and you should see another track appear under what you've done except blank. This is where we're going to write our actual arrangement. I know, so what about all we've done so far? Well, it's up to you. You could consider yourself done and that would be that. You'd have a functional arrangement of a piece of music. It's a little boring and simplistic, but you could stop there if you want. However, remember what I said to think about when you are beginning to arrange a piece? I said to consider why you liked a piece of music, what elements drew you to it and that these should be in your finished product. Well, as it is, you've got the melody and you've got chords but not much else. We've got the meat of the arrangement done so now it's time to trim off the excess and add the spices that will really make it something special.
When did this turn into a cooking show? I must be hungry...nevertheless, let's get started.
Going back to Transcribe, let's take another listen. We've got the structure of the piece, now it's time to focus on movement. Movement is extremely important in music, otherwise a piece will seem static and just sort of sit there, so after listening for a few seconds we notice that in the beginning the guitar is what seems to drive the piece forward.
Something to be aware of, we don't necessarily need to copy the exact notes played verbatim. If we can emulate the rhythms and use the structure we've already written out we can trick the listener's ears into hearing it the same.
The first thing I want to do is get some movement in measures 2 and 3. What we're going to do is something that you will find yourself doing a lot in guitar music which is playing broken chords. That is to say, instead of just playing the chord of measure 2 we are going to fill up a little space by playing one or more of the notes of the chord after the chord itself is played. Also what we're going to do is start putting in snippits of what the guitar does here and there when we can and possibly try to make the chords a little more interesting. I'm going to alter the measures each a slightly different way you can see what some of the options are. Look at my example to see what I mean:
In this one you can see that I took the D out of the chord in measure 2 and moved it over a beat. I did the same thing in measure 3 with the E. This mimics the rhythms the guitar is playing but also creates a sense of movement because the D in measure 2 and the E in measure 3 now stick out more and seem to be moving toward the F# in the chord in measure 4. You want to pay attention to these little details. When you are deciding what notes to add or move around make sure you try to make it flow by looking at the next measure and seeing how the measure you're working on will work together with it. You don't want to randomly move notes around because it will make the piece sound disjointed.
In measure 6 I used the same tactic of simply taking one of the notes out of the chord and moving it over but look at measure 7. I decided to change the C# of the chord to a D to mimic what the guitar is doing in the original sound file. The D then moves to C# like the guitar does and notice how I added an E on the 4th string 2nd fret. I could've chosen any note to add so why did I choose that one? Again, this is part of looking ahead that you want to get used to doing. Look at the next measure's bass note. It's a D. By adding that E in measure 7 I am leading into the D bass of measure 8.
Now look at measure 8, it's pretty much the same but I chose to add a low A. If you look at measure 9 you see it's that same pattern we've been seeing that starts on D. The A acts as a bit of a dramatic bridge between the two because the relationship between D and A is that of a perfect 5th. I won't go into the theory behind that but just know that if you start on any note and count up 5 notes, including the note you're starting on, you will create a very powerful relationship. That sounds a little silly but trust me, it's true. That relationship basis of power chords in rock guitar and is what gives it that characteristic sound.
Anyway, sorry about that tangent. All you need to know is that this relationship is a strong one that you will find works well to tie sections together. So let's move on to the other half of this.
Measure 10, again, nothing that different than the ones I've done before. The same goes for measure 11 if you've been keeping up with what I've talked about with voice leading, which is what it's called when we are looking ahead so that the movement of notes in one measure ties together with the next. That's why I moves the A over from the chord in measure 11 and then go down to G so it will resolve in measure 12 to the F#. It's all about moving and stopping, moving and stopping.
Now, that choice was made because of the nature of the piece, it seems to kind of sway back and forth, in a lazy manner. I don't want to add too much movement and overcomplicate the piece. Just enough to make it interesting to listen to.
Measure 14 gets a little different because I decided it was time to change things up slightly. We've heard that G chord enough times but again, look at what I'm doing here. I didn't just change the G chord by adding the A, I use the A to go down step by step to the E in the chord in measure 15. Doing this also creates a nice parallel movement at the end of measure 14 because the melody joins in and moves down a step as well, harmonizing as it goes. Measure 15 mimics the guitar part and moves into measure 16. Notice I took out the F# of that D chord. If you've been listening carefully you've noticed that the movement in each mini section resolves on F# of the D chord. It's the starting and stopping I was talking about earlier. You can add a bit of variety by holding off on that expected resolution which is what I did by not letting the chord resolve until the end of the measure. Another added benefit is that if I had chosen to leave the F# in there it would've made the chord akward to play so by taking it out you can not only play it easier but really bring it out and slide into the F# to make it sounds more interesting.
So you get the idea right? In conclusion, the most important things you need to remember are:
1. Movement - Make the piece interesting by having periods of moving and periods of slowing down. Contrast is important so mix it up. Use different techniques to keep your audience guessing on what's coming next.
2. Voice leading - Don't arrange measure by measure, build one off the other. Try to make the different voices move smoothly into each other. Jumping around is okay sometimes, though, but don't over use it.
3. Look at the big picture - Try to see where the piece is heading and don't try to add too much too fast. Build the music up by starting simple and growing more complex.
4. LISTEN - Incorporate the ideas you hear in the original piece into your arrangement. Decide what is important to keep in and what you can discard and go from there.
3b. Finishing Up:
Now that we've reached this point I'm not going to go measure by measure for the rest of the arrangement, just mention some of the more apparent changes.
You can see how we are starting to fill up the measures as we build up for the later parts of the piece. Using all the things we've talked about you can see how we are staying within the chords we established earlier, only branching out of them to make interesting melodic movement.
I've changed some of the bass notes at 30 to add some interest and change the chord progression as it was starting to get a little stale. The chords at 46 where just for fun, going a bit dissonant to show that even grating chords can still fit a piece that's fairly simple as long as they're used carefully. It might not be to everyone's taste but don't forget, arranging is a personal experience! The rest simplifies again to finish it up so I don't need to post examples of that.
Alright we're almost there, let's just put some finishing touches on this and get it done. Finally!
This is the time where you go back over your arrangement and really look hard at it. You'll add things like strum patterns, slurring, and look over the fingering to make sure it's the easiest to play that you can make it. During this phase you want to play your arrangement quite a bit to find any spots that are unplayable or akward and try to fix them up before your finish. Obviously, give your arrangement a title and credit the original composer but don't forget to put your own name on it as the arranger!
Here is the finished product in PDF and GP formats:
That's about it, you've just finished your first original arrangement! Congratulations. I hope this tutorial was somewhat helpful to you in getting you started in writing arrangements for yourself and to share with others. I know it was a bit long, but with practice you'll be able to do most of these steps in your head and just go straight to transcribing and arranging at the same time. It all depends on how much you work at it, so I hope you stick with it.
Good luck and happy strumming!