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Writing better parts - note distribution

I recently spent 90 minutes editing a 40 measure section of a score. I did not add a single articulation, or dynamic mark. I did not change any of the notes in the score.


What I did do is to move some phrases around from one instrument to another. I'm working on a quiet transition section in a Vaughan Williams piece; polyphonic writing (almost like renaissance counterpoint) based on a couple of simple ideas. I'm trying to accomplish a couple of things:

  1. RVW is winding down his exposition with chamber music - solo voices imitating one another in canon. He has a big orchestral palette to work with and was taking advantage of different sounding instrumental colors. It would have been very easy just to paste these ideas into the line where the range worked and call it good. But with fresh eyes at the beginning of my editing session, I realized that the way ideas were initially assigned was missing opportunities to create fresh entrances. So that was task one.

  2. With a big ensemble to work with, it's easy to get lost in the score. I had left some players dormant and overworked a few others; mostly a result of trying to just get the notes in the score. This is where arranging for a large group is really fun. Yes, all brass instruments, but there is a lot of color available and rest is important. For example, I just moved something from the flugelhorn line - fairly low tessitura - into a solo trombone line - medium high tessitura, but still very controllable at the dynamic. Different character and timbre.

  3. Creating space around entrances is one way to create a fresh voice, so moving some material from one overworked instrument to a trombone player who may have already picked up their smartphone is always a good idea. But it also frees up the original voice for a more soloistic entrance later. This approach keeps everyone busy and engaged in the final product. As a tuba player, this hits a nerve and I can't stress enough the importance of looking at your extracted parts and looking to improve dull spots.

  4. The listening audience may never notice a difference - it's all just notes played by brass instruments. But, as an arranger, your first audience is the group itself and whoever buys the charts. Interesting parts for anyone who might be evaluating your chart for purchase or programming is a good idea - think always about the humans that have to play the notes you are putting in your score.

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