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Any Tips for Arranging a Piano Piece for Saxophone Quartet ?

rhysonsax

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The saxophone quartet I play in has several arrangements that are adaptations of piano pieces. For example Erik Satie's Gymnopedie #1 and a couple of Rags by Scott Joplin.

I have several jazz piano pieces that i think could be adapted to work as saxophone quartet arrangements, but I don't have much knowledge of music theory or experience of arrangement or composition. I have however done quite a bit of music notating with Sibelius - copying, transcribing, transposing mainly.

Some of the quartet charts we have just shove the melody line on soprano, the bass line on baritone and usually something boring on alto and tenor.

I'm looking for guidance on what works well and what to avoid.when adapting piano music for sax quartet.

Thanks in advance

Rhys
 

jbtsax

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Without seeing the piano piece to be adapted it is difficult to know where to begin. Identifying the melody and the bass line is a good start. A composition can have both those elements and in addition include harmony and a counter melody. The arrangement does not have to contain four part writing throughout. Unison passages can provide interest and contrast as can moving the melody around to other voices. Perhaps my best suggestion would be to analyse the scores of one or two quartets that you like and make notes on what compositional techniques and devices are used in those arrangements.

There is a lot involved in writing and arranging music including understanding harmony, chord spelling, voice leading, etc. in addition to the creative aspect. @Pete Thomas would be an excellent resource to recommend entry level books on music theory and composition.
 

Pete Thomas

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Oops. :blush: I suppose I need to remember the saying about what happens when one assumes things. I just figured you had to learn the skills you have from somewhere. This is what I found after a quick search: Arranging and Composing
Yes there are books on both arranging and composing, but I never learned much from either. Composiung I learned from trial and error I suppose, arranging I learned mostly when I was at college. I did a bit of teaching but mostly used my own materials (which are now part of TTS). It's still very much trial and error though when I do composing work, and is (more often than not) mostly non-mainstream so doesn't follow many of the "rules."

Probably the most useful page of mine would be the one on block voicing, but that is more useful for Big band than for saxophone quartet that probably has more counterpoint involved in many cases.
 

Veggie Dave

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I'm looking for guidance on what works well and what to avoid.when adapting piano music for sax quartet.
I've been doing a simpler version of this recently (mostly two parts, rather than four), taking string and piano/keyboard parts and arranging them for sax and trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone.

The things I realised were:
Sometimes you have to give another instrument that nice section, not because it's in the right pitch but because they've been playing something painfully boring for the last 24 bars. As unintuitive as this may be, it instantly opens up the arrangement because you have to start thinking about how that change affects the other parts, which can lead to a whole new realm of ideas.

If you're writing for specific people then make sure you know where they're comfortable playing. How high and low they can play and how high/low they like to spend most of their playing time. Just because a trumpet player can hit high C, for example, doesn't mean they want or like to play that high.

Play all the parts back, preferably to a recording of the song if possible, to make sure you're happy with how it sounds melodically, how it sits in the music as a whole and that you haven't written something too complicated to be played with consistency. There's no point having a cool section if the player(s) can only nail it every other performance.

You will make changes to your score at rehearsal.


As with so much of my personal learning experience, I think if you don't know the rules then you don't get stuck in their ruts or bogged down or scared by something being 'really hard' because without someone telling you it's hard you don't know it's hard so you just get on with it. Although I've found writing arrangements to be far more time consuming than I had ever thought possible, I've absolutely loved it.

And I'm looking forward to the next show where I can do it again. :D

I've no idea if my ramblings are of any help at all. They're not exactly coming from an expert. ;)

Have fun and good luck,. :D
 

Colin the Bear

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If melody is on sop and the bass line is on Bari, the alto and tenor are on harmony and rhythm.

You need to think syncopation depending on the piece. Remember the back beat. Think guitar for alto tenor and sop. Follow the chords/arrangement. Keep it simple but interesting.

Switching lead melody from sop to alto to tenor sounds nice while the other two counterpoint and harmonise.

Dynamics are important to add light and shade. A few solo phrases from each horn will add interest.

Don't forget they need to breathe. ;)
 

jbtsax

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Transforming a piano piece to a four part arrangement may require "condensing" the score keeping the essential parts needed to retain the harmony and rhythmic interest of the piece. A rudimentary knowledge of theory pertaining to how chords are spelled will probably be helpful. Without the piano part in front of me it is hard to tell, but I imagine much of the process will be deciding what to leave out.

In reference to the old joke about how a sculptor creates a sculpture of an elephant, in essence you will "chip away" everything that doesn't resemble a saxophone quartet. :)
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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Thanks everyone for your contributions so far.

I have just remembered an article I saw in the Winter 2000 issue of the UK Clarinet and Saxophone Society Journal. It is a five page article called "Arranging for Clarinet and Saxophone Quartet" written by Art Marshall, who has arranged several pieces that our quartet already plays.

It has examples from several of Art's arrangements, including Petite Fleur, Oh Lady Be Good, Liza and St Louis Blues. There seem to be lots of useful suggestions and guidelines and includes the following thought:
Let's assume that anyone interested in arranging will possess a working knowledge of four-part voicing, harmony and music notation. To transpose and distribute a piano part to a quartet is not what the art of arranging entails; it might form a beginning !

I'm currently entering the piano part into Sibelius and will then plan out the structure of the arrangement, possibly starting simple with a single melody line before the three other voices join later. I've also got to decide whether to have an improvisation section in the middle, but that could always be added later once the basic arrangement is done and I see how it works.

Rhys
 

jbtsax

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Thanks everyone for your contributions so far.

I have just remembered an article I saw in the Winter 2000 issue of the UK Clarinet and Saxophone Society Journal. It is a five page article called "Arranging for Clarinet and Saxophone Quartet" written by Art Marshall, who has arranged several pieces that our quartet already plays.

It has examples from several of Art's arrangements, including Petite Fleur, Oh Lady Be Good, Liza and St Louis Blues. There seem to be lots of useful suggestions and guidelines and includes the following thought:
Let's assume that anyone interested in arranging will possess a working knowledge of four-part voicing, harmony and music notation. To transpose and distribute a piano part to a quartet is not what the art of arranging entails; it might form a beginning !

I'm currently entering the piano part into Sibelius and will then plan out the structure of the arrangement, possibly starting simple with a single melody line before the three other voices join later. I've also got to decide whether to have an improvisation section in the middle, but that could always be added later once the basic arrangement is done and I see how it works.

Rhys
Please keep us informed of your progress and let us see your score when it is finished. :)
 

Pete Thomas

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For me the problem is that you need a bass. And that just leaves three instruments for melody/harmony. And that is a pain, because 3 part harmony is a lot harder to write than 4 part.
 

tenorviol

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One if the challenges as anyone who has attempted even basic SATB harmony writing is how to make inner parts interesting... as a starting point, I’d be thinking about what the bass needs to do and where the melody lies. Map those out and then work on what to do about other parts.
 

fibracell

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I would suggest going to the library (or maybe the internet) and study the scores. You will learn much more about it what folks do.
 

Pete Thomas

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One if the challenges as anyone who has attempted even basic SATB harmony writing is how to make inner parts interesting... as a starting point, I’d be thinking about what the bass needs to do and where the melody lies. Map those out and then work on what to do about other parts.
This is exactly what I would do, but as I mentioned is not as easy as straightforward section block harmony.

Once you have the melody and bass with SATB you've only got two parts left. Some (3 part) block harmony with the melody will work but can get boring quickly (especially given the restriction of the just the one saxophone timbre), so counterpoint and vamping/riffs will work.
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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I have a big collection of sax quartet arrangements that I bought almost 20 years ago and have added to since. My current quartet has been playing our way through them over the last couple of years and we almost always agree about what we think of them. Some are too difficult for us, but of the playable ones, some of the arrangements are "competent but a bit boring".

The best arrangers make the piece interesting for all four parts and bring some variation and even humour to the chart. I will have a look at the techniques used by people such as Bill Holcombe, Lennie Niehaus and Art Marshall.

Here's an example of a piano piece that we play in adapted form. I think the original by Scott Joplin is so strong in terms of rhythmic variation and interesting inner lines that even a straightforward adaptation gives a great chart:


By contrast, the sax quartet version we play of Erik Satie's Gymnopeide No. 1 is a bit uninteresting with the melody all on soprano and the other three parts all chugging away like the pianist's left hand.


Rhys
 

nigeld

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Barber shop may have some ideas for you.
In barbershop, the melody is just about always in the second line rather than the top line, and the emphasis is on harmony rather than counterpoint. But it's 4-part style which has to keep an interest for all the parts so it undoubtably has something to teach.
 
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rhysonsax

rhysonsax

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In the months since I started this thread I have been doing various different things to write out music for saxophone quartet and recently sax quintet too. This has included adapting written out piano music for sax quartet, adapting some big band arrangements for quartet or quintet, adapting some brass quintets for sax quartet / quintet and recently transcribing a recorded sax quartet.

I have found it quite challenging and also eye-opening.

Probably the easiest one I did was to adapt an arrangement of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" done for/by the Canadian Brass ensemble. In terms of style and instrument range that all seemed to fall in place and work OK. It helps that the original is such a good arrangement.

Adapting some big band scores was more of a challenge, as there are lots of decisions to be made about what to leave out and also how to deal with the lack of a rhythm section. One piece I did sort of worked and I have plans for another - Ted Heath's arrangement of the "Swingin' Shepherd Blues"

Adapting some piano pieces was again interesting. I did a Monk piece called Crepuscule with Nellie and exported an audio file of it from Sibelius. Crepuscule with Nellie - Sax Quartet V3a.mp3 - Box

Then I adapted six short pieces that I had got in a piano book by Stan Tracey, from his Under Milk Wood Suite. It was quite hard to make all of the sax parts interesting, but I think that it sort of works. I've yet to play it with my sax quartet, but again Sibelius has shown me roughly what it will sound like: Under Milk Wood Suite Piano and Sax Quartet V8.mp3 - Box


I also tried to create my own arrangement of one of the other pieces in the Under Milk Wood Suite, but after spending ages on that I abandoned it because I couldn't make it convincingly like the original or the sort of thing people would want to listen to. That seems like a shame because I had transcribed Bobby Wellins' solo and some other lines from this great recording.


And for the last couple of weeks I have been transcribing all four sax parts from a recording of Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are". It was a real struggle to disentangle what each of the instruments were playing, but using Transcribe ! software I think I got quite close. Again, I am hoping to play this with my sax quartet, but in the mean time I recorded all four sax parts at home and mixed this rough result. Just The Way You Are - Sax Quartet in Concert Bb V2a.mp3 - Box

Rhys
 

Pete Effamy

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In the months since I started this thread I have been doing various different things to write out music for saxophone quartet and recently sax quintet too. This has included adapting written out piano music for sax quartet, adapting some big band arrangements for quartet or quintet, adapting some brass quintets for sax quartet / quintet and recently transcribing a recorded sax quartet.

I have found it quite challenging and also eye-opening.

Probably the easiest one I did was to adapt an arrangement of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" done for/by the Canadian Brass ensemble. In terms of style and instrument range that all seemed to fall in place and work OK. It helps that the original is such a good arrangement.

Adapting some big band scores was more of a challenge, as there are lots of decisions to be made about what to leave out and also how to deal with the lack of a rhythm section. One piece I did sort of worked and I have plans for another - Ted Heath's arrangement of the "Swingin' Shepherd Blues"

Adapting some piano pieces was again interesting. I did a Monk piece called Crepuscule with Nellie and exported an audio file of it from Sibelius. Crepuscule with Nellie - Sax Quartet V3a.mp3 - Box

Then I adapted six short pieces that I had got in a piano book by Stan Tracey, from his Under Milk Wood Suite. It was quite hard to make all of the sax parts interesting, but I think that it sort of works. I've yet to play it with my sax quartet, but again Sibelius has shown me roughly what it will sound like: Under Milk Wood Suite Piano and Sax Quartet V8.mp3 - Box


I also tried to create my own arrangement of one of the other pieces in the Under Milk Wood Suite, but after spending ages on that I abandoned it because I couldn't make it convincingly like the original or the sort of thing people would want to listen to. That seems like a shame because I had transcribed Bobby Wellins' solo and some other lines from this great recording.


And for the last couple of weeks I have been transcribing all four sax parts from a recording of Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are". It was a real struggle to disentangle what each of the instruments were playing, but using Transcribe ! software I think I got quite close. Again, I am hoping to play this with my sax quartet, but in the mean time I recorded all four sax parts at home and mixed this rough result. Just The Way You Are - Sax Quartet in Concert Bb V2a.mp3 - Box

Rhys
There was a good arrangement of this done by Nigel Wood for Saxtet in the early ‘90’s. actually it’s from a George Shearing piano book and is a virtual transcription. It works well because the ‘jazz’ has already been done by Shearing and also his version has nice inner movement, and a great bass line so everyone is happy. I did a version myself as I used the book for 2nd study at college.
Some things just fall into place from good piano arrangements - only problems are when you get 5 note chords. Doubled notes, straight octaves and fifths are easily left but Shearing wouldn’t do that so choices need to be made about the colour or density or crunchiness of a chord.
Sometimes the voice leading informs.
There was another tune in that book that works well too - The Gentle Rain - can’t remember the Portuguese name atm.
 
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