Arranging & Orchestration

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. 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.

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 for a high note and ... 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 and 50s will include chord ... Read more…
  • Block Voicing (with quiz)

    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 is where the inside or harmony parts always ... Read more…
  • Jazz Arranging: Backings

    What Goes on in the Background Chordal accompaniment or pad In this case a solo instrument or unison line is accompanied by  instruments of the same or different section playing sustained chords. The lead line of the chordal ... 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 to give the player some ... 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 a good idea to indicate ... Read more…
  • Writing for Strings

    The string section consists of violins (1st & 2nd), violas, ‘cellos (or ‘celli) and double basses. There are conventions as to the ratios of instruments; e.g. a large orchestral ensemble may consist of 16 first ... Read more…
  • 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 sound is produced by vibrating ... Read more…
  • Composition: Hints & Tips

      Composition Hints and 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 bit of even completely ... 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 Frequency Absorbers Compression Reverb Logic Tips Logic Pro: Getting ... 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 can make a little go ... 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 and release can be created ... 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 of modes as relative to ... 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. If all 3 legs are ... 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 music for TV commercials. After ... 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 instruments in modern western music ... Read more…


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