on December 19, 2016

Creating the perfect arrangement

Thinking of arranging some music for guitar? Inspiration can come from many sources: music you’ve heard that you thought might make a great arrangement for the guitar, a desire to play something by a favourite composer (who neglected to write for the guitar!), or some fun ideas for a set of variations on a cherished folk song – the list is endless. Here are some tips to get you going:

First things to consider:

Range – does the range fit that of the guitar? If not, can it be ‘compressed’ convincingly to the 3½ octaves of the guitar? (i.e. a Grieg Lyric Piece might work, a Liszt ‘barnstormer’  not so much.)

Texture – are the voicings, textures and accompaniment patterns adaptable to the guitar? (i.e. and Alberti bass pattern could work easily, extended arpeggios on the harp, maybe not.)

Melody – can the melody be rendered on the guitar effectively? Long notes by a string section can be hard to sustain on the guitar; melodies with more motion will work better (but too many notes can be a problem too!).

Source material:

Scores and midi files are readily available on the Internet: try www.imslp.org or www.classicalarchives.com/midi.html.  A trip to your local university’s music library can also offer some good resources.

Getting started:

Picking the right key can make or break an arrangement, so don’t be afraid to consider lots of possibilities. Is there enough ‘headroom’ to give the voices enough separation? Will the melodies fall in favourable registers? Can you make effective use of open strings? 

Hierarchal or shared challenge? This relates to ensemble music, and sharing around the ‘work load’ and melodies will depend on the group for which it’s intended. For instance, if you are setting the arrangement for your guitar class, having parts at a variety of challenge levels can be an advantage. On the other hand, if your group is all at the same level, sharing around the difficulty (and glory!) is important.


Once you’ve made these decisions, then the ‘busy’ work of pushing the pencil (or computer mouse!) begins as you sketch out your arrangement. Transcriptions can be fairly straight forward, but even so can offer some interesting problem solving in choosing chord voicings or adjusting the bass line when it ‘falls off the guitar’. Freer arrangements will offer a bit more head scratching as you search for accompaniment patterns and choose special effects such as harmonics, pizzicato or percussion. Or maybe even a re-harmonization.  Don’t be afraid to try many things until you find just the right amount of magic…

God is in the details:

Ok, you’ve got all the notes figured out, now it’s time to add as much performance detail as you can – putting it in the score may be your last chance to communicate with potential performers. Dynamics, articulation, fingering - the list goes on and on, but time spent here will often make the difference between an ‘ok’ arrangement and a great one.

Proofread, proofread, proofread!

Thought you were done? Not yet! Time to comb out all the dross and verify that everything works well. This is best done with a guitar in your hands to make sure everything is playable, not to mention sounding well on the instrument. Let some time pass and then proof again, or ask a colleague to do so.

If you’ve faithfully worked through the check-list, congratulations – now you’re an arranger! And if you’d like to share, Submit it to us!