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Topic: My first orchestral arrangement for pop song

  1. #1

    My first orchestral arrangement for pop song

    Hi all,

    I don't know if I am posting on a right place. I apologize if I am off topic here.

    I have studied Orchestration on Music Academy but after graduating (7 years now) I have never used the knowledge I gained there, that is to say, I have never written for orchestra since I am mostly doing pop music with all the digital equipment (software) we have on our disposal today.

    However, there is a musical festival for pop songs in my country and I am about to write an arrangement for 3 songs and I am a bit scared The arrangements of the songs are already made in DAW (Cubase), what I need to do is to write those arrangements for the following orchestra:

    5 sax's
    4 trumpets
    4 trombones
    8 first violins
    8 second violins
    4 violas
    2 cellos
    1 electric guitar
    1 acoustic guitar.

    Now, I am looking for some music sheet online, for example from Sanremo festival, or some arrangement of a pop song already known (some legendary hit). Can you recommend me something, somewhere?

    Also, can you give me some peace of advice?
    I have several books on my disposal, the one I have studied the most while I was on the Musical Academy was The Study of Orchestration by Samuel Adler. But I think that the thing I need at this moment is some role model, to just have a mock-up of what I need to do in an overall sense.

    Thank you in advance

    P.S. In one of the songs there is horn playing in the digital arrangement, and I don't have horn in my prchestra. I suppose I should improvise something with trombones?!

  2. #2
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Suburban NYC

    Re: My first orchestral arrangement for pop song

    Hi Ilion,

    Welcome to the forum!

    Please tell us a bit more about what kind of "pop" you will be writing for ... it is such a diverse genre!

    Looking at the instrumentation, I will caution you that what you have is basically a studio recording orchestra: a big band with an added string section (and very curiously, only two celli ... normally for this size string ensemble, you would have four celli. 12 violins + 4 violas + 4 celli is a standard LARGE studio string section).

    This instrumentation would give you the size and sound orchestra of the great 50's-60's Frank Sinatra with Nelson Riddle (or later, Don Costa) arrangements. The only caveat to check is: Can you use reed doubles within the five sax chairs (I.E., flutes, clarinets, etc.) If not, that limits you.

    This size studio orchestra is also very similar to the ones Henry Mancini used for many of his pop recordings.

    Both the Sinatra and Mancini arrangements borrow very heavily from jazz ... I couldn't imagine jazz not being a part of your arrangements, especially with so many winds in proportion to the strings.

    Yes, a trombone in a bucket or cup mute is a fair substitute for a horn. Also, don't be shy using a lot of different mutes on this large 8-piece brass section ... its a way of toning them down a bit if you want a more "string-centric" sound, plus brass mutes give a great deal of color to this type of instrumentation. Trumpets in harmons or cups and trombones in cups or buckets are very workable colors.

    Let us know more about the type of pop ... at least you have a little food for thought now!

    Best of luck!


    Frank D'Erasmo
    FABD Music - Arrangements-Orchestrations
    All Styles ... Specializing in Jazz, Theater, Latin & Pop

    Garritan JaBB, GPO, CoMB, World, GAS, Stradivari Violin & GigaStudio. Sonar X2 Producer, Pro Tools, Performer & Finale.

  3. #3

    Re: My first orchestral arrangement for pop song

    First I have to say I agree with everything Frank said.

    If any of the trumpets double on Flugelhorn, then that is another option for covering a horn part.

    If you are looking for a book on how to write for this sort of ensemble I recommend:
    Contemporary Arranger, by Don Sebesky [ http://www.amazon.com/Contemporary-A...ds=don+sebesky ]
    // Ars longa, vita brevis
    // http://edosbear.blogspot.com/

  4. #4

    Re: My first orchestral arrangement for pop song

    Hi Frank and Ed Sharpe,

    Thank you a lot for your replies and suggestions. I really appreciate it.

    I have an update for the orchestra (they changed it yesterday):

    There are now added 2 Flutes, 1 Oboe, 4 cellos, 1 horn.

    Frank, the song is typical pop ballad (in the style of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, etc).

    I am not the author of the arrangement. The author already made the arrangement in Cubase and now wants from me to translate it into a sheet for all the orchestral members. I am not sure if I would be allowed to be creative in orchestrating the song or it would be required from me to only translate the song into notes for each player. I suppose I can use some creation on my part but not as much. However, I would need to arrange the strings properly, since he played it on a keyboard as a typical keyboard player would do. I would probably recommend some brass section adding harmonic background with the strings, though I am not sure whether it would be accepted.

    Is there a sheet of some pop songs orchestrated somewhere online (free or to buy)?
    Probably some songs from Sanremo festival?

    Ed Sharpe, thanks for the book, it looks amazing. I am looking forward to reading it.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Suburban NYC

    Re: My first orchestral arrangement for pop song

    Hi again, Ilion,

    Ed's recommendation of the Sebesky book is also a favorite of mine. Another one I have, by an equally creative and prolific arranger, is Sammy Nestico's "The Complete Arranger". Also, don't overlook Henry Mancini's "Sounds and Scores", one of the first of its kind. All three arrangers are/were masters of jazz AND the large big band ensemble you have, but are equally talented in writing for large string ensembles as well. And all three books cover both big band and string ensembles and the pop combination of the two ... much like your project. All three also come with audio CD's, a MUST for learning anything music-related.

    OK, with that said, I don't think you have the time to study each of these books to learn the techniques of writing for a large pop orchestras such as theirs. I don't know where you could purchase these types of arrangements either. These types of large big band + string orchestra ensembles are rarely found outside of pro performer's circles. IOW, you won't find these sorts of charts written for the educational market. Good luck, maybe you will be successful finding some.

    As far as your added instruments, ok, you have the four cellos and the missing horn now, as well as flutes and oboe. Find out if the flutes and oboe are really in addition to the five saxes, or if thay are doubles within the sax section. If they are, you need to find out which chairs the doubles are in.

    This sounds like a straight orchestrating job. The arrangements are essentially complete but without all the parts for the large ensemble. You need to see if the arranger is giving you just a Cubase piano arrangement (or a vocal-piano score), or if he is providing a more detailed Cubase file where all the instrument lines are there. If all the lines are there in the Cubase file, there's not much to do! Find this out and let us know.

    You also need to find out how talented the ensemble is who will perform these arrangements. If they are pros, almost anything goes. If not, keep all your orchestrations within very conservative ranges. Stay far away from the hi and lo limits ... better to have simple arrangements played well, than superb arrangements played poorly!

    Also, are there vocals or are these strictly instrumental performances?

    Good luck again and let us know how you make out.

    Frank D'Erasmo
    FABD Music - Arrangements-Orchestrations
    All Styles ... Specializing in Jazz, Theater, Latin & Pop

    Garritan JaBB, GPO, CoMB, World, GAS, Stradivari Violin & GigaStudio. Sonar X2 Producer, Pro Tools, Performer & Finale.

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