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Song Arrangements

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 cnev
(@cnev)
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well didn't know what to call this post but I have a question for any of you in bands. How do you go about arranging the parts for the band especially if you have more than one quitarist etc.

Do one of you become the "leader" for lack of a better term and decide what songs and how they will be played.

A couple friends and I are trying to get something going but it seems like it's taken forever just to narrow down a short list of songs to work on. We all know a bunch of songs but we don't know very many of the same ones so it'll be a little work for us to learn each others songs.

The other problem I have is that some of the songs we do know that are the same we don't play the same way. I tend to be very anal and would like to perform cover songs the way they were originally recorded or very similar but one of the other guys who is mostly a strummer plays every thing "his" way for lack of a better word. Some are OK and some you can barely tell what song he's playing it could be one of thousands.

OK so I guess my question is who does the arranging in your band and how do they do it. I am not experienced enough to be able to sort all this out by ear so I have to rely on printed music of some type. Since I take lessons I have the guitar parts tabbed out to all the songs I know and find less than 10% of internet tabs to be accurate. So I'm not sure where to start.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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(@davidhodge)
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Joined: 17 years ago
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It's been a while since I've done this with a "band," as opposed to a group of people that have simply gotten together to jam, so please pardon me if the info seems dated. Or simply quaint... :wink:

Back when I was in bands, arrangements would usually occur in one of the following ways:

1) We would agree that we wanted to play "x" song, exactly as on the original recording. No further arrangements were necessary.

2) Someone would want to do a song,usually an original but could be a cover. That person would be responsible for the foundation of the arrangement. He or she would direct who would play what or sing what on the intro, the verses, choruses, solos and endings. Once the basic arrangement was down cold, then we might work on altering things a little bit. This would be done as a group (see 3)

3) Usually after we'd been playing a song from category 1 or 2 for a while, individual members of the band would come up with ideas to make the song more interesting to play and to listen to. The band member would then become the "song director" for the moment, assigning new rhythms, different leads, specific riffs or whatever the new arrangement involved. If the majority of the band members liked the new idea, then it would become the new arrangement.

4) There was also the "same chords, different rhythm" category. Occasionally we'd be playing one song and then realize that what we were working on perfectly suited a different song in our repertoire. For example, one of the bands I was in loved playing ska and reggae tunes and one of the new songs we learned had the same chord progression as the Stones' Get Off Of My Cloud, so we gave that a try as a reggae number. Turned out to be great.

5) The "what if" arrangement - same idea as #5, but more genre (style and attitude) oriented than just rhythm. While this didn't always work, it often led to writing some very interesting songs. This also goes hand in hand with learning new arrangements from listening to other artists' covers of songs. As an example, one band that we knew and were friends with did a great cover of the Beatles' I Want To Hold You Hand. One of their members made the leap that the Beatles' song had the same basic chord progression as the Cars' Just What I Needed. So they used the Cars' opening and arrangement, including vocal style to sing the Beatles' song.

One of the things that's important to point out is that we all were happy to work together and to try out (almost) any idea. For the people in the band who weren't songwriters, this allowed them a say in arrangement. We also tried to make sure the arrangements made the most of the strengths of the band. Our best player was our bassist, so there were many songs with bass solos or where we'd throw in a verse where the guitars and drums stayed low and gave the stage to the bass and vocals (think the Who's The Real Me). We'd also work out parts where the two guitars (or one guitar and a keyboard) could play harmony leads.

When we were just starting out, we went through a phase like you describe. In order to build up a repertoire in a hurry, we gave each member of the band the responsibility to lead five songs. Since there were five of us, we started out with twenty-five songs. Then we'd take turns bringing in new material.

And it's also important to note that not everything worked. There were many songs that were deemed not ready for performance and either ditched or reworked. Again, that was usually a group decision.

Hope this helps and looking forward to hearing about your group's progress in this area.

Peace


   
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 cnev
(@cnev)
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Dave,

Thanks for the reply I think we are somewhere near the paragraph the starts with "When we were..

We decided to cut it down to two songs each and there are five of us so we are starting with 10 songs or maybe 11. But I'm not sure any or all of us are capable in "leading" the arrangement of any of these. This is the part we seem to struggle with.

I guess we will just wait and see. The plan is to record the songs on CD's and give them to everyone to practice. Then when we get together we'll start working on them one at a time.

Most of the songs I'm familiar with and have muddles my way through them but I few I have never played.

The one thing that is going to make this different then when we just get together to jam is that we are going to actually have to work the songs and play them more than once in a night. Up until now we'd just blow through as many songs as we could, soemof us would know the songs some of us wouldn't, sometimes they came out OK and sometimes they'd just kinda fade off cuz no one really knew them well enough.

The biggest problem is getting a singer(someone that really knows how to sing) it's difficult at times to know where the breaks are betwteen chorus/verses etc., without someooen singing them.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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(@musenfreund)
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I think it depends on the songs for my band. Some songs you've just got to cover the way they were done originally. Others give you more latitude to jam and improvise around in. Beatles tunes we end up trying to cover as closely as we can, for example. If we're off on a bluesy Bonnie Raitt number, we play around and have fun. Some songs are built for jamming and improvisation but others you have folks in the audience who want to hear the solo for "A Hard Day's Night" perfect down to the last note. I've grown to love the tunes that let you play around and take turns stepping out.

That's my rambling unhelpful response. (David already said everything that needed saying!)

But you're right about rehearsing -- you've got to have the songs down. We didn't really start with improvisation until we'd done several gigs of covering stuff as closely as we could. Then we loosened up a bit -- we kinda know where everyone's going to go and what to expect. But, as I said, the improvising and mini-jams come only on certain types of songs. We're hardly a jam band!

Tim

Well we all shine on--like the moon and the stars and the sun.
-- John Lennon


   
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(@dogbite)
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get a recorded and record your rehearsal.
learning how to be in a band is almost harder than learning how to play guitar.
someone usually is the band leader. it works best that way.
but if everyone is of equal (new) experience, then use the two song each method.
have patience and learn to listwen to the tow song leader work things out.
being open to change is great.
having ability to make the changes is another thing.
patience and time. and not being afraid of being a boss.
lees is more.
keep it simple.
be open to where a song takes you> (the reggae Stones song example is excellent..let those things happen.)
and try to have fun.

http://www.soundclick.com/bands/pagemusic.cfm?bandID=644552
http://www.soundclick.com/couleerockinvaders


   
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 cnev
(@cnev)
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Tim and dog,

Thanks for the replys. I don't have a problem if a song morphs into something slightly different but how do you repeat it ? Or is that the point you just jam out to certain songs and let them go where they go...does this work well in a live situation. One thing to remember we aren't all experienced players so if we go off on a tangent I just hope we can all come back to the same point so it doesn't end up a train wreck.

If Wes was avaiable all the time I wouldn't have the issue since he's experienced enough to make this work but he isn't available with his band, and work so we have to make it on our own.

I'm most worried about someone taking the lead (arranging) that's gonna be the most difficult.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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So far I've always been the one most into songwriting and arranging in the bands I was involved with, so I always ended up taking care of it. Wasn't a 'leader' kinda thing, it just grows that way. Anyway, I usually tried to figure out what kind of muscian everyone was, their personality and skill level. Then I'd just make sure that each got a part that fitted them as a person. So I always made sure there was a spot to solo for the lead guy who just couldnt stop noodling in between songs, the shy rhytm player got some nice but simple chords that didnt freak him out while keeping him occupied etc. What was left went to me, that's the convenient bit about excelling at nothing but knowing the basics of most band instruments. Only occassionally somebody came up with an idea of their own and for some reason they were usually of the kind were you could just say 'sure, go right ahead'. Just be open and give people the room to experiment. Sure, you'll screw it up plenty of times as a band but locking people up really doesn't work. Or it's not my style, in any case.

Never really had any big incidents or arguments over it except for one guy who apparantly had a habit to consider the bands he was in as his personal backing cd over which he could then solo for hours. That was easy to fix, too:
"You're willing to work on some actual songs and the give the rest some freedom?"
"No, why should I?"
"I suggest you go someplace else now."


   
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(@wes-inman)
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Chris

When you play covers, people have to recognize the song. You don't have to play it exactly the way it was recorded, but you have to get the basic riff down. It is almost impossible to capture the sound of another band, and not really something you want to do anyway. You should always put your band's own slant or feel on a song. Otherwise you are just a copycat. :?

Get a dry erase board you can set up. Write the progression down starting with Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Solo, etc.... so everybody is on the same page. It is OK for songs to morph, or improvise a bit. But keep solos relatively short. Folks aren't into long improvisations like they were in the 60s and 70s anymore. Keep it short and sweet.

With more than one guitar player you often play the same chords, but not in the same position (inversions)or using the same method of play. For instance, if your other guitar player is a strummer, try picking chords arpeggio style. This will keep the song from sounding monotonous. Or play a repeating riff in the bass, something different.

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis


   
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(@chris-c)
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Hi Chris,

My experience of playing with other people is miniscule to say the least, and I certainly haven't ever been in a band. But as far as I can see the issues that you raise always take a fair bit of time to work through with any new group of people. The main thing is to be relaxed about it and not get frustrated if it doesn't happen as quickly as you'd like.

Sometimes we expect things to work faster than is practical. I spent a couple of years trying to learn a few chords and some basic skills on guitar, and thought that I'd just add singing when I was ready. But of course when I eventually tried I discovered that a voice is a whole other instrument and I had to put a lot more practice in at learning how to sing before I could ‘play' the two at the same time. I haven't put enough time in yet, so still can't sing to a recorded backing track, and can only sing along when I'm controlling the timing then and there with the guitar. Long way to go yet….

So I'd allow months not hours before you find out exactly how the balance works between band members, who has which skills, who doesn't, who can contribute what, and how it will all fit together best. Many “bands' never get going at all because they don't figure it out, and many established ones break up because they never sort the tensions out well enough.

I guess all I'm saying is try and get everybody to relax about the fact that it will probably take longer than you all want to get it working well. It's yet another new learning curve to climb. Hope you all have fun at it.

Cheers,

Chris


   
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(@musenfreund)
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Just to answer your question -- you play the song so often that when you're performing you're reproducing the rehearsal. It's not a long extended jam into the wild blue yonder. As Wes says, it's at best a solo break of 8 - 12 bars. And maybe you have a couple of those. But the days of Inna Gadda Davida are gone! I hope that made sense.

Well we all shine on--like the moon and the stars and the sun.
-- John Lennon


   
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(@wes-inman)
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Just to answer your question -- you play the song so often that when you're performing you're reproducing the rehearsal

This is where most musicians have a real problem. They do not have a professional attitude about their music.

You must learn right now that you will play a song hundreds (maybe even thousands) of times. You cannot allow yourself to ever get bored with it. I promise that if you go to a Rolling Stones concert you are going to hear Honky Tonk Woman and Satisfaction. They have been playing these songs 40 years! I would bet they have played these songs tens of thousands of times, and trust me, they still practice these songs.

I have had problems with my current group. They will play a song once or maybe twice. Then they say the are "bored" with it. This is OK if you really have the song down. But if the song needs work and refinement, you need to practice it until it sounds right. This is why the pros are great, they have a professional attitude and are not satisfied with inferior playing.

My supervisor at work is in a very good band and is an excellent player. He said it takes at least 5 years to really get good at a song. I agree.

When you really have a song down you can relax and have fun. It will sound better and feel better.

If you know something better than Rock and Roll, I'd like to hear it - Jerry Lee Lewis


   
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(@ignar-hillstrom)
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I don't get none of this. Who gives a crap what 'the audience likes'. If the band likes long solo breaks then that's what you do. If a song bores you you don't play it. Professional attitude my foot, if thats 'professional' then why not just all start doing gangsta rap. If that's how professionalism is defined then I'd rather be an amateur then such a music machine.

And I dont care that you have more difficulties getting gigs, espescially payed ones. If I wanted money I'd focuss on university, I play music because it's what I like to do. And if people have a problem with that they can take a hike and listen to some other band, not my problem. My favourite Dutch acts are those that spend their time carving their own path. Sure, the 'professional' bands usually play the arenas but they are boring as hell.


   
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 cnev
(@cnev)
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Ignar,

I'd be down with some gangsta rap..I understand what your saying. we aren't trying to write any original stuff we are or at least I am a regurgitator at best, I'm not sure I'll ever consider myself a musician, so right now it's all about playing other peoples music. That doesn't mean that we won't go off and do improved solo's or make changes to things but we are just covering someone else's music. Hey if we decide to jam for 10 minutes in the middle of the song I think we'll do that.

My biggest problem (among the hundreds I have) was to just get a list of songs to work on. That was a struggle in itself. Now even the songs that are on the list, none are really my favorites, but I'm willing to suck it up to get this off the ground.

The problem now will be who is going to guide us through the songs that the other members don't know? It looks like that's going to fall a bit on my shoulders even though I am no where near qualified to do it but we have to get going so I'm it.

For what it's worth here are the songs we are starting with:

1.) Two tickets to paradise - Eddy Money
2.) Rocky Mountain Way - James Gang
3.) Black magic Woman - Santana
4.) Were an American Band - Grand Funk
5.) Born to be Wild - Steppenwolf
6.) Bang a gong - T Rex
7.) Cold Hard Bit@@ - Jet
8.) Beer Drinkers and Hellraisers - ZZ Top
9.) No one to depend on - Santana
10.) Can't get enough - Bad Company
11.) Tighten Up - Archie Bell and the Drells

I little to much classic rock for my taste and not enough hard rock songs but hey you can't have everything. The Tighten up song is kind of a goof thing we always play when we are going to break so we'll do something with that for fun.

"It's all about stickin it to the man!"
It's a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll!


   
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