Copyin' those Rhythm Section Riffs


snazzy graphic above by

* This post is part of a series on writing great horn charts.

When you've got to arrange horn charts to an existing (blues, rock, funk, or pop) song, there's often little call for super-hip, super-creative lines.  In fact, if the tune is any good, there should already be good material to draw upon in what the rhythm section plays.

EXAMPLE 1:  Borrow from the Pianist

Here's the chorus (i.e. hook) to John JT Thompson's "Dance Little Sister Dance." Listen to the rough mix of the rhythm section before the horns were added.  Notice the piano fillsbetween the vocal phrases "Dance Little Sister Dance."

CHORUS: Before Horns  •  CHORUS: with Horns  •  VIEW SCORE

In the with-horns mix, notice that the horn parts are essentially an orchestration of what JT played on the piano.  He did not instruct me specifically to write these line.  But, since JT played these piano lines just about every time, I figured that they were important lines to him.  And, this way I know my horn parts will fit the arrangement like a glove

Keep it simple!


EXAMPLES 2 + 3:  More borrowing

Here the 'before' and 'after' mixes of the INTRO and the BRIDGE of this same tune.  Listen to the piano parts on the "before" trax, then check out the horn orchestration on the "afters."

INTRO: Before Horns  •  INTRO: With Horns  •  VIEW SCORE

BRIDGE: Before Horns  •  BRIDGE:  With Horns  •  VIEW SCORE

Rocket science? Nah.  

Earth-shatteringly brilliant horn parts?  Hardly. 

Good-sounding, idiomatic, playable horn charts that sound like they were part of this song from its inception?  Absolutely.


When you're writing horn parts for non-horn tunes, one effective strategy is to reinforce the lines that the rhythm section already plays.  The other guys/gals in the band love it when they hear the horn section playing their stuff.  And, it makes it so the rhythm players don't have to change what they play when the horn section shows up.

Everybody's happy, and you might just get another gig out of it!

Posted on October 10, 2012 and filed under Arranging & Composing.