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When we speak of musical arranging we are referring to the organization of musical ideas contained within a song: How should a song, how should it end and what is going to happen in between those two points? All of these questions are eventually answered as a musical arrangement unfolds. It's important to understand that arranging the song is not the same thing as writing a song. An artist or songwriter can sit down and write a song on a piano or guitar and at that moment a marriage of harmony and melody occurs. But before the age of computers and desktop recording, musical arrangers were brought into recording sessions to work with the studio musicians in crafting the perfect parts for the song. Maybe the bassline is too busy for a certain section of the song, so the arranger might work with the bass player in simplifying the part.
An arranger's job can entail working with the entire song structure or just a specific part in a specific section. When you take a look at some of the popular albums of the 1950s and 1960s, you will often see a musical arranging credit listed among the album credits in the back of the record. One such example is Nelson Riddle, who is a prolific arranger for Capitol Records from the 1940s until the 1980s. His arrangements can be found in recordings by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole, just to name a few.
But as more and more musicians began working out of their own studios, the arranging duties started to fall on their shoulders, thereby blurring the once- divided lines between producer, arranger, songwriter, artist, and engineer. So what makes a great musical arrangement? First, a strong musical arrangement has an ebb and a flow to it, telling a supplemental story to that of the lyrics and melody, if the song happens to be a vocal-driven song. Second, the arrangement should not attempt to cram too many musical ideas or moments into the song or track.
Let's use a cooking analogy for a moment. The secret to a great recipe is to use the proper amount of required ingredients. Each musical part contained within arrangement can be looked at as an ingredient, and the challenge is to figure out how much or how little each one should be used.
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