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  1. #1

    Arranging for a band: brass section

    Hello,
    I started writing for a band and i am using a guitar to help me with that. (guitar is my primary instrument)
    I want to translate the chord sequences from guitar to brass, and i am wondering the ranges, optimal tone of brass instruments and how high or low is brass pitch compared to the guitar.

    In band we have an alt saxophone, trumpet and trombone (standard type)

    I know that alt sax is an Eb instrument, which means that sax C note is guitar`s Eb
    and guitar C is sax`s A (so for sax you have to transpose notes minor third bellow guitar`s notes)
    And the sax range is from Bb to F#3

    Now i am wondering how the frequencies of pitches match the guitar
    For example: which sax A (A1, A2 or A3,) matches the guitars middle C (5th string, 3rd fret)

    And the same I am wondering for standard trombone and trumpet:
    How are they tuned?
    What is their range and optimal tone (in sense that is not too low or too high))? (as I can guess it depends on the player, but i want to know what is standard range for amateur player)
    How do the frequences of trumpet, sax and trombone match the guitar)?


    And what about the bass - bass is one octave bellow guitar, am i right?
    Thanks for help.

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  3. #2
    I like to use this page when I forget the ranges for horns. I believe it also lets you know the tonal and timbral range of each instrument.

    Also, if you're using computer notation software (at least I know Sibelius does this), the notes will turn from black to light red when you're getting close to the range limit, and will turn bright red once you're out of the range. Though I've found a good number of instances where the note is bright red, but the horn player has told me they can make it work.

    As for transposing... if you're writing from the guitar, you have to remember that the guitar is a transposed instrument also. It's transposed by an octave, so it's not as tricky as some of the other instruments, but it's still transposed. So when we see a middle C written, we sound an octave lower then the middle C sounds.

    So an alto sax sounds a major 6th lower than written. If you write the C on the 3rd space of the treble clef, it will sound like the Eb on the bottom line.

    So let's say you want the C note on the 1st fret, 2th string (which we read and write as an octave above middle C for guitar notation, but actually IS middle C), first you have to lower it an octave to the C on the line below the treble clef. Then, if that's what you want the alto to SOUND like, you have to write it a Major 6th higher than that, which would be the A note in the 2nd space. I'd recommend thinking through the entire process a few times. Eventually once it gets obvious, you can just think about lowering the notation a minor 3rd, rather than lowering an octave and then raising a major 6th.

    Trumpet just sounds a step below what's written. So if you want them to play that same C note I mentioned from before, you lower it an octave to middle C, then you raise it a whole step to the D note just below the staff.

    Trombone is a C instrument, so you're pretty much good... you just have to drop the guitar down an octave, and then write it in bass clef, and that will be the bone part.

    And yes, the bass is an octave lower as well. They're both an octave below what's written.
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  4. #3
    I hope I said all that correctly and didn't invert anything!

    Also, I'm just like you... I do most of my writing on guitar. But the last few years I've tried to take the time to get used to the piano. I usually WRITE at the guitar, but I arrange and edit and rewrite at the keyboard. Especially when arranging horn parts. Easier to hear how it will all sound, it's actually possible to do close position chords, and it makes transposing a little easier... one less step with that guitar octave.

    Just my annoying 2 cents there.
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    "Jordan Klemons is a great guitarist with unlimited potential. His prodigious technique is never an end in itself but instead the means to musical expression. He is a musician who looks to the past for inspiration and influence yet has a modern conception; he is someone to look out and listen for!"
    -Peter Bernstein

  5. #4
    thanks for help man
    i`m starting to slowly figuring things out

    This transposing and thinking in three different paralel keys with limited range makes my head spin, yesterday i messed all up when writting on paper, so there was some confusion on the set
    but no worry, we are just starting so we allow ourselves to make mistakes

    This will come in handy:
    Arranging for a band: brass section-6510169193_ac7b55df24_z-jpg

    Do you have any good advice on voicing chords and harmonizing lines?
    Do you use the same principle as you do when playing guitar?

    What notes must be played to define a chord properly, and do all the inversions work, no matter to which instrument i ascribe different notes of chord?
    How do you organize the rhythm of all instruments so everything goes smoothly when played together?


    That`s probably very broad subject, would you know where could i find some resources, lectures etc. on that subject?

  6. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by jordanklemons View Post

    Also, if you're using computer notation software (at least I know Sibelius does this), the notes will turn from black to light red when you're getting close to the range limit, and will turn bright red once you're out of the range. Though I've found a good number of instances where the note is bright red, but the horn player has told me they can make it work.
    You're on the right track when the horn player turns bright red

    Danny W.

  7. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by zelenjava17 View Post
    thanks for help man
    i`m starting to slowly figuring things out

    This transposing and thinking in three different paralel keys with limited range makes my head spin, yesterday i messed all up when writting on paper, so there was some confusion on the set
    but no worry, we are just starting so we allow ourselves to make mistakes
    Yeah, it gets easier with time. Just keep at it. Before you know it it will be as easy as playing the chords on the fretboard for you.

    Quote Originally Posted by zelenjava17 View Post
    Do you have any good advice on voicing chords and harmonizing lines?
    Just always start with the melody. That should be the primary entry point. And in jazz, we generally have the melody in the top voice, and then harmonize underneath it. It doesn't ALWAYS have to be like that. But generally. It's a good thing to get used to. But also try writing bass melodies. That's one of my favorite writing techniques. And double it, maybe with the bone or the guitar so that it's blatantly obvious that the bass player is playing a composed statement... it pops more that way. Letting them walk is cool too... I'm just a fan of mixing things up and keeping them varied and moving... and musical.

    Quote Originally Posted by zelenjava17 View Post
    Do you use the same principle as you do when playing guitar?
    Yeah, I try to. I got a little tired of the "generalized" guitar chordal vocabulary a couple of years ago. I started working at the piano more and found some great stuff that I try to bring to the guitar and to my horn arrangements. Great voicings are great voicings regardless of the instruments playing them. I wrote my thesis on this topic. It might be a little advanced for where you are, but I posted it in the 'chords' section on the forum. "Reimagining the Fretboard". You might get something out of it.

    Quote Originally Posted by zelenjava17 View Post
    What notes must be played to define a chord properly, and do all the inversions work, no matter to which instrument i ascribe different notes of chord?
    Ok first off, you don't HAVE to define every chord in the horns. It's a great technique to use, but it's not required. Don't be afraid to use unison and octave. Very powerful. Like a mob of people at a sports arena shouting something together. Took me 20 years of actively avoiding this technique before I realized I'm allowed to do it... and I love it! One of my favorite techniques to use right now is to have multiple instruments playing in unison, and then to have them break open at key moments into harmony to 'stab' a chord. It's such a fun and powerful texture. Especially if you write the hits into the rhythm section as well.

    As for the 'traditional' way to actually harmonize... you have a couple of options.

    1 - The 1-3-5-7 route. These are generally the most basic. Whichever of these notes is in the melody, you just voice down from there. If you're voicing a CMaj7 with the G in the melody, the G is the 5, so then you voice down 3, 1, 7 below that. Sometimes you run into range issues, and that's when you would employ a drop 2 or a drop 3 or a drop 2/4 technique. It helps keep the horns in their ranges. From there, you can sub in other notes. The b9/9 can be subbed in for the 1. The #9/sus4 can be subbed in for the 3. #4/#5/13 for the 5. 6 for the 7. Again, these are just generalized, traditional, basics... not the only way to do anything. So if you wanted to make that CMaj7 into a CMaj9, you would just sub out the 1 for the 9. Since you only have 3 horns, you have the option of either treating the guitar (or bass) as a 4th voice, or you can use the guitar to double a voice (probably a better option) and minimize your voicings down to 3 notes.

    2 - Quartal harmony. In quartal harmony, there's really no notes that you MUST have. You basically just take the melody note and stack 4ths underneath it. There's other ways to go about this, but that's the easiest starting point. And generally, you would want everything to be diatonic. Though, in quartal harmony, it's much easier to slip and slide around and get some out there sounds.

    3 - Cluster... I honestly wouldn't worry about this stuff for now. Really get to know unison/octave, traditional tertiary harmony, and quartal harmony.

    4 - Also, remember that horns can be way more expressive than strings (in ways). Use dynamics! Crescendos, decrescendos, staccato markings, forte/pianissimo, etc. Nothing is more boring than a horn section that's completely monotone and unexpressive. Take advantage of those things. The simplest dynamic marking can make a world of difference. Especially if the horns hit it tight and together.

    Quote Originally Posted by zelenjava17 View Post
    How do you organize the rhythm of all instruments so everything goes smoothly when played together?
    I would recommend you focus mostly on soli writing for now... just keep the horns together rhythmically. You don't always have to use all of them at the same time. You can use one horn here, and then 3 in the next section. But being able to have them all together is probably a good starting point. Writing countermelodies is a deeper conversation.

    Quote Originally Posted by zelenjava17 View Post
    That`s probably very broad subject, would you know where could i find some resources, lectures etc. on that subject?
    Haha... it is... but fortunately, I love this stuff. Currently mixing down my next record which I hope to release soon. It's for a nonet, gtr/bs/p/d + a 5 piece horn section.

    My best advice is to just write, as much as you can. Doesn't even have to be tunes. Maybe pick the A section to a ballad and just write 3 or 4 different versions of it. Maybe try out each technique I mentioned. Then when you're with your guys, play each of them, record them, listen back... see what they sound like. Maybe find some basic student scores online of tunes you like by composers you like. Analyze them, study them, see what's happening inside them. One of the biggest arranging lessons I ever learned was when I bought a Maria Schnieder big band chart, analyzed it, and condensed it down to be played by a nonet. Looking under the hood at what techniques she was using, and having to figure out how to get rid of over half the instruments and still keep the integrity of the tune was an incredible learning experience. I don't know who you like, but if you're into modern stuff, maybe check out Alan Ferber's website. He's got nonet charts. You might want to take a nonet and see if you can arrange it for your quintet.

    There is a book my old teacher once told me about. I never bought it, but he did photocopy a couple of pages. I'll see if I can find the name of it.
    NYC Jazz Guitar Masterclasses - Free Weekly Lessons

    "Jordan Klemons is a great guitarist with unlimited potential. His prodigious technique is never an end in itself but instead the means to musical expression. He is a musician who looks to the past for inspiration and influence yet has a modern conception; he is someone to look out and listen for!"
    -Peter Bernstein

  8. #7
    Probably the best resource you could use is the book I'm using at this very minute, 'Jazz Composition and Arranging in the Digital Age' by the great pianist/arranger Mike Abene and Richard Sussman (a pianist I worked with weekly for a few years).
    It covers literally everything the present day jazz composer/arr. should know, including Sibelius and Finale.

    A few of us in NY decided to form our own big band, after the bands we were playing in kept getting kicked out of one rehearsal space after another, usually due to money issues.

    We just had our first rehearsal, and it was a resounding success (i.e. everyone wanted to come back for the next rehearsal). This is the most important thing for any arr. to have; a good band that will always play your charts.

    If you can't hear your charts played by real musicians (not midi approximations), you'll never know what really works and what doesn't. The best feeling in the world is hearing a chart arr. by you, played by great musicians.

    With computers, you don't have to worry about transposing each part anymore. You can write it in the concert key, and the computer will transpose each part for you.

  9. #8
    destinytot Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by jordanklemons View Post
    As for transposing... if you're writing from the guitar, you have to remember that the guitar is a transposed instrument also. It's transposed by an octave, so it's not as tricky as some of the other instruments, but it's still transposed. So when we see a middle C written, we sound an octave lower then the middle C sounds.
    That seems so simple on paper, but it really messes up my thinking and hearing. Baby steps... and thank you.

  10. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by destinytot View Post
    That seems so simple on paper, but it really messes up my thinking and hearing. Baby steps... and thank you.


    Yeah, it can be a little tricky at first. I just used to remember it by thinking that when I see middle C written on the paper, I play the 3rd fret, 5th string. But if I want to actually play the note that sounds like middle C, then I play the 1st fret, 2nd string.

    It never really seemed necessary until I came to NY and started playing with and writing for larger groups. Here sometimes someone would hand me a lead sheet, and I'd read it like a guitar player (meaning everything sounds an octave lower). And they'd say no, you're an octave lower than the horns... I want you doubling them. So I realized pretty quickly that I needed to learn to read everything an octave higher than it sounded.

    And it's something I keep in mind when I'm taking ideas off the guitar and putting them into another instruments parts.
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    "Jordan Klemons is a great guitarist with unlimited potential. His prodigious technique is never an end in itself but instead the means to musical expression. He is a musician who looks to the past for inspiration and influence yet has a modern conception; he is someone to look out and listen for!"
    -Peter Bernstein

  11. #10
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    Just getting your hands on some horn charts for some well known tunes will give you something to analyze and study. They are easy to find, and fairly cheap.

    Horn Charts - downloadable pdf horn charts

  12. #11
    I don't know much about this stuff but this was sitting on my desktop;

    Arranging for a band: brass section-frequency-chart-1-jpg

  13. #12
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    it looks like everyone's given you enough information to figure our the transpositions, but then there's a few other little things that can help...

    since you are in a band with these guys, you can ask them to play through their parts and let you know if there's anything that is harder on them than it needs to be. I always make concessions for playability. If a trumpet player tells me his part is hard to play, I'll change it. So don't nail your guys down to a part that is hard to play just because you wrote it that way. Work with the players. you'll get a better finished product


    Also, remember that horns aren't like fretted strings. If you start a brass instrument out on a high note near the top of the instrument's register, you are going to be reheasing that section a lot. Drop it down and give the guys a chance. Your horn players will thank you

    in fact, since you have the luxury of working in a band with these guys, bring them into the process. Write the chart as a "first draft" and let them make suggestions at rehearsal. Then rewrite it with the changes from rehearsal and repeat that until everybody is satisfied with what you have. This might be the best way for you since you are learning how to do this.

  14. #13
    Zelen, the book I mentioned earlier (but couldn't remember the name of) was called "Jazz Arranging Techniques" by Gary Lindsay. I never actually bought a copy or worked out of it, but my old arranging/composition teacher used the book to teach out of when I took his class... and while he never required it, he did recommend that I get a copy once I started studying arranging privately with him.

    And while I can't speak with direct knowledge of it, I trust anything that he says about composition and arranging. I learned so much from working with him.
    NYC Jazz Guitar Masterclasses - Free Weekly Lessons

    "Jordan Klemons is a great guitarist with unlimited potential. His prodigious technique is never an end in itself but instead the means to musical expression. He is a musician who looks to the past for inspiration and influence yet has a modern conception; he is someone to look out and listen for!"
    -Peter Bernstein

  15. #14
    Would love to hear what you're working on... if you ever get recordings of any pieces.
    NYC Jazz Guitar Masterclasses - Free Weekly Lessons

    "Jordan Klemons is a great guitarist with unlimited potential. His prodigious technique is never an end in itself but instead the means to musical expression. He is a musician who looks to the past for inspiration and influence yet has a modern conception; he is someone to look out and listen for!"
    -Peter Bernstein

  16. #15
    wow a lot of reply`s since my last visit

    thanks for all the information,
    and specially your essay jordan
    a lot of great stuff to learn from

    probably will take a while until first recordings
    like i said, i am more at beginning of my jazz path, trying to learn different jazz styles but not mastering any (i play sax and guitar)
    at the moment we are working on more funky project, influenced by Weather report, Herbie Hancock, Headhunters, electric Miles Davis as well as James Brown and Fela kuti etc.
    I think it is great way to start, and as Nate mentioned, a big luxury to have a relatively big band to work with (3 horns, guitar, bass, drums, 2 percussionist). Like Nate suggested, i dont try to write strict compositions, i try to keep them open so everybody can contribute.
    At the moment I was focused on writting rhythm grooves and horn headlines, it is not going bad, band was pretty supportive and happy I am trying to take role in composing.
    I am having a little more trouble with writting passages and finding good varied progressions and modulations for this type of music.

    Jordan, you should post some of your recordings, if you got some.
    Last edited by zelenjava17; 03-09-2016 at 01:02 PM.

  17. #16
    Fela! Yes! I used to tour with a 10-piece afrobeat orchestra. So much fun! That's what finally nailed down my 16th note subdivisions.

    A couple other final thoughts...

    - I don't disagree with Nate's point to use the band to help... but I also wouldn't encourage you to do that all the time. It's good to try these things on your own, to take up the full responsibility, and then to let yourself fail and write crap sometimes. You'll learn a lot doing that. Learning to arrange is a lot like learning to play an instrument. There are certain techniques that you just have to get down, and once you do it's hard to remember a point in your life where they gave you a hard time. And that really just comes via experience and practice. Having the other guys help can be cool too, and especially in the beginning you might find that you're writing better music that way, but you're also missing out on all the failures, which are important. What I tend to do (started doing it this way, and still do it today) is to write everything as exact as I can get it to what I want (pitches, dynamic markings, accents, everything) and then bring it to the group, play it, record it, and ask for the players' input. Sometimes I assume the horn players will tell me certain things are impossible, but then they say it's doable. Other times I think it's doable, and they say it isn't. I was recently in the studio recording some of my music and the tenor player couldn't make a jump from one note to the other, which really surprised me. I didn't think that would have been a problem. But now we're in the studio, on my dime, and I have 9 people looking at me to come up with a solution so we can keep moving forward. Because I am comfortable with my arranging techniques and transpositions, and can think on the fly, I was able to re-arrange the notes in the horn section to still get the harmony I wanted, but to give the tenor player a different note. That type of thinking doesn't develop as quickly and easily if you're relying on others. My advice would be to do the entire thing as much as you can, and THEN bring it to the band and ask for their input. And again, I would still recommend picking the A section from a ballad and just doing 3 or 4 different arrangements of it using different techniques, and recording all of them so you can hear the difference. You don't always have to write full tunes... especially in the beginning when you're learning.

    - You might want to consider finding an arranging teacher. Much like learning an instrument, when you're just starting out, it can be helpful to have someone you can ask questions to and you can bounce ideas off of, etc. Someone who can look at your charts with you and make recommendations.

    As for my recordings, the album isn't going to be released for at least a few more months. But I just edited together this short video from the other day of heading out to Brooklyn to mix. It's got some clips.


    Thanks for your interest!
    NYC Jazz Guitar Masterclasses - Free Weekly Lessons

    "Jordan Klemons is a great guitarist with unlimited potential. His prodigious technique is never an end in itself but instead the means to musical expression. He is a musician who looks to the past for inspiration and influence yet has a modern conception; he is someone to look out and listen for!"
    -Peter Bernstein

  18. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by sgcim View Post
    'Jazz Composition and Arranging in the Digital Age' by the great pianist/arranger Mike Abene and Richard Sussman
    Looks good - I'll check that one.
    Thanks

    My sole resources were the small David Baker guide to writing for small ensembles, a fatter Dick Grove book about his arranging techniques, and personal access to a commercial arranger who studied with Grove.

    But I also recently happy to find Jim Martin’s site Jazz Arranging Class - which is rich in its own right but features some rare Dick Grove video – and some Gary Lindsay too.

    I had not heard of Lindsay before, but am getting juice from his approach already.
    Thanks to Jordan for the recommendation.
    Staff Art Publishing | Jazz Arranging Techniques, Music for Saxophone Quartet, Music for Big Band

    This was a great way to spend an hour:

  19. #18
    What a great find Lazz! Thanks for sharing it. I didn't study with Gary. But the guy I studied with used his book to help teach some really great, straight-forward techniques and approaches. I'm enjoying watching this video. I feel like I'm back in school again. My approach changed when I started studying upper structure triads... I forgot how great this stuff is too!
    NYC Jazz Guitar Masterclasses - Free Weekly Lessons

    "Jordan Klemons is a great guitarist with unlimited potential. His prodigious technique is never an end in itself but instead the means to musical expression. He is a musician who looks to the past for inspiration and influence yet has a modern conception; he is someone to look out and listen for!"
    -Peter Bernstein

  20. #19
    FWIW, I'd suggest looking at the harmonic series carefully. Guitarists only use it for special effects; pianists don't use it at all; woodwind use it for different registers, but for the brass player, the harmonic series is the player's bread and butter.

    Knowing what notes fall in what part of the harmonic series for any given length can save you a lot of annoyance: knowing that the trumpet can play second line G with the same fingering as the D above middle C is useful knowing for fast passages. For the trombone it can make the difference between a passage that's playable and a passage that any trombonist considers unplayable.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  21. #20
    There's a lot of great advice in this thread. Since I've done a bunch of big band writing over the past year, I'll add my .02.

    A really important consideration is playability, depending who you're going to be writing for. If you're writing for an inexperienced brass section, fourth-based harmony and clusters are hard to tune and generally aren't going to sound good, stick with unison lines, triadic material with tpt4 doubling tpt1 down an octave, and 7th chords. Same is true of high notes, I wouldn't go above high C if the players aren't professional. Also keep in mind that high notes are much easier to work up to, a high note in the beginning of the piece is harder than a scalar run that rises and falls.

    As Jordan said, start with the melody. Picking a good key that's going to be the right range for the brass is really essential. In a lot of ways, the range can dictate the voicing technique you use. An example: a great tool I got from Sammy Nestico is to use triads in the trumpets, and a cluster in the trombones underneath. He uses it a ton, and goes through its application in his GREAT book, The Complete Arranger. But, if the melody is low in the trumpets, this technique doesn't work, as the clusters in the trombones won't sound good in a low range.

    I've really learned a lot just harmonizing melodies for standards in different ways in the brass. A great exercise is just to take a melody, and harmonize it 3 or 4 different ways in the brass. I did this a while back with "it had to be you" and it helped me a lot, in terms of developing speed as well as learning the basics of what is and isn't working.

  22. #21
    That's an interesting idea with the clusters + triads, thanks.
    I'm always getting advice on how to write for trumpets from a trumpet player friend of mine.

    He says to avoid writing difficult to execute fast lines like you'd write for saxes, that contain arpeggios.
    Only write for the lead player when you need powerful, high parts. Give them as much time to rest as you can.

    That also goes for the entire section; use the trumpets as sparingly as you can.
    The most powerful sound at your command is two trumpets in octaves, with the lead off the staff.

    This big band that I started with a sax player friend of mine is playing a concert at Queensborough College, Sunday night, May 14th at 7:00pm. Admission is only $5 or $10.

  23. #22
    congrats on the gig! I would love to come, wish I was still in NYC.

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