E02 - Basic Arrangement

For the second video we looked at the basic arrangement in a song, assuming that the song and chord structure were settled on. What we’re looking to do here is add small things that may help hype the song up, and make it a touch more interesting.


Overriding Concept - Energy Management 

The first concept we discuss is that of energy inside of a song. If you wanted, you could almost graph out the level of energy or excitement through a song. Managing this flow of energy isn’t too tricky to accomplish but it can make a big difference to the impact of the various sections. If everything is turned up to 11 the whole way through the song, then you will end up with a fairly stale sounding result. Allowing the song to build and drop in energy multiple times gets the listener interested and excited. This is mostly accomplished by periodically giving the listener new things to draw their ear, and gradually lifting the fullness of the arrangement culminating in the final chorus that ends the song on a high. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but the concept of consciously managing the energy in a song is one that should be explored each time you start a track. 

Tip 1 - Drum Fills

In our session for Graffiti the first point of managing excitement is the use of drum fills. These are great for notifying the listener that a change is coming. The more complicated rhythms also associated with drum fills are also quite ear-grabbing, and can spice things up. Try adding fills to transitions that follow melodic elements, and try to not repeat the same fills too many times in the song as this can become predictable and stale. 

Tip 2 - Bass Riffs

The second point was enhancing baselines. Bass-lines when written by guitarists tend to follow the chord structure of a song with very little deviation the root notes. By adding riffs and runs at chord or section changes, you give the low end something fun to do. Again, this is a small addition/change, although it keeps the listener engaged. Essentially all you’re looking to do is play around inside of the scale in the bar/half note leading up to your chord/section change with something that is rhythmically similar to what came before it, but melodically different.


Tip 3 - Secondary Rhythm Guitar Parts

Moving from the bass we looked at fleshing out the guitars by adding secondary guitar parts playing inversions/open chords. Power chords make up the bulk of pop punk/rock arrangements and although powerful they lack melodic content. Power chords consist of root notes and fifths, some people also include an octave of the root, and an octave of the 5th. This leaves you with a chord that is only made up of two notes. By adding chords that include inversions or open chords you add more strings, and more notes, greatly improving the harmonic content of the arrangement. This also informs the listener of the tonality of the chord, be it major or minor, and can build up that “wall of guitars” effect.


Tip 4 - Sparse Guitar Backing Elements

Another way to manage the energy inside of a song is to use sparse chord arrangements to prevent the energy from dropping too much. Long sustained chords can act as buffer to stop drastic drops in energy whilst creating space for other elements to shine. For us that was inside of Verse 1 where the bass by itself felt like a little too much of a drop for this song. The chords help keep the excitement slightly higher, but don’t overwhelm the listener creating an almost pad like wash in the background.


Tip 5 - High Register, Clean Parts

In a similar way, the harmonic spectrum can be filled out with high register clean parts. For Graffiti this was the use of chord inversions following the descending chord progression inside of the pre choruses, played on the top three strings. By using higher register parts, the energy around the core guitar parts is not disrupted, but bolstered by the high frequency energy. Again, this is something new to the listener both in tonality, and in frequency that keeps their interest, gradually building the energy before the chorus. 


Tip 6 - Counter Melodies 

An addition that can be made inside of the guitars, or any instrument really is counter melodies/rhythms. Try writing parts that exist in a different octave to spread the harmonic content to a part of the arrangement that is less dense. These additional parts don’t need to be too complicated, but by providing a new, complimentary melody with a rhythm that is outside of the existing structure, the excitement is increased. For Graffiti this was accomplished with a simple clean part played on the top two strings. I went with a clean part as the arrangement was already densely packed with distorted parts, and the difference in tonality helped it to cut through a touch more. Something to keep in mind is that a great part doesn’t have to be complex, it just has to serve the song and be interesting. 


Tip 7 - Lead Lines, Drawing from Song Themes

Moving into lead guitars, something that listeners tend to enjoy is repeating themes. For us this was used by writing a part in the chorus, that was based on the intro riff, to play in the choruses. Again this existed in an octave that wasn’t in use in the rhythm guitars so it was able to cut through clearly and add something new yet familiar for the listener to gravitate towards. Something to try with this type of part is to follow the chord structure, but employing harmony and contrary motion. This makes the parts a bit more complex and interesting musically which can be quite powerful.


Tips 8 & 9 - Gradually Adding Parts, Removing Parts Where Necessary

The last two parts discussed in the video are progressively adding parts through a song to allow the energy to peak in the last chorus, and removing parts to create space where necessary. For Graffiti that meant changing the verses slightly. By removing the driving rhythm guitars from verse one, it let the energy fall slightly in the first verse, and comparatively have more going on in the second verse. In terms of adding content we went from two rhythm guitars  and two leads in chorus one, two rhythms and three leads in chorus two, and three rhythms and three leads in chorus three. This gradual addition lets the song build and build without it ever feeling over populated in the latter stages, or empty in the early stages. Managing this balance can be tricky, but so long as nothing too drastic changes in the arrangement then it is fairly straightforward.