1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  
    TalkBass.com has been uniting the low end since 1998.  Join us! :)

theory discussion on Arrangement concerns - melody instruments..

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by john turner, Aug 27, 2000.

  1. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    many great song arrangers have been bassists. from pop music to heavy metal and rock to jazz, there are myriad examples of bass player/arrangers/producers. seems like the bass position in a band has a unique insight into the functions of all the other instruments in a song, and many capable bassists have capitilzed upon this insight to put together classic "standards" in every genre.

    what i would like to discuss is the considerations and concerns involved in arranging a song, taken from the bassist's point of view.

    one of the things that i have noticed is that one can't just "arrange for staff" meaning bass instruments do this, treble clef instruments do that. guitars are going to have different musical strengths and weaknesses than saxophones are going to have. this goes down to the nature of the way the instruments produce their music - the nature of the notes produced. another concern/effect on this is the general structure of a section within an ensemble and how this affects the arrangements - a 4 note guitar chord is going to sound differently and have a different impact then 4 saxes playing the same chord. or 2 saxes and 2 bones.

    any thoughts?

  2. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...how 'bout ONE sax playing a chord?
    Not sure exactly what you're after here...I know on the stuff I've written, I am pretty particular about HOW the chord is going to be voiced. I let the keyboardist know ahead of time to leave his LEFT hand at home. ;)
    I play enough guitar to know what I want there, too; Steve Khan's chord Khancepts is "OK" by me. Basically, I prefer the chord to played only on the guitar's D-G-B-E strings. This allows ME(the bassist)to determine the root(sometimes).
    I used to constantly bang heads with a certain guitarist who liked playing FULL chords; I tried explaining to him that "we're gonna clash if you keep doin' that"...oh, well, whaddaya gonna do?!
    Rhythm-wise...I suggest a feel to the fellow bandmates(my S*** is usually some in some kinda R&B/Funk/Latin/Swing stew). One time, as an exercise, I wrote a linear tune for the bass & guitar...the bass played around ONLY on Beats 1 & 3; the guitar played around ONLY on Beats 2 & 4. That is, neither played while the other was playing...wish I had stuck around in that band to actually hear it come to life! :D

    About horns-
    I have always liked the sound of a sax & a guitar(like Robben Ford/Tom Scott)and a sax & a bass(Bob Mintzer/Jimmy Haslip)playing a line together in unison.

    "If ya can't stand the smell, don't S*** in the campfire".
  3. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    about chord voicing, what about arranging instrument's parts outside their usual range, like having the guitar carry the bass (we do this sometimes, have thick, wes montgomerry style stacked octaves) and let the bass do an ostinato, rhythmic type figure, but in the usual "melody" range, a coupla octaves above where the bass part would normally be. i've found that when the instruments finally return to their "traditional" roles, the impact is very strong - when the bass returns to the "bass" range, you can really feel it.

  4. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    Yeah, I suppose that would be cool; do your guitarists play 7-string guitars(w/ the low "B"?).
    Are you ever gonna release this stuff so I can finally hear it? :D

    An example of what I was talking about-
    Rather than playing a FULL, say, G13(on a guitar, 3rd fret or so...G-x-F-B-E-A), I'd "prefer" the guitarist to omit the bottom "G". Another fairly ambiguous chord is a mere barre across, say, the 5th fret(x-x-G-C-E-A). Looks like an Am7, right(A-C-E-G)? Playing different bass notes against that chord(like an "F")will give you something else.
  5. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    yeah, that's really cool. there are situations in our music where we do that kind of thing - with 2 guitarists, and a somewhat busy bassist :D they often have to find ways of fitting what they wish to express into the mix without being overpowering or overly constrictive.
  6. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    We have a lot of discussion about this sort of thing in the large Latin band I'm in - 2 saxes, 2 trumpets, trombone and flute as well as the rhythm section. We started off getting some pro arrangers and asking them about things. One guy said that he liked the sound of trombone and flute in unison, but the players found that it was impossible to do , because of the very different attacks of the instruments. We ended up with the same parts for this particular song played on alto sax and flute, which are able to sound "together". Now we tend to do arrangements by trial and error in the band, several people have got arranging software and bring parts which are discussed and although this is time-consuming, seesm to work better in the end.

    As the bass player, I am mostly allowed to sort it out for myself, but I love the ability to change from a rhythmic line across the horns to playing in unison with such a large group.This is one of the good things about playing bass - being the bottom of a large chord. If you get it wrong, it does make your mistakes more noticable though!

    I think "orchestration" is one of the most difficult thing sto get right though and that some trial and error is inevitable for most people. At the Jazz SummerSchool I atteneded in July I was privileged to be all week with John Paricelli who is a great guitarist and soundtrack composer. (His latest film is "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" - to be released in December, starring Nicholas Cage. John also plays regularly with Kenny Wheeler).

    The small band we had, included two saxes, flute, 2 Guitarists and rhythm section. So John would work out little arrangements for the band throughout the week on the fly - he played all the parts on his guitar first and then shouted out the parts to each instrument - but often he would have to change it as what sounded great in theory and on his guitar, sounded very strange for the combination of instruments.

  7. Player


    Dec 27, 1999
    USA Cincinnati, OH
    These days our arrangements are mostly hit-n-miss. We'll lay down a rough idea and then everybody will come up with ideas for arrangement and we try em. Keep what sounds good and throw out what doesn't. About 10 years ago I did a medoly of Christmas tunes and learned that arrangements are dynamic. There are really no rules of thumb per say. Each song (or part of the medoly) required a different approach. Where sax below brass topped by flutes would sound great on one tune it would be cluttered and "mushy" on another. The flow from one tune to another presented the challenge of flowing from one voicing to another. I used a lot of countermelodies and ascending/descending melodies to transition between voicings.
    I find that 4 or 5 note piano chords are much friendlier to arrangements than 4 or 5 note electric guitar chords. Even clean, full electric guitar chords seem to "step on the toes" of other parts of the arrangements. (and for some reason guitar players always want to play full chords) I usually write on keyboard (except the bass line ;) ) and find that when we move to the 2 guitar & rhythm section arrangement the full piano chords are either scrapped or moved to acoustic guitar.
    BTW. JimK, I played with a guy in a country gig years back that you would have loved. He would rarely play the E & A string. He was great at moving around the arrangement and never stepping on the piano or acoustic guitar. He also played banjo and violin (or fiddle in country talk ;) ) and I think that made him a much more open minded (and tasteful) guitar player. I saw him playing with Butch Baker on CMTV a couple of years ago.
  8. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    yes, bruce, you've hit on a point that is what i'm trying to get at - the peculiarities of arranging. a lot of people think that once they've come up with a decent song, the work is over, but unfortunately songs can be made or broken by how plays a specific part.

    or in the case of guitar/bass/drums type band, what kind of sounds the guitars or bass use (like distortion or effects or synth doubling).

    imagine "one of these days" without the bass delay, for example.

    even though this last part doesn't fall under the specific auspices of traditional arrangements, it is still something that needs to be considered when arrangements are determined.

    [Edited by john turner on 08-29-2000 at 02:42 PM]
  9. eli

    eli Mad showoff 7-stringer and Wish lover Supporting Member

    Dec 12, 1999
    NW suburban Chicago
    In the situations where I've had the pleasure and opportunity to arrange, I have always arranged FOR THE PLAYERS IN THE GROUP. Knowing who is gonna play what, or more importantly who is gonna SING what, really affects what I will ask each musician to do.

    I'm in a vocal a capella quartet who only gets together to do christmas carols once or twice a year. Two of us were in high school choir and one was in orchestra, but our melody guy just knows how to sing. So I will never ask the melody guy to do anything fancy. Our bass is the former orchesta player but he played viola, and bass cleff isn't his stroing suit. So basically we have to stay real traditional, which works OK for us anyway. If I wanted to arrange jazz tonalities, I simply know I'd have to find a different group.

    In the soft jazz instrumental group I play in, it's two guitars, drums, and me. We work out arrangements all together, really just striving for the groove. We don't try to "write" arrangements, we just say things like, "that's a little busy" (guess who we say THAT to most often :p) or, "maybe a brighter tone there," "this oughta be faster," "how 'bout THIS feel", and things like that.


Share This Page