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Horn Section Arrangement: How To?

Ivan

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Forgive the odd way the title words are 'arranged', fnarr fnarr, but if I wrote it in proper English there'd be people with my sense of humour making funny comments about saxophone placement like furniture in a room

So

Where do I go to learn some basic horn section arrangement principles? I've been creating some sheets for soul classics, partly by listening, partly by adapting ready made sheets. I try hard to hear where the horn section is playing enharmonic notes and when there is harmony, but it's a helluva struggle sometimes. I can't tell if the richness of sound is down to the various horn timbres melding together, or if it's a harmonic effect or both

I wonder whether learning some rules of thumb might aid my lugholes

Suggestions please
 

spike

Old Indian
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Years ago I got interested in this stuff and got a book from Hal Leonard called R&B Horn Section.
Nuff said, it helped me understand a little about how horn section harmony and arrangements worked.
You don't need to buy the book these days, just get hold of some charts and suss it all out.
A keyboard is a really great help when working on horn parts and arrangements.
You don't need to be able to play Beethoven just fiddle about and move the notes around.
 
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Ivan

Ivan

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, just get hold of some charts and suss it all out.
A keyboard is a really great help when working on horn parts and arrangements.
I iz doing exactly that, but getting lost nevertheless, so as with many of my learned skills a bit of theory wouldn't go amiss
 

Pete Effamy

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How many horns Ivan? Three can be tricky because of which notes are left out in 4 or 5+ note chords. And what style of music? This will dictate the number of notes usually in the chords.
 

Wade Cornell

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Arranging can be like composing, not something that would be easy to explain or pick up quickly via a lecture or video. It's certainly possible to just "voice" a horn section with block harmonies, however the "art" of arranging is in moving the structure of the chords used to create something more than just a bunch of different voices moving in parallel. Knowing where to put the melody (not always the top voice,but mostly), how to structure close harmony chords, expand and contract the chordal focus, and give flow are extremely difficult concepts that require practice and critique.

There's also the question of who are you doing the arrangement for? If it's an amateur group and there are ANY intonation issues then leave out close harmony as it will sound awful. I was recently asked to join a "big band" of OK players, but definitely amateurs who have trouble with intonation/tuning. Their leader likes the idea of giving them challenging charts to play with lots of close harmonies. Well, they sound awful! Even if I liked playing Big Band music (and I don't) I wouldn't want to join as their leader isn't doing right by them with his choices.

Arranging is a great thing to do, but it takes a lot of work to learn to do it well. Wishing you all the best Ivan.
 
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Ivan

Ivan

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How many horns Ivan? Three can be tricky because of which notes are left out in 4 or 5+ note chords. And what style of music? This will dictate the number of notes usually in the chords.
Three is the number as luck would have it

Motown, Soul kind of music

Mainly I'm trying to get an idea of, or a feel for, why things work, or don't
 

Pete Effamy

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Motown simplifies it a bit, as the chords will usually be 4 note chords (not bigger) and pretty standard with it - m7's, maj 7's, dominants. Many of the classics have unison/8ve lines - and these are very powerful. If you get into trouble with voicing harmony don't be afraid of reverting to unison/8ve.

Hopefully your section is trumpet led? Pete's Taming stuff will be a great guide I'm sure, he's very thoughtful, knowledgeable and pragmatic.
 

GaryF

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Arranging is headachey. Piano will definitely help, as will recording yourself playing the two or three separate pieces.
General rule of thumb is for chords, try to keep to having each horn play a third apart - goes against music theory (I just scraped through in the late 80’s) e.g. C, E, G. Try moving the E and G up a tone to F and A then once you’re happy with the notes, have a bash at messing around overlay a tune if you can and see how it sounds.

good luck!
 

Pete Effamy

Senior Member
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Arranging is headachey. Piano will definitely help, as will recording yourself playing the two or three separate pieces.
General rule of thumb is for chords, try to keep to having each horn play a third apart - goes against music theory (I just scraped through in the late 80’s) e.g. C, E, G. Try moving the E and G up a tone to F and A then once you’re happy with the notes, have a bash at messing around overlay a tune if you can and see how it sounds.

good luck!
If you're talking about good voice-leading, then yes. But as a whole, writing in chords all of the time will tend to sound twee unless you have the added colour of extended chords, which is unlikely in Motown.
 

Pete Thomas

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If you get into trouble with voicing harmony don't be afraid of reverting to unison/8ve.
This is very true. When people first learn how to write for sections using harmony voicings, they often tend to overuse it. Unison/8ve is a great contrast and it's often best to mix about a bit rather than wall to wall hatmony.

Another great tool in your arranging arsenal is counterpoint, ie two independant lines. This can be a bit more daunting but a good rules to follow:

  • Moving in contrary motion - one goes up as the thoer goes down
  • Contrast in texture - one has short/faster notes while the other has long/slower.
 

Pete Effamy

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Another great tool in your arranging arsenal is counterpoint, ie two independant lines. This can be a bit more daunting but a good rules to follow:

  • Moving in contrary motion - one goes up as the thoer goes down
  • Contrast in texture - one has short/faster notes while the other has long/slower.
Yep, good thought.
 

Pete Effamy

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Faced with a 4-note chord with the three voices, the 5th is the usual one to ignore. For meatier chords (you shouldn't see many in Motown though) the other would be the root.
 

GaryF

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If you're talking about good voice-leading, then yes. But as a whole, writing in chords all of the time will tend to sound twee unless you have the added colour of extended chords, which is unlikely in Motown.
I quite like tweed :)
 

aldevis

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A relatively common option i trumpet and trombone in octaves and tenor doing something in the middle (usually third os sixth down the trumpet).
Baritone gets the (beat) root
 
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Ivan

Ivan

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The floodgates of useful, informed advice have opened, thanks one and all. There's plenty for me to think about and build on

Well this section is two saxes and a Bb cornet whose softer tones don't cut through like a trumpet but nevertheless the combo can sound OK.

Given the vagieries of amateur live performance and unpredictable sound engineering, I have been trying to make the horn section audible across the range. I've tried C/A/T, C/A/B, C/T/B, C/T/T. The bari is ace in some numbers: e.g. Harlem Shuffle, where there's space for it to be heard doing the
Baritone gets the (beat) root
beetroot thing but it is lost in others

It's interesting to learn that I may well be hearing enharmonic notes more often than I thought credible in Motown numbers

Declaration of interests: I live near the Tweed
 
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