7 tips for song arranging

A few things to have in mind:
1. A musical piece is a succession of sound events;
2. Each event should contribute to a general story, which we call "Form";
3. Three is the number: no musical events repeat more than once without change. So, the third time, change something.
4. Simplicity is the key for effective results.
5. There's content and there's format. Content is what you sing or play, while format is the way this happens. The same chord sequence (content) can be played in many different ways (format).

Arranging is basically setting the elements that characterise each event. Keep in mind that these "events" do not necessary imply different chords sequences, etc. They are just specific moments or sections of a song.

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A few basic steps to make your songs more interesting:

1. Make sure you know the melody and have the printed lyrics/chords of your song (song content).
2. Divide it in events using letters for the different sections: A's for the couplet or verses (A1, A2, etc), B for the chorus, C for the brigde, etc.
3. Make a timeline of the events, ordering them.
By now, you should have something like: A1 A2 B A3 C A4 B => verse, verse2, chorus, verse3, bridge/solo, verse4, chorus

4. Make a list of your (instrumental and vocal) possibilities:
- Instruments (including voices) available
- Playing techniques (finger-picking, strumming, rhythm guitar, solo, etc, effects, etc)
- Different grooves: from free (rubato) to rhythmically strict, etc.
> get creative! A guitar has 6 strings: include "bass note" or "highest 2 strings of each chord" in your selection

5. Choose a few to use in your song - no more than 3 or 4. 
6. Attribute specific instruments and playing techniques to specific events.
7. Order them having in mind that most songs alternate crescendo (growing sound) with diminuendo (thinning sound) sections.

General song form elements:
Intro: short, enough to set a mood, groove or atmosphere;
Chorus: more dynamic than the verse (not necessarily louder), just more intense.
Instrumental Solo: using verse, chorus or a different chord sections. No lyrics; background vocal possible.
Bridge / Additional sections: refreshing content, with different chords, melodies and even grooves.
Ending: close-up or fade-out, can be the same as intro.

Example of a timeline, displaying the Form of a song:

Intro _______ A1 __________ A2 ________ B1 _____________ Solo ______ Intro 2_____A3 ____________ B2 _______ B3 ______  End
Guitar1, 1 strum                                      Full strum                             1 strum                                Full strum                  1 strum
                   Vocal 1                                                        x                                   vocal1                 
                                        Guitar 2 fs       x                       solo            finger style    x                                       Solo          x
                                                            Vocal 2 w/ lyrics   x                                  (no lyrics)            Lyrics                        x
This reads as:
Intro: guitar 1 only. One strum per chord.
A1: main vocals comes in (guitar1 continues until further notice)
A2: guitar 2 (finger style) comes in
B1:  Guitar 1 plays full strum, guitar 2 stops, 2nd vocals comes in backing up the lyrics
Solo: vocals go out, guitar 2 plays melodic solo
Intro 2: guitar 1, guitar 2
A3: Guitar 1, vocals 1 come in, vocals 2 make melodies in the background wit no lyrics
B2: Guitar 1 full strum, vocals 2 with lyrics
B3: guitar 2 adds solo part (maybe B3 can repeat)
End: guitar 1 and vocals

Notice the crescendo from intro to Solo, the breathing in the intro2 and the crescendo from A3 to B3, concluding in the End section.

The better way to learn about arranging is studying songs using an analytical approach:

1. Choose a song recording and print the lyrics and chords for that version;
2. Listen carefully and identify the Events: verses, chorus, solo, etc. 
3. Make a checklist of instruments used, techniques, grooves;  
4. Listen to each instrument separately in the whole song;
5. List its usage in each event: what's new, what continues, what's used all the time or just once, etc.
6. Build the timeline of the song;
7. Repeat the whole process for a different version of the same song (live vs. studio or other artists).

- Do this for as many songs and groups as you can. Go from "simple" singer-songwriters to more complex productions. 
- build a general understanding of the songs and to increase your arranging vocabulary.
- Listen, listen, listen! Good music has always something to teach you!
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