Songwriting Instruction – Arrangements

Did you ever listen to one of those full blown orchestrated tunes and then after hearing a stripped down version it just didn’t have the same zing? The truth is, a lot of songs would be just plain boring as heck were it not for the arrangement. The trick is finding the right arrangement for the song you’ve written. It’s not as easy as you might think. Lots of professional arrangements, such as George Martin’s overdone strings on the Beatles’ “Long And Winding Road” have been slammed by critics. So don’t be too hard on yourself if your first efforts aren’t award winning. Hopefully, this article will get you on the right track.

What I usually do when trying to think of an arrangement for a song is try to hear what it sounds like in my head. For certain types of songs, such as ballads, a safe bet would be a nice soft string arrangement. If you’re writing a country song, a pedal steel guitar and fiddle will probably fit nicely. If you’re writing a hard rock tune, a couple of fuzz guitars, Hammond B3 Organ and some booming drums just might do the trick. Sure, this is all pretty stereotypical, but all these arrangements are great starting points.

The key to making your arrangement truly original is adding something unexpected to it. Take that great Yes tune, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.” It was pretty typical Yes stuff until the break came and we hear the horn hits. Everybody was talking about it because it was so different…especially for them. Soon, many groups were actually copying this sound in all kinds of genres. And it doesn’t take much. A sound, an instrumentation, sometimes even just an effect can make all the difference in the world.

If you’re stuck for an arrangement, think about the kind of song you’re writing and listen to other songs in that genre. Naturally, you want to look at the lyrics you’ve written to see what kind of sound would fit them best. Some lyrics can be interpreted in many ways, but then you have a few that lend themselves to only one sound. Many Gothic Rock lyrics are like that.

Bottom line is this. If the arrangement doesn’t fit, and more importantly enhance your song, the song itself can end up on the cutting room floor with all the other table scraps.

To YOUR Songwriting Success,

Steven Wagenheim