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Top 3 tips for new and emerging arrangers

As featured in The Harmonizer.

Top 3 Tips for Arrangers

Following are some suggestions for becoming a better arranger; the assumption behind these tips is that you are already doing some arranging and that have a good grip on such basics as the barbershop chord vocabulary, chord progressions, key selection, form, being kind to children and small animals, and so on. Boiling the wide world of barbershop arranging down to three thoughts for you was a fun challenge.

Here goes.

1. Study the top arrangers

How did Mozart and Beethoven get so good? How did Ed Waesche manage to make seemingly basic devices so interesting and powerful? How did Lou Perry make elegantly seamless transitions, and how did David Wright and Aaron Dale learn how to make such memorable embellishments? They all studied what great musicians had done before them and adapted these skills to fit their own style. Study our master arrangers like the above, and including Walter Latzko and Renee Craig, among many others. See how they handle trouble spots, ordinary spots, amazing spots. Not all key changes are the same … study and learn.

2. Get help

Many men have given generously of their time to help me improve as an arranger. Chief among them was Dave Briner, whose patience with me never seemed to wear thin. (Dave is still going strong at 80-something.) Send your music to other arrangers and get feedback by asking for comments. You can even use social media pages for quick answers. Harmony University offers both arranging classes and one-on-one tutoring.

3. Have your arrangements sung

Things that sound great on your piano or with your Finale or Sibelius program might not cut it with a real quartet. Voice leadings on the keyboard lie! Have a quartet or chorus sing our arrangement and you will learn more than you could imagine.

Learn from the best, but develop your own style. Figure out ways to get feedback on your charts and be flexible enough to take that feedback—except when it is time to set it aside and go for what you know will work. And do have fun. Arranging songs for the wonderful people who comprise our barbershop world, as well as the countless folks who have the pleasure of listening to our music, can be one of life’s greatest joys!

-Tom Gentry ( of barbershop’s most prolific and widely-sung arrangers