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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The 5 Elements Of A Great Arrangement

Many of you who clicked on the videos on my recent posts containing the isolated tracks of Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", or the isolated vocal tracks of In My Life noticed that the videos were no longer there, thanks to a take-down order from EMI. Many other tracks on other posts by The Beatles, Stones and others have also been restricted.

I love these isolated tracks and I know that you do too, but understand that the record label owns the copyright to the recordings, and any posting without their permission violates that copyright.

Also understand that I don't actually post any of these tracks. I don't personally have them in my possession, for those of you who've asked me to email them to you. All of the isolated track videos can be found on YouTube, but more and more the labels are forcing the poster to take them down right away, even though you can make a case that there's a fair use issue since they're intended for educational purposes.

Since the analysis of these tracks seem to be very popular with my readers, I'm going to try something new - every week I'll analyze a song or two that's either in the current top 10, or something that I get a request for.

Before we look at the first song, I thought it best to give a bit of an overview of the 5 elements of a great arrangement. The following explanation is an excerpt from my book How To Make Your Band Sound Great, but there's also something similar pertaining more to mixing in The Mixing Engineer's Handbook too.
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Most well conceived arrangements are limited in the number of elements that occur at the same time. An element can be a single instrument like a lead guitar or a vocal, or it can be a group of instruments like the bass and drums, a doubled guitar line, a group of backing vocals, etc. Generally, a group of instruments playing exactly the same rhythm is considered an element. Examples: a doubled lead guitar or doubled vocal is a single element, as is a lead vocal with two additional harmonies. Two lead guitars playing different parts are two elements, however. A lead and a rhythm guitar are two separate elements as well.

Foundation - The Rhythm Section. The foundation is usually the bass and drums, but can also include a rhythm guitar and/or keys if they’re playing the same rhythmic figure as the rhythm section. Occasionally, as in the case of power trios , the Foundation element will only consist of drums since the bass will usually have to play a different rhythm figure to fill out the sound, so it becomes it’s own element.

Pad - A Pad is a long sustaining note or chord. In the days before synthesizers, a Hammond Organ provided the best pad and was joined later by the Fender Rhodes. Synthesizers now provide the majority of pads but real strings or a guitar power chord can also suffice.

Rhythm - Rhythm is any instrument that plays counter to the Foundation element. This can be a double time shaker or tambourine, a rhythm guitar strumming on the backbeat, or congas playing a Latin feel. The Rhythm element is used to add motion and excitement to the track.

Lead - A lead vocal, lead instrument or solo.

Fills - Fills generally occur in the spaces between Lead lines, or can be a signature line. You can think of a Fill element as an answer to the Lead.


Most arrangements have these 5 elements, but very rarely are they all present at the same time. Any more than 5 elements at the same time is confusing to the listener.

So keep the above in mind as we start our analysis in the next post, and send me the songs you'd like me to analyze.

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4 comments:

mgjr73 said...

Love these tips! Simple but powerful. I'll post this at my desk as my songwriting guide. THANKS!!!

Alex Zuzin said...

In case I read you right and you are actually accepting requests, may I kindly ask for you take on Roxette's new single (a hi-def video here: http://bcove.me/s8zormvd)? Thank you in advance!

Jason said...

Hi Bobby wow I am a massive fan since reading your mixing book 5-10 years ago. Im glad to see that you are still so active in the music community!

I thought you might like to see what one of your students (loosely speaking) has done with the knowledge that you shared.

I dissected Bruno Mars Grenade into its component parts.. I owe a lot to your book and to what you taught in it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hukiL4qnNmU

regards
JL from December Switch Australia

Bobby Owsinski said...

Very cool, Jason. Great job!

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