Arranging Music for Music Group

Interested in writing music for the Liturgy?
Talk about it here!

Moderator: PaulW

Post Reply
Mancunian
Posts: 20
Joined: Sat Apr 15, 2006 9:54 pm
Location: Nottingham

Arranging Music for Music Group

Post by Mancunian » Wed Jul 23, 2008 9:51 pm

I've recently begun to dabble in arranging music for our parish church music group. (It started by providing a transposed part for our clarinet player, and has developed from there). We don't have a keyboard player, and at full strength can muster a clarinet, a violin, three or four flutes, three guitars, three sopranos and a couple of mens voices (but in practice we often don't know until the start of Mass, or even later, who will actually be at a particular service).

Can anyone suggest a good book that would cover arranging for such a group, or point me in the direction of helpful guidance?

Currently I'm tending to transpose the accompaniment from the hymnal or other source up an octave, with the clarinet taking the bass part, violin the tenor and flutes the upper parts (especially for more traditional four part harmony) whilst the guitars stick to the chords given in the hymnal. On some pieces I've tried to give the tune to the clarinet or violin, with guitar accompaniment, and sometimes a flute obbligato. I've tried to avoid changing the harmony from the hymnal, due to my own limited knowledge of harmony and so as not to disturb the guitars.

Have others found themselves in a similar situation?

Kind regards,

Mancunian

User avatar
Benevenio
Posts: 187
Joined: Sun Dec 21, 2003 2:32 am
Location: UK

Re: Arranging Music for Music Group

Post by Benevenio » Thu Jul 24, 2008 10:48 am

[url = http://www.giamusic.com/search_details. ... le_id=3281]Instrumentation and the Liturgical Ensemble[/url] by Marty Haugen is a first-rate place to start. You can, no doubt, order this through Decani Music.

You can do worse than asking on this forum for advice! If you ask enough in advance, you might find we already have arrangements from which you could work. For many years, our parish has worked on an almost identical line-up as, I am sure, have many others.

Arguably, the best piece of advice: with three guitarists playing, especially if strumming, you will find that the sound turns to mush. You have two ways around this. Firstly, persuade one of them to play the bass guitar instead. This gets around using the clarinet as a bass instrument, which it really is not. Having a firm bass is like building your house on rock… Secondly, persude one guitarist to play on capo 5, 6, 7, 8 (as appropriate), whilst the others play on the open string chords. This immediately gives a different colour to the sound. The chords are fairly easy to transpose and you might even challenge the guitarists to do this bit themselves, offloading wome of the work you're undertaking.

Quite often you find that the guitar chords given for (older) hymns do not reflect the organ harmony from which you'll be creating parts. Something to keep in mind.

Finally, consider using amplification - not to blast the "audience" into submission, but to provide a balance between the relatively loud clarinet and the relatively soft flute/violin/picked guitar. When the guitars are finger-picking, can they be heard at the back of the building, when people are in it and singing? If the answer is 'not clearly', then amplification is required. The guitar wasn't designed to fill a large space in the way that an organ is matched to its environs, and needs a little help if it is to provide the accompaniment for a singing congregation.
Benevenio.

Mancunian
Posts: 20
Joined: Sat Apr 15, 2006 9:54 pm
Location: Nottingham

Re: Arranging Music for Music Group

Post by Mancunian » Thu Jul 24, 2008 4:41 pm

Hello Benvenio,

Thank you very much for those helpful suggestions.

I couldn't spot the Marty Haugen book that you suggested on the Decani website but I'll get in touch with them and try to order a copy - it sounds as though it might be just what I need.

I agree that a clarinet isn't really a bass instrument - it's just the lowest melody instrument that we actually have. If we had a proper bass instrument - say 'cello or bass guitar - there would be a lot of better things to do with it.

Whether any of our guitarists could be persuaded to switch to bass guitar I don't know - it's rare that we have all three so in an ideal world all would play both so that we would have a reasonable chance of having both types of guitar at any given service. We'd also need to use amplification if we had a bass guitar. I'll try your suggestion about the use of a capo.

Amplification frankly worries me, as I'm concerned that if we amplify any instrument we would need to mike and amplify everyone and use a mixing desk (which of course we don't have) to ensure balance. It's seemed to me that if we all play unplugged we at least have some chance of listening to each other and trying to balance the sound. Having said that, my own experience is with choirs and (much longer ago) orchestras and wind bands so amplification is something of a new area for me and I may be completely wrong about this. (With my choirmaster's hat on I have an ongoing battle with our PP to resist his attempts to use microphones with the choir).

Thanks again for your help.

Mancunian

User avatar
Gwyn
Posts: 1122
Joined: Wed Dec 24, 2003 3:42 pm
Parish / Diocese: Archdiocese of Cardiff
Location: Abertillery, South Wales UK

Re: Arranging Music for Music Group

Post by Gwyn » Thu Jul 24, 2008 7:28 pm

Hi Mancunian,

A simple suggestion, don't have all instruments playing all the time. Much richness can be gained from varying the combo verse by verse or verse to refrain. If a song has a strong, well known refrain then drop the melody from the ensemble altogether.

Something I often do to add colour to the final verse of a well known hymn or song is to play the final verse a semitone up. Eg. If a piece is set in Eb, then at the end of the penultimate verse or refrain play a substantial B7 chord, then play the final verse in E major. Mega effective is that. I appreciate though that this is not so easy for an ensemble, and perhaps more appropriate for organists/keyboard-ists.

Another useful thing, if the hymn or song has a well known refrain, let it be sung completely unaccompanied after the last verse with no rall or rit, then reprise it with a thunderous ensemble. That's guaranteed to get yer punter-in-the-pew singing with gusto.

Gwyn.

User avatar
musicus
Moderator
Posts: 1605
Joined: Sun Dec 21, 2003 8:47 am
Location: UK
Contact:

Re: Arranging Music for Music Group

Post by musicus » Fri Jul 25, 2008 1:33 am

Mancunian wrote:Amplification frankly worries me, as I'm concerned that if we amplify any instrument we would need to mike and amplify everyone and use a mixing desk (which of course we don't have) to ensure balance. It's seemed to me that if we all play unplugged we at least have some chance of listening to each other and trying to balance the sound.

But if you can't be heard beyond the third row how can you possibly lead the people in song? I have heard - or, rather, failed to hear - too many acoustic guitar-based instrumental groups who were merely playing to themselves. We expect readers to use amplification, and for good reason. Acoustic guitars need it too, not (as Benvenio rightly says) to blast your hearers, but to render their sound audible in the overall ensemble. You don't necessarily need a mixing desk (though there are very useful and compact ones from around £50 or so): a simple dynamic mic (e.g. Shure SM58 or equivalent) and a modest guitar combo will do nicely.
musicus - moderator, Liturgy Matters
blog

Mancunian
Posts: 20
Joined: Sat Apr 15, 2006 9:54 pm
Location: Nottingham

Re: Arranging Music for Music Group

Post by Mancunian » Fri Jul 25, 2008 8:24 pm

Thank you to Glyn and Musicus for your helpful comments.

I agree entirely about not using all the instruments all the time. An article by Paul Inwood a few issues of Music and Liturgy ago that mentioned that point was one of the factors in my deciding to make attempts at arranging.

Transposing the last verse up a semitone seems a dangerous option with a music group - I can imagine problems for the guitars with some of the resulting key signatures, or even worse a bungled attempt to add or change a capo between verses... The idea of a last vese sung accompanied and then repeated with full ensemble sounds a good one, and I'll try it.

Our church is not particularly large, and the acoustics are reasonable provided that the musicians are in the right place. From the pews the Music Group sounds loud enough without amplification, although modest amplification with some control over the balance of the sound might well be an improvement. From what Musicus has said it sounds as though this may be more feasible than I had assumed - I've obviouly a lot to learn about amplification.

Thank you for your help.

Mancunian

dmu3tem
Posts: 250
Joined: Fri Mar 04, 2005 3:11 pm
Location: Frozen North

Re: Arranging Music for Music Group

Post by dmu3tem » Tue Aug 05, 2008 1:55 pm

Have a look at the article I wrote in an earlier issue of Music and Liturgy (the one before last) about writing descants and obbligatos.

Look also in the threads under 'Sounds Off', including my 'tips for composing and arranging' (or a title of similar nature)

Come along to SSG composers group meetings - advertised on the composers section of this SSG website. You do not have to be a composer to attend. Bring any instrument you wish. If you want to encourage people to write parts for you specify to me which instrument you propose to bring and give some indication of your level of proficiency (It does not have to be very high) If you give me your e.mail address I will send you further details in advance. Date and place of next meeting, by the way, is Oct 18th 11.00-4.30 at the Benedictine Priory church in Bamber Bridge, near Preston.

Get a decent book on orchestration. At the very least it supplies you with the ranges of instruments (usually though they do not run to guitars) as well as drawing your attention to particular quirks, dos and don'ts associated with particular instruments. e.g. avoid a held written Bb above middle C on the clarinet unless you want 'fluffy' notes - all right to write through or accross it with an arpeggio of some sort though.

Thomas (Muir)
T.E.Muir

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest