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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

An Arrangement Lesson From Lynyrd Skynyrd

The key to keeping a song interesting is in the arrangement. A song that's well written, performed and recorded still might sound flat and unexciting if the arrangement is unimaginative. Even worse, if the song has the same changes that repeat over and over for 3 plus minutes, you better be thinking of how to change it up a little so you don't lose your listeners.

Reader Fred Decker recently sent an email asking to take a look at the arrangement of the solo section of Lynryd Skynyrd's classic "Free Bird," something that I've done in some of my books like How To Make Your Band Sound Great and The Music Producer's Handbook. Skynyrd's arrangement is superb in that it changes ever 16 bars (even though those 16 bars repeat over and over), elevating the song and pulling you in. Even 40 years later, it's energy is inescapable.

The section we're going to analyze begins about half-way through the 9 minute song when the solos begin at 4:56 and the song goes into double time.

To see how the arrangement develops, first understand that each section of the ending is composed of 16 bars that repeats the G - Bb - C pattern 4 times. The section repeats 9 times (10 if you include the fade), and this is what it looks like:
1: straight double time  
2: accents on beats 1 and 2 
3: straight double time with the accent changed to the "3 and" (anticipation of beat 4) on the 4rth bar of the 4rth repeat 
4: accent on the "3 and" of every 4rth bar 
5: accents on beats 1 and 2 with the band stopped for beats 3 and 4 
6: straight double time with 2 guitar solos 
7: snare double time. On the 4rth repeat of the chord pattern, beat 1 is accented with a crash cymbal. 
8: snare double time with each beat accented with a crash cymbal. The bass gradually climbs from the low to high register. On the 4rth repeat of the chord pattern, the crash cymbal changes to 8th notes. 
9: back to straight double time with a push accent on "3 and" on the 4rth bar of the 4rth repeat. On the last bar of the last repeat, each beat is accented against a chromatic descending line from C to G. 
10: fade against straight double time with accents on beats 1 and 2 and an accent on"3 and"  on the 4rth bar of the 4rth repeat
As you can see, the same G - Bb - C pattern repeats 40 times (10 full sections), but you never get tired of listening since there's always something different happening, either with the drums, bass, solo or the entire band accenting. And best of all, the entire solo section has a form where it gradually develops to a peak on the 9th section.

Love the song or hate it, there's no doubt that "Free Bird" is one of the best examples ever of great song arrangement and development.


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1 comment:

Fred Decker said...

Thanks for the song analysis Bobby! One idea jumps out at me: look how many of the changes in the development of the guitar solo are changes in the drum part. I've read somewhere that the drums are the heart of the arrangement and all the other parts sort of revolve around the drums (or something like that). This certainly seems like the case here!


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