Enjoying A Challenge - Arranging

Arranging is a skill every composer should have some confidence with. I, however, struggled with it in the past, which led to naïvely trying to develop my compositional skills without it. There is no avoiding it though and, thankfully, I have now found a way to ease into it and have fun doing it; something I've never been able to do before.


I've mentioned previously how I began writing music during my teens. I was already starting to arrange music at the age of 16, having fun with midi files and changing the style of a song. I'm a fan of Walter Murphy and love his disco versions of classical and film score songs; the Jaws theme, with a funky disco beat and a raspy saxophone solo, is one of my favourites. Despite this, I always favoured composing new music instead of altering pre-made songs to be played on different instruments to the original since it required more concentration and time.

During my time at university, there were modules I had chosen on the Music course that occasionally went into brief detail about arranging but I hadn't been able to fit in the arranging module itself when performing and composing, what I wanted to focus on, were such big chunks of the course.

It wasn't until my master's course in 2015, which specialised in composing for film and television, that I was able to take a module that specifically looked at arranging and orchestration. The problem was, it was assumed you had taken the undergraduate module as well and I felt like I wasn't able to truly grasp the depth of what they were asking us to do; never before had I had to take a piano or quartet piece and score it for a full orchestra.

Upon finishing the module, the result I received wasn't bad but the feedback stated that there was a basic and 'safe' understanding of how arranging for orchestra worked. With a little practice and 'risk' it could have been an interesting arrangement that better utilised some instruments.

I couldn't help feeling deflated by this feedback and it meant that since then, due to a lack of confidence, I've not often ventured into arranging, despite exploring the use of bigger ensembles in my original music. That is, until now.


The goal is to get to a point where I am tackling bigger songs and making unique and interesting arrangements of familiar works but I decided that, to begin with, I would start small, working with simple and fun songs and an instrument I'm very familiar with: the saxophone.

You may have noticed that I've recently started making covers of classic video game songs that feature the saxophone, whether that is simply for the melody or as a complete ensemble, recreating the harmonies with the instrument family. While this is incredibly fun (and increases the YouTube subscribers), it helps towards building my confidence and improving my arranging skills, step by step.

In time, I will move away from video game tracks and onto film and television scores. Then, I'll begin to flip it the other way and try again, as I attempted in the master's orchestration module, to expand a smaller ensemble piece into an orchestral score and, do you know, I'm quite looking forward to it.

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