The Vocal is King (just don't tell your singer)

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this article is part of a series on writing horn charts

The Vocal is the Focal (-point)

When you are arranging a chart that has a vocal lead, everything you write must serve the vocal.  Despite trends of the past 20 years in popularmusic, it's nice when lyrics are heard and are comprehensible. 

Take a look at the score & mp3 below.  This is a nice, warm swinging ballad called Summer in the Wintertime by Pennsylvania bluesman John JT Thompson.  It's JT's tune - I wrote the horn arrangement.


As you're listening and reading, notice:

. m.8 figures align with Rhodes keyboard.  The tbn pitches are same as vox.

. m.9-10 horn figure answers m.8 vocal.

. 1st ending is recycled from Intro.

. 2nd ending horn lines give forward, rising motion into the bridge, providing good support for vocalist in his upper range.

. Horn figures in m.16 + 20 align with the vocal melody.

. Instrumental chorus (beginning m.31) and subsequent tenor solo both paraphrase the melody.  Coincidence?

. Mid-register Flugelhorn as lead voice gives warmth to sound of horn section

. Close-position voicings have nice density and ring to them. Having the saxes in their juicy mid-ranges helps with this sound.

Remember this stuff when you're arranging:

. Know the pitches of the vocal melodyand avoid writing horn parts that clash with it.

. Know the movement and phrasing of the vocals.

. Know the lyrics — maybe they'll suggest a texture or a melody.

. Write horn parts that support—not distract from—the vocals.

. Do not write lines that will make the vocalist's lines awkward to execute in tandem.

. During longer vocal rests, use your figures to move to the next vocal phrase.

. It isn't necessary to provide motion during every vocal rest, but it's often a good place to do so.

Simple Tips of the Trade:

. Always have the vocal melody written out on your working score/sketch (see mine above).

. Be prepared to revise your horn parts if they don't work quite right in a real life rehearsal/performance.

. Check out Nelson Riddle (Sinatra, Ella, etc.), Jerry Hey (Michael Jackson, Toto), and/or Marty Paich (Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee).

Posted on September 18, 2012 and filed under Arranging & Composing.