E03 - Additional Arrangement


For the third video in the series, we focused on some additional arrangement options that although common in other genres, are slightly less prevalent in Pop-Punk/Rock. A lot of this additional content is felt as opposed to heard, things that when taken away you can tell something is missing. This comes down to a mixing decision in the end, but in this example these elements are used as sweeteners as opposed to main elements.


Tip 1 - Use Shakers to Reinforce Rhythm 

The fist piece of additional arrangement we looked at was the use of Shakers and Tambourines. Shakers are incredibly common in all forms of music, but often fly under the radar. However once you’ve heard them, you cannot unhear them! So apologies! Shakers and Tambourines exist of mostly very high frequency content, a part of the spectrum which is almost empty in most arrangements. This allows them to cut through clearly without being too loud, and to be capable of influencing, or revealing the rhythm of the song. This is especially powerful when transients in HF content are ill defined, like when a crash is being ridden on creating a wash of high frequencies. 


Tip 2 - Use Shakers to Balance Stereo Image

Shakers and tambourines can also be used to balance the stereo spectrum of HF content. Where a high hat is on the left channel mostly in a traditional arrangement, a shaker on the right can balance the stereo image helping to enhance the rhythm. So this could be something as simple as a high hat playing 8ths on the left, and a shaker playing 16ths on the right.


Tip 3 - Use Tamborine to add Sustain and Sparkle to Snare

A final use of percussion is to place single tamborine hits on snares inside of simple patterns. The sparkle of a tambourine exists in a different frequency to the snare wires, allowing them to add sparkle and shine creating the illusion that the snare is poking out and sustaining slightly longer. Simple, but effective!


Tip 4 & 5 - Reverse Drum Shells

The next rhythmic element you can add to enhance a song, is the use of reverse cymbal and drum swells. This creates a sudden rush of energy before the impacts, helping them to hit with more impact when used carefully. Its quite easy to overdo these sorts of swells, although they are great fun to use. The way to achieve this is simply to commit single hits of crashes, and of the drum shells you wish to use. Next up, reverse the audio files and slide so that the transients line up between the reverse and standard hits. Then mix in to taste. It is often worth experimenting with fades at the starts and ends of these as well to help control the energy.


Tip 6.1 - Follow Root Notes of Chord Progression with Piano

A creative way to enhance the low end of a mix is to add a piano playing the root notes of the song’s chord progression. This is common in Country, and heard in some Progressive Metal, however it is applicable in lots of situations. The piano as an instrument has a complex harmonic structure, and is able to fill in space between instruments through this additional content. The low notes sound more full and rich than a bass guitar, at least to me. In addition the timbre and attack is different. This helps the fundamental pitch to poke through. Inside of fast changing, complex chord patterns this is a technique that is hard to pull off, but give it a try and see if it works! 


Complex Chord Structures

A way to help fill the space between instruments further is to use more complex chord structures. As mentioned in the last episode power chords dominate Pop Punk, and the addition of Major or Minor 3rds can fill in this missing information. This can be applied to Organs, Strings and Choirs. 

Tip 6.2 - Organ Playing Multi-Octave Progression

An organ is an interesting instrument and dependant on the patch or instrument used, has a certain degree of modulation built in. This modulation tricks the ear into feeling some pitch variation and movement inside of the chord. This gradual pitch shift allows the part to subtly move between the existing content, and be heard without being too loud. Again another example of something that is most noticed, when it is gone. 


Tip 7 - Soft Attack String Progression

Strings, like piano have a different timbre to guitars, allowing them to fill arrangements out, adding density. Their lack of transients in our patch helps the chords move smoothly through the progression without drawing too much attention. The softer timbre also enables the notes to blend in more with the lead elements, again existing in a slightly different harmonic space.


Tip 8 - Mirror Lead Lines with Strings

Something we mentioned in the video, but did not demonstrate was using strings to play guitar lead lines. For all of the reasons mentioned above this is particularly powerful and demonstrated beautifully by Periphery in Marigold https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmtU2WJfPgU


Tip 9 - Choir Following Chord Progression

Similarly to the strings, a soft vocal pad can be used to fill in space. The vocal quality of the patch attracts the ear in a different frequency spectrum to the guitars, with a different tonality/timbre. This again allows the part to sit low in the mix, but add content that can create a fuller, more interesting arrangement.


Acoustic Instrument Programming Tips

A final part to consider in the use of parts derived from real instruments is that you will need to write with respect to the capabilities of the original instrument. Try and keep your parts inside of the octave ranges that the instrument was intended for.


Tip 10 - Bass Synth Mirroring Bass Part

The first use of synths we take a look at is the use of a synth bass following the bass lines. Synth basses can add both low and high frequency content. The high, almost distorted character of some synth basses draws the listeners ear by hinting at low frequency information, and the low frequencies themselves are bolstered by the larger than life low end that synths can provide.


Tip 11 - Synth Lead Mirroring Guitar Leads

Sythns can also be used to support and enhance guitar parts. Many synth parts are incredibly complex harmonically, and blend well with guitar parts. A good example of this is in the chorus of Graffiti, where the scale ascends on the guitar part. By adding a synth, you are able to help the guitar part stand out without you being completely aware that a synth is playing.


Tip 12 - Synth Pads Filling out Sparse Sections

The final use of synths discussed in this series is the use of pads to add low level consistent energy. This is similar to the use of clean guitar parts in the pre chorus, but lacking the transient of the guitar. This again creates a layer under the main parts to supplement the arrangement and stops the energy from falling too far.


Tip 13 - High Frequency Impact Info

The last piece of additional production discussed was the use of high and low frequency transient information at section changes. Starting with high frequency smashes and crashes, it is common to use extra crash cymbals at section changes, but smashing glass samples exist at an even higher frequency so will add additional information that the cymbal crashes may lack. This is powerful but can be overdone quite easily so in mixing it is worth paying special attention to not providing too much level to these effects.


Tip 14 - Low Frequency Impact Info

Sub drops are incredibly powerful, and can often distort the master bus in songs. When managed carefully this adds a huge swell of energy that can fool the listener into feeling that the new section is bigger than it really is. But beware that huge master buss pumping may not be to everyone’s taste!