Arranging & Composing

Jazz Arranging Big Band
Duke Ellington

Jazz composition and arranging, whether for small band or big band, is not an easy art to pin down. As with pop and rock, many jazz performers become composers purely to write music for their own performance. For jazz improvisers, composition is also a logical extension of performance. Improvisation is, after all, on-the-spot composition.

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Jazz composition is now recognised as a legitimate area of study at schools, universities and music college, but due to the nature of jazz as soon as you try to academicise it, you fall into the trap of losing some of its originality and spontaneity. All of the resources on these, along with some of the material you will find on the saxophone pages, may be useful I hope, but it is essential to immerse yourself in the music: listen to jazz of all eras, play jazz and ideally find a personal tutor.

Hints and Tips

  • Transcription of existing arrangements is one of the best ways to learn, not just the rules but how different arrangers have created their individual styles, by bending or breaking the rules, or creating their own.
  • Write legible parts, you will get more time rehearsing the creative stuff instead of interpreting bad handwriting.
  • Write untransposed scores. It may mean you need to transpose in your head so that you can quickly discuss notes with musicians in their key. However even with the ability to do that I find reading an untransposed (ie concert pitch) score so much easier. Again, you’ll save time on rehearsals that can be spent having creative ideas ideas rather than getting your head round a transposed score.
  • Encourage musicians to be critical, listen to and discuss any input they have
  • However large the ensemble, unisons and octaves should not be ignored. They can be very powerful, or supply a contrast to thick harmony. When using backing figures or counterpoint it often works well to have the lead in harmony and the backing in unison, or vice versa. It can be very effective to use unison on an anacrusis (pickup) or faster melodic passages, followed by open or closed harmony on slower moving lines.

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Arranging Hints & Tips

  • Transcription of existing arrangements is one of the best ways to learn, not just the rules but how different arrangers have created their individual styles, by bending or breaking the rules, or creating their own.
  • Write legible parts, you will get more time rehearsing the creative stuff instead of interpreting bad handwriting.
  • Write untransposed scores. Again, you’ll save time on rehearsals that can be spent having ideas.
  • Encourage musicians to be critical and listen to any input they have
  • However large the ensemble, unisons and octaves should not be ignored. They can be very powerful, or supply a contrast to thick harmony. When using backing figures or counterpoint it often works well to have the lead in harmony and the backing in unison, or vice versa. It can be very effective to use unison on an anacrusis (pickup) or faster melodic passages, followed by open or closed harmony on slower moving lines.

In the arranging section

  • Ranges & Transposition

    Jazz Arranging – Chart of Instrument Ranges You’ve probably all seen, and heard, a big band in full flight come to the end of their showcase number. The lead trumpet goes ... Read more…
  • Jazz Reharmonising

    Reharmonising – Changing the Chords Often you may want to do some reharmonisation before arranging for jazz orchestra or combos. Most sheet music for popular music standards of the 30s, 40s ... Read more…
  • Block Voicing

    What is Voicing? Voicing means harmonising a melody (or lead) with one or more instruments or voices, either with a similar instrument from the same section or with a combination. Block voicing ... Read more…
  • Jazz Arranging: Backings

    Chordal accompaniment (aka pad) When writing sustained chordal backings for a solo instrument or unison line, you can use instruments of the same or different section playing sustained chords. The lead line ... Read more…
  • The Rhythm Section

    Arranging for Rhythm Section Piano and guitar parts are often very basic in jazz, pop & big band writing and are just to supply a rhythmic backing (comping). It often works ... Read more…
  • Orchestration: Score Layout

    What’s The Score? First things first – the title should be at the top centre of page one and the name of the composer and arranger on the right. It is ... Read more…
  • Writing for Strings

    Ensemble Sizes The string section consists of violins (1st & 2nd), violas, ‘cellos (or ‘celli) and double basses. There are conventions as to the ratios of the different strings; e.g. a ... Read more…
  • Orchestrating for Brass

    Orchestrating  for Brass The Wonderful World of Composing for Brass Brass instruments are capable of great power, but also subtlety and variety, especially with the use of mutes, which are placed in the bell. The ... Read more…
  • Composition: Hints & Tips

    Useful Composition Tips Know when to use rules of composition, and when not to. Think about the genre and whether you need to be “correct” or can bend the rules a ... Read more…
  • Recording

    Most of our recording pages have moved to our other site at Media Music We still have the recording saxophone and mixing saxophone pages on this site. At Media Music: Recording Microphones Home Soundproofing Home Studio Acoustics High ... Read more…
  • Developing Melody with Motifs

    Very often a large part of composition involves expanding a very short simple phrase (or motif) into an entire work. This may be just a few notes, but careful development ... Read more…
  • Tension & Release in Composition

    Unity and Variety, Tension & Release Two very important factors in music, as well as most other art forms, are the creation of tension and release. Let’s look at how tension ... Read more…
  • Modes in Composition

    Modes in Modern Pop & Commercial Composition Before reading this make sure you are familiar with the basic concept which is covered in the modes in jazz article. I prefer not to think ... Read more…
  • All About Copyright

    Copyright in Music Compositions Copyright decisions often it come down to a judge, and is therefore very unscientific so judgements can be very tenuous and inconsistent. Guidelines: Copyright is a Three Legged Stool. ... Read more…
  • Become a TV/Film Composer

    How do You Actually get Work as Composer? I wish I could answer this question, or at least get paid every time someone asks it. Initially I was interested in composing ... Read more…
  • Orchestrating for Woodwinds

    What You Need to Know about Woodwinds Woodwinds are so called because the tone is generated by the player’s breath and originally all instruments were made of wood. The main woodwind ... Read more…

Arranging & Composing
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