How do you make better arrangements? The arrangement is everything in music. It's the layout, bones, and structure of your creations. It’s what makes people listen and, more importantly – rave about how awesome your music is to their friends.
But even if you know the basics of structuring a track, you want to know how you can add that bit of extra oomph to make your music juicer, right? Luckily, there are four easy ways to arrange your music like a professional. And in this article, we’ll share them all with you now.
Let's dive in...
1. Use Automations
Not everyone is crazy about change. But that’s completely different in music, where change is a vital element to make people keep listening. If we listen to loops on repeat, we get bored very quickly.
We need things to happen; shifts in energy, changes in melody, beat, bassline, chords, or effects. Even small adjustments make a huge difference in how music is perceived.
There's an important part of musical variety that's often overlooked, and that's automations – changing up parameters to keep your music interesting and fresh.
For example, automations can be applied to all effects and most parameters, like:
- Dry/Wet of effects
- Release times
- Other effect parameters
There are no set rules when it comes to how much you automate or what. But often, the goal is to make tiny changes throughout your track or make drastic changes on the same sound.
Small automation changes are important to keep a track interesting, even if the same sound is playing for a long time.
Automations are especially important in techno and house music, often using similar notes and sounds throughout the track. By changing things up, we ensure that it’s interesting over time.
Greater automation changes are done to create a complete change in energy or new parts of the track.
For example, going from the intro to the verse, introducing a breakdown, or giving a lead sound more power in the main chorus.
Automations are key to making your beats more interesting. And a little goes a long way. Even if you don't feel like it's necessary, make small adjustments to many different parameters. You’ll be surprised by the result – and how your track suddenly comes alive.
2. Create Surprises
Tightly joined with automations and change is creating surprises to make music arrangements interesting. Predictability is often boring. Our brains crave something new to chew on.
And in the case of music, introducing surprise changes makes sure your listeners stay on their toes. With new things happening in your tracks, your listeners can’t wait to hear what you introduce next.
There really are no limits to what surprises you can use to make your arrangement better. But do it with finesse, and not too much. You still want a solid foundation of predictability.
Surprises in music can be made in any way, on any instrument or sound. The idea is to deviate from the original idea.
For example, you can create surprises in your:
- Kick and drum pattern
You can also combine, creating interesting things happening in several areas of your track. There are no limits.
The key to filling your music with interesting surprises is changing things up in ways that your listeners wouldn’t expect.
In house music, for example, you can throw in four bars of strange polyrhythms, throw in a few notes in an octave higher or silence all sounds except for a weird atmospheric sound.
You can also do the complete opposite of what people expect. For example, in a breakdown, delay the drop by a couple of bars (but keep in mind that some people will find this hilariously frustrating.)
3. Control The Energy
Music is energy. It’s a flowing orchestra of ups and downs, lows and highs, emotions, power, and subtlety. And making better arrangements is all about controlling that energy to ensure you take your listeners on a ride they won't forget.
Controlling your music's energy is about doing things purposely to make a bigger impact and make your arrangement better and more powerful.
For example, you can control the energy of your music by:
- Using ‘risers’ and ‘downers’
- Removing frequencies or sounds
- Adding frequencies or sounds
- Increasing or reducing the volume of sounds
Learning to create risers and downers to control energy and create anticipation is very effective to make better arrangements. A riser and downer are like they sound – sounds signaling the rise or downfall in energy (or a drop.)
You can also use manipulation of frequencies to add or remove energy. If your track is bass-heavy, it will lose power (energy) if you remove the low frequencies. This technique is common in drops, which you can do with powerful results.
Removing sounds can do wonders to spice up your arrangement, and it’s closely related to our second and third tip. By deleting sounds, perhaps in a surprising manner, you create something unexpected while at the same time changing the track’s energy and building anticipation.
If you go from having many different sounds playing, in your chorus, for example, to dead silence except for one reverbed sound, this can have a tremendous effect on people. It makes your arrangements better by getting people interested in listening to what’s about to come.
For example, you can create better arrangements by removing sounds like:
- Kick or bass
- Lead sound
Or you can remove everything all together, like in our previous example. After an uplifting, heavy-energy part, you can remove all sounds and keep only one thing, for maybe four bars. Then, you can reintroduce everything again to make a second drop.
There are endless ways you can play around with the energy and arrangement of your track. And really, only your imagination sets the limits.
See what happens when you remove certain sounds in different parts. Maybe you can remove the sound but let its delay linger? Try different things and don’t be afraid to experiment.
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Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.