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Feedback on Big Band Thing

Discussion in 'Critique & Feedback' started by Arthur Lewis, Jul 6, 2020.

  1. Hi all,

    I've been working my way through Don Sebesky's Contemporary Arranger. I've never really written for more than 2 horns before, so I thought I'd try out what I'm learning from the book on an extremely short big-band arrangement (only 8 bars with a little piano at the end) of a tune I wrote a long time ago for a college jazz theory class. :p

    I've attached a score in concert pitch and a mockup. I'm not so much looking for mockup feedback — I'm aware that both this mix and the sound of Logic's Studio Horns leave something to be desired — but I am curious about a few compositional things if anyone has some expertise in this area:

    1) There are a few notes (for example A, Bb, and C above the treble clef in the trumpet) that Musescore has flagged as outside the "amateur" range. My assumption is that this isn't something I should worry about too much, as I imagine that if I do find myself writing for a real big band at some point, they won't be amateurs. Does this seem reasonable?

    2) Dynamics. Somehow I managed to get a degree in music without ever really learning how to decide whether a sound is p or mp, mp or mf, etc. All the parts are played in from the keyboard in my mockup, so there are certainly natural dynamics, but I'm at a loss as to when and how to notate them in the written score.

    3) Does this sound idiomatic enough for me to be able to say, "OK, I have a basic grasp of this idiom. If the opportunity arose, I could tell someone I knew how to do this, keep a bunch of references handy, and make it work"?

    4) Is there actually any commercial demand for this sort of music anymore?!

    Of course, I'm happy to hear any other feedback as well! Thanks so much for listening!


    Attached Files:

  2. Regarding your numbered questions:

    1) A few instances of a concert C6 (written D6) is as high as you oughta feel comfortable writing for amateur trumpet players without knowing who would be playing beforehand. I could have played this lead part in high school, though the concert C6 (written D6) might have made me a little nervous if it came near the end of a big band concert. Concert Bb5 (written C6) is more certain for an amateur. All the trumpet players in a pro big band could handle this lead part easily. You can write for a pro lead up to concert Bb6 (written C7), though not mercilessly. It's a bit of a special occasion.

    2) Forte is fine for this type of opening. Save ff for the shout chorus. More energetic big band pieces will be one dynamic higher than these upper limits. There's no place during the opening where you'd want p, however. Overall, dynamics in big band are a lot less subtle than they are in modern orchestra pieces.

    3) I don't think so yet. You'd need to be able to demonstrate the full range of big band composition/arranging techniques. Also, learn more about idiomatic big band articulations.

    4) Some, but not that much, relative to other types of arranging.

    A few observations:

    –4 bars per page would be better for these particular 8 bars.

    –Where is the drum set?

    –Problem: Alto 2 in bar 8, all by itself, and in a weak, not terribly good range, against and intermingled with a 4 medium-high trombones voicing.

    –Piano needs chords throughout, not just when it's playing.

    –Big band players in the states are more used to the Brandt-Roemer chord notation standards. Major triads don't need the triangle.

    –The whole intro up to the piano solo ought to be the whole band throughout (including the piano). Losing the brass on beat 2 of bar 2 and beat 3 of bar 6 is weak for an opening statement. Too much texture variation too soon. The saxes alone do not balance antiphonally with the strength of the brass. Especially in bar 6. Two low alto saxes will sound anemic coming right off the heels of the whole band. A full, tutti intro for 8 bars which can then break off for the piano solo.

    Attached Files:

  3. Wow, thanks so much Paul! This is incredibly helpful. If I’m understanding you correctly, my big takeaway is that, while I am covering some different techniques I learned from the book, I’m not doing so in a way that actually makes sense in the larger context of a full arrangement. I hadn’t even thought of these bars as an “intro” until you pointed it out - just a free-floating set of 8 bars. This is a natural consequence of the larger mistake I made: writing this based on a section of a book, rather than supplementing that with real world references.

    What sorts of arranging would you say are more in demand these days? I like arranging a lot, but don’t have a lot of experience other than arranging for my own band and recordings.

    As a piano player myself, it seems obvious in retrospect that I’d want chords in my chart. In terms of drums, I assume they’d be fine with just slash notation, giving them the most important hits?

    Thanks again for your insights!
  4. #4 Paul Poole, Jul 7, 2020
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2020
    You need the form of the whole piece, yes. The form is how you know what to do, where.

    I used to have the Sebesky book. It's a good book that covers a lot of ground, but I don't recall it being a book exclusively devoted to jazz arranging. There are other books that cover more ground for that.

    If you're looking for arrangements, try here:


    Some of them are parts only, and you have to reconstruct the score from the parts, which in my case came in PDF form. I don't think they sell physical copies.

    If you want guided analysis through a few complete scores, get Inside the Score, by Rayburn Wright, with the recordings. If you're serious about big band arranging, study some Bill Holman scores.

    Make every part enjoyable to play; engage the full investment of each musician.

    Whatever you hear on the radio, unfortunately. There is jazz arranging, of course, for jazz artists obviously.

    The entire rhythm section gets chord symbols (except the drums). All anticipations (tied or not), important hits, (basically anything rhythmic), fills, and anything specific you have in mind written out. Don't just rely on slashes throughout.
  5. Yeah, it definitely doesn’t cover jazz arranging as its own thing very much, although I have been surprised so far at how exclusively it focuses on jazz textures. Given the title and the book’s publication in 1975, I’d been hoping for more focus on funk/soul/pop textures, which is much more my bread and butter than jazz.

    Wow, these are some great resources; thank you! I love that bigbandcharts.net will only send the catalog via email - it makes the whole thing feel more authentic for some reason.
  6. Correction: About bigbandcharts.net, I meant to say: I don't think they sell physical copies.

    Re: funk/soul/pop

    There's not much to it, generally speaking. You just have to understand the stylistic elements. Most of it is easy enough to transcribe.

    Horn-wise, you want good lines with good phrasing. Not a lot of density. And knowing when the horns should play, and when they shouldn't is obviously important.
    Arthur Lewis likes this.

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