Arranging for dummies (Part 2)

Last week, I discussed a simple idea behind arranging and today, we are going to start taking a look at it in action. Our example is last month’s arrangement, “Just As I Am,” for the arrangement club.

To start, let’s talk about the song itself. When I was young, this song was what we called an “invitation” song which was usually sung in church after the message during a time when people were encouraged to make spiritual decisions. While this practice is still done today, I would suspect the invitation time is used far less than it used to be and “Just As I Am” has become just a normal song during the service. Regardless, it is a prayerful song and in general, I wanted the arrangement to feel that way, too.

The idea (or hook) I came up with was designed to support that mood. I chose a melodic idea with some rhythmic contrast. Here is the first statement of it as the introduction.

You might wonder if the length is important or if there is a formula for lengths. The answers are no and no. This is a 13-bar introduction (one bar is cut off in the image above) which is relatively typical for me. In general, I think in 4-bar phrases and string 2-3 of them together. The extra bar in this one is just an extension of one of those phrases a bit.

If you look at the harmony, you might notice that this is what is called a descending cliche where the roots are moving down by half step all the way through the octave. I won’t go into further detail because that is not the point. The real thing that matters here (to me) is the melody in those first two lines.

In regards to the melody for the hook, I am looking for something that is interesting and also a bit diverse. Note the use of various rhythms (8ths, 16ths, and triplets) to accomplish that. In general, when you look at how I actually use the various rhythms, it may appear a bit random and that is absolutely on purpose. The same goes for the melody notes themselves. I don’t want to use the same melodic patterns over and over. Here is a very easy example to demonstrate this:

Those two phrases look similar but they are slightly different. You guys have heard me talk about the fine line between repetition and development many times; and this is an example of that. By the way as we come back later in the song to restate this idea, we will develop it a lot more while it still feels like the original general idea.

On the flip side, I am doing the same thing with the rhythm. Look at this example:

Really, these two ideas use pretty much the same melody notes but the rhythm is intentionally changed in the second phrase while still hinting at the first phrase.

So, at the end of the day, we have an idea that consists of developed melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic ideas. That is going to become the basis of the arrangement. I will show you how to do it next time.