Arrangement analysis: “Like a River Glorious”

I said I would circle back to this arrangement and talk about a few things so let me do that today. I have talked about many of these things before; in fact, this arrangement is just about as solidly in my preferred wheelhouse as anything I write.

Let’s start with the introduction and in particular, the melody line of the introduction. When you arrange a familiar song, you obviously spend a lot of time on the existing melody; but typically, you get some space to write your own melodies. I like those times best if I am being honest. When you are not constrained by an existing melody, you have the freedom to really stretch a melody to make it more memorable and beautiful.

One of the big ways I do this is by looking at the relationship between the harmony and the melody. Let me give you an example:

When I first wrote this melody line, the A that was circled was a C. I played through it and of course it works. C is the 9th of that Bb chord. However, I changed it to A to get a more interesting sound. A is the major 7th of a Bb chord. I love the major 7th on top of a I or IV chord.

The moral of the story is this: after you write a melody line, go back through it and ask yourself if it is predictable or boring. If so, experiment with other options. Sometimes, changing just one note makes a big difference. This is the only note I changed, in fact.

As we move into the familiar melody, I am going to use the same general texture that I used in the introduction. There is nothing unique or interesting about that. However, at the end of the first line, I use this chord progression:

I wish I could say that this is somehow unusual but it isn’t. I use this progression all the time. It is a descending cliche where I am stepping down in diatonic steps. The one unusual chord is the b3dim7 (2nd beat of bar 13). This chord is a common connector chord in jazz between the iii and the ii chord.

Very quickly, I will point out inner voice movement in this passage:

I am not going to dwell on this kind of light-weight counterpoint because I have been using it a lot and talking about it. However, notice that it does not have to be complicated to be interesting. A little of this gets you a lot of mileage. Right now, not many arrangers are doing it so it will set your music apart.

It is common to see A7 (V/vi) on beat three of bar 22 but remember that any time you see a secondary dominant like that, you can possibly slip the ii in front of the V. A7 is the V/vi and Em7 is the ii/vi. When the target (vi) is minor, it is appropriate (and for me almost automatic) to turn the ii into a half diminished and add the b9 to the V chord. That is why you see Em7(b5) – A7(b9) – Dm here.

After the first verse, I return to the initial intro material, using it to build to a bigger chorus. And that is pretty much all there is to the arrangement.

Again, here is the demo of me playing it. If you don’t see the video below, click here: