We offer three avenues of learning more about Arranging and Copyrights:  FAQHandouts and Resources.

FAQ

Why do I have to learn arranging?

With the addition of instruments besides the organ and piano to the accompaniment palette, it is necessary to provide music for these additions.  While some instruments, such as guitar, bass and drum set, can read off the piano part (if chords are indicated), other instruments need notated parts and, in some cases, transposed parts.  As an arranger, you can provide these parts.

What’s the best way to start learning?

By listening and looking.   Listen to recordings of religious music and pick out arrangements you like.  See if the publisher has the parts or score for download.  Analyze the sound; what instruments are used?  How are they used?  What could you substitute if you didn’t have those instruments?  Write some simple arrangements for rhythm section and one solo instrument.  Have you ensemble play it and make constructive criticism.  Pick up a book on arranging or attend an NPM workshop/institute or an industry sponsored clinic.

Do I have to play all the instruments in order to arrange?

No, but you have to be familiar with their sound, range, registers and notational aspects, such as clef and transposition.  After you write a part, show it to a proficient instrumentalist and have them criticize your notation and style.  Your main job is to write in a way that goes directly from the player’s eyes to the hands.

Do I need a notation computer program?

No, but it sure helps for the following reasons:  it is easy to read; it corrects mistakes easily; it extracts and prints out parts rapidly; it automatically handles transpositions; most importantly, it will play your arrangement and you can see what it sounds like before you place it in front of live instrumentalists.  The three most widely used notational programs are Finale, Sibelius and Encore.  Finale and Sibelius are professional programs used by the publishing industry.  Encore is cheaper and much more user friendly, but cannot do all the intricate things the others can.  It’s a trade-off.

Are pre-written arrangements available anywhere?

If you really want to analyze well written and readily available arrangements, go first to the Protestant publishing houses; the Protestants have been using ensembles much longer and much more frequently than the Catholics have.  You should have no trouble finding numerous arrangements for standard Protestant hymns.  For Catholic songs, you can always check with the publisher if parts are available.

Why should I use chord substitutions?

You don’t have to – that’s why they publish accompaniment parts, so you can play an acceptable accompaniment, even if it is the same for every verse.  If you are accompanying Canticle of the Sun, you will play the verse six times and the refrain 7 times.  If you are playing Song of the Body of Christ (which has an identical verse and refrain) you will play the exact same melody eleven times.  To add interest and variety, chord substitutions are a must.

Do I have to get copyright permission to use my arrangements?

Yes.  Check with the publisher.  They might want to see a copy or they might just give you blanket permission.  There is more detailed information in the copyright handout.

Handouts

  • Everything and the Kitchen Sink – This is the handout by Barney Walker from the NPM Breakout of the same name.  It introduces arranging techniques divided into families of instruments, individual instruments and uses or functions.  It ends with a detailed description of a typical ensemble arrangement and includes an actual arrangement of One Spirit, OneChurchfor a full ensemble.
  • Have I Got a Chord for You – This is the handout by Barney Walker from the NPM Breakout of the same name.  It introduces the concept of chord substitution and a set of rules for enhancing the harmonic richness of an arrangement.  Included is a detailed section on correct chord names and spellings.  Also included are a number of popular Catholic songs with the original harmony and the enhanced harmony, complete with explanation of how each substituted chord was chosen.
  • Copyright Issues – This is the handout by Gael Berberick from the NPM Breakout of the same name.  It introduces the legalities of copyright and how it applies to arrangements, copying of octavos and permissions sought from publishers.  Included are a number of government and private sources for information on copyrights.
  • Two Arrangements – Full ensemble arrangements for Kevin Keil’s One spirit, One Church and Barney Walker’s and Gael Berberick’s Be With Us.

Resources

  • Liturgical Ensemble Basics – An OCP publication divided into chapters about each instrument (including sound systems).  Each chapter has been written by an acknowledged expert in the field.  The book was edited by M.D. Ridge and Gerard Chiusano.
  • Dolmetsch Online – A website that contains an outstanding section on instruments and their ranges, both professional and amateur.  Also included are clef and transpositions.
  • Barney Walker Email – The email address for Ensemble Section Program Director, Barney Walker, a professional composer and arranger, who is willing to answer individual questions concerning arrangements.