Arranging exercise: homophonous versus lead + accompaniment

In writing an arrangement, a basic choice is what the structure of the piece will be. By this, we mean what role the different parts play in the piece. You can write all parts homophonously. Or you can let one of the parts sing the lead and have the other parts sing accompanying lines.

Much can be learned from writing a single song using these two structures. This helps you to clearly see the effect of the techniques on the sound of the piece. In this blog there is an arranging exercise for that. The song we are using is Fields of gold by Sting. The exercise is to arrange the notes twice. First, in four parts, satb homophonous. Second, in five parts, in which the melody is sung by soprano 2 and the other four part sing homophonou accompaniment.

Endings of Musical Phrases in Arrangements

Musicians often are rather indiligent in notating the endings of musical sentences. They seem to leave the exact length of the long notes up to the singer or instrumentalist.

Here is an example. The start of Yesterday by The Beatles is often notated as follows:
The last syllable of the word “yesterday” is simply written up until the end of the bar. However, it feels quite unnatural to sing it word that long.

Switching Parts

For singers, it is nice to be able to use their full vocal range. A singer who may only sing low notes, tends to develop a very dark sound. And reversedly, a singer who has to sing high notes all the time, tends to lose warmth. When the voices within a choir vary in color, blending gets less and intonation gets harder. Apart from that, it is much more challenging and accomplishing for singers if they can use their full range.

Singing Alternately

In this warming-up exercise the singers are divided into two groups. In turn these groups sing a number of notes. The melody of the exercise is like this:

Vocal Percussion

Vocal percussion is imitating drums and percussion with the voice. This technique was developed in the eighties in hiphop music. Actually, in this music style it is called beatboxing. In the a capella world however it is called vocal percussion.

The Layout of Arrangements

Now and then students from the conservatory ask me what settings I’m useing for the layout of my scores. In the past twenty years I slowly developed my view on that. I’m happy to explain which choices I make.

The Intonation of the Major Third

At the conservatoria, I often encounter singers and conductors arguing that the major third should be intonated low. The reasoning behind this claim is as follows. Modern instruments are tuned according to the equal temperament. In that system the major third is higher than the just third according to the overtones. That is, a just third a lower than the equal temperament third. And – according to this line of thought – a just third is ‘more natural’ than an equal tempered third and it sounds purer and better. Thus, the conclusion is that major thirds should be intonated low. In the same train of thought we should intonate minor thirds high.

Warming-Up ‘Swan’

A long time ago I learned the Dutch canon Als de zwaan zingt (“If the swan is singing”). This canon is very well suited for warming-up. Inspired by this, I created a warming-up exercise which can be used in several ways. The melody is like this:

Warming-Up Exercise “Unison – Harmony”

In this warming-up exercise each sentence is starting in unison and at the end of the sentence the voices diverge to a harmony.

The basic melody of the exercise is the following:

Clapping Exercises

For improving the counting of singers, I developed clapping exercises. These canons are meant to do without sheet music. The singers will learn to internally visualise the different beats of the bar.