Thursday, April 27, 2006
Creating Arrangements for Your Band
My name is Diggory (age 10) I am starting a band called the CrAzY ApEs. We have all the instruments and equitment but we don't have anything to play with the songs.
p.s. Please help
They sure make it look easy on TV, don't they?
It sounds like you have songs you want to sing, but you don't know what to play on the instruments to go with the songs while you're singing. In other words, you need to know how to create an arrangement.
I'm going to ask you the tough questions first, and tell you what you need to do to become good at arranging in the long run. Then I have a couple of ideas that might help you start making music with your band right away, so keep on reading.
How well do you know your instruments? Have you taken lessons? Are you able to play some songs? Can you keep a beat? Do you know a lot of chords, and how to follow a chord chart?
The first thing you need to do if you haven't already is learn your instruments! The second thing is, keep learning! It takes time. So have some patience.
A drummer who knows how to keep a beat and knows lots of patterns and fills for different styles of music can hear a song, pick a pattern to go with it, and he'll pretty much know what to play.
A guitarist who can keep rhythm and knows different chords can read a chord chart. All she needs is the names of the chords - A E A E G etc. - and she'll know what to play. With some trial and error, she can probably even figure out for herself what chords will sound good with a particular melody.
A keyboard or piano player who can read music will be able to play an arrangement out of a book. A keyboardist who can improvise will be able to play an arrangement from just a chord chart, or figure it out "by ear."
So it isn't necessary for your band members to be able to read or write music on a page, but they do need to know how to play their instruments. They need a very strong foundation of basic skills and music theory.
When you sign up for lessons, let your teacher know that you want to be able to put together arrangements for your own songs. Some music teachers will focus on teaching you how to read music that's written out. That's a great skill to have, and you should learn it. But it takes an extra set of skills to make up your own arrangements. Make sure your teacher is willing to work with you on improvisation and music theory.
Once your musicians each have a basic feel for rhythm and everyone knows how to change chords, you'll be ready to start coming up with your own arrangements.
Start by writing out a chord chart for the song. When everyone is looking at the same chord chart you can all count along and change chords at the same time. There is no right or wrong way to do this, as long as all the band members know how to read your charts.
I usually write out the chord names and beats in rows of boxes. Each box represents one measure of music. I make a chart like this for each of my songs and refer to it often while I'm recording.
On the right is the chart for my song "A Pet Like That" so you can see what it looks like. You can listen along in my podcast of the same name (podcast links are to the left).
So, everybody has a chart? Now count off the tempo - 1, 2, 3, 4 - and let each player play what they think might work. Your fist attempt will probably sound like a mess. Just keep trying. Between takes, discuss which ideas are working and which are not. Try something different each time and pretty soon it will start to sound like a song.
In addition to taking lessons, just listening to your favorite bands will help. And I mean REALLY listening. Learn to hear each instrument separately in a recording. Pay close attention to what your instrument is playing. Learn to play those parts yourself. Learn as many songs as you can. If you pay attention, you'll start to get a feel for arranging and for knowing what you might play to accompany your own songs.
Diggory, I know you are dying to make music with your band right now, and you don't want to take 10 years of lessons first. I don't think you should skip the lessons, but you can get started having fun with your band at the same time. Don't try to sing a song right at first. Just see if you can all play along together and get a groove going. Let the drummer start a beat, then strum the guitar along with that, and just play. Don't worry if it doesn't sound like anything; just have fun.
See if you can find an adult musician willing to work you through a rehearsal. I'll bet if you ask around, someone will be curious enough about the "CrAzY ApEs" to come help you out for an hour or two. Ask your teachers and parents if they know anyone they could recommend. Let your adult guide show each of you what to play. Make sure that you honor their time with a serious rehearsal. Do what they ask you to, and keep the goofing around to a minimum. If you are able to make progress, your guide will probably be willing to help you out again.
It takes a lot of hard work to make music in a band. It's also a lot of fun when it comes together and starts sounding good! Keep practicing!