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  1. #1

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    In big-band arranging, it is considered bad form to switch between 3- and 4-note chords in a passage? For example, if I have four trombones playing a series of chords, some 3-note and some 4-note, should I be trying to thicken the 3-note chords, or is it generally acceptable to double one of the notes?
    I'm aware that mixing densities can sound off-balance and inconsistent, but is there anything else I should be considering here?
    Thanks, Jeff


    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
  3. #2

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    I guess everyone has different answers, but I don't see the necessity of keeping the same number of voices per se. For instance, a voice can be held as a longer duration in the form of a sustained or common note voice (please forgive me if this isn't what you're talking about). Are you counting a doubled voice as a possibility? Herb Pomeroy had gradiants of harmonic density and in that way of voicing, the collective effect of intervallic contribution are much more significant than mere numbers of voices. Of course if you're voice leading and you aren't taking into account rests or rhythmic values within each individual voice, that could be problematic.
    Could you talk a little more about the situation you're working with? Does it sound good? What's happening harmonically? What is the instrumentation?
    Thanks for a good question, I hope I'm not being too dense here.


    Here's a David Binney arrangement of his song Goddess. The density of the horns changes and the rhythmic values are used to great effect by not being fixed in voicing and rhythmic duration.

    Last edited by TH; 02-26-2019 at 10:17 PM.

  4. #3

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    I recommend "Jazz Composition and Arranging in The Digital Age". Excellent reference.

    I'm not an arranger myself but am just getting into it a little bit. In the chapters on big band arranging it shows a fairly consistent textural pattern of 4 trombones each taking a different chord tone - but - there are also sections where trombone 1, then 1 and 2 play a melody or riff before 3 and 4 come back in. When there are steady chords continuing in a line though, it shows 4-note voicings in a consistent pattern.

    Beyond that I can't help, so I'll twist out now before I get into more trouble than I just did...

  5. #4
    In a traditional big-band setting, the harmonic density is going to be pretty consistent - mainly 7th and altered 7th chords, so the arranger would generally keep e.g. 4 voices (in trombones) throughout. But in a more contemporary setting like this one, to my ear having 4 voices is too dense in some places (when you add the saxophones' chord tones), so I feel compelled to pare it down to 3. Now, I'm playing back on Sibelius, so of course that isn't going to accurately reflect the actual instrument, but this is what I'm judging from the playback. The bottom line is, I think the chords sound good as written, but I suspected that it might end up sounding uneven to go back and forth between different numbers of chord tones within the section.

  6. #5

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    Do you have a going in position with regards to the assumed ensemble size and make-up?

  7. #6
    Standard big band; this is a question of varying the number of voices in section passages, especially sustained background chords.

  8. #7

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    Doesn't a trombone double the bari sax part sometimes and vice versa? That changes the balance in the sections when needed.