HomeAsk Deke: What can make a good arrangement an outstanding arrangement?

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Q: What can make a good arrangement an outstanding arrangement?

A: Too often arrangers think of arrangements in terms of their involvement in it: how can I make the chords more interesting? How can I find a new style, a new voice, a new direction? These are all valid questions, but beside the point. An arrangement has a single fundamental task: to connect performers with their audience. As such, it is a road map, and just as every road map differs based on time of day, weather, road conditions, every arrangement should first and foremost be focused on the singers and audience, not music theory.

You should be asking broad questions, like "What does the group do well, and not so well?” and "What can this group bring to this song that makes is special/different/unique/meaningful?” These might not be about music theory or even arranging as you currently think of it. Where the song will be sung, what the group will be wearing, if they will be amplified, what songs the group has sung in the past or if there’s other context (is it a song about the South being sung at a Southern college?) can all have a bigger impact than chord inversions and syllables.

 Imagine yourself sitting in the audience: Who will be there? What will they want to hear? Why did they come hear this group? Make them say “WOW!” as opposed to “That was nice.” And remember that most people aren’t wowed by complex color notes and reintroduced leit motifs. Frankly they don’t even notice them. What do they notice, and what will move them? Find that, and you’ve found your outstanding arrangement.