Part I: Preexisting Content

First and foremost in the study of arranging is the understanding of the works of the literature. One could do well to sit and study hundreds of scores before embarking on the process of content creation. The literature is packed with works that encompass the best examples encompassing a wide range of possibilities that have been tried and tested. No arranging text could ever hope to expose the learner to all they need to see to be able to understand the true scope of the art and this text will certainly not attempt to do so. It is hoped that the learner will take the examples given here as best practices and to incorporate the techniques throughout as mere practical demonstrations of the modern convention of arranging for band. To begin the study of arranging this text will examine works or excerpts that are demonstrative of a particular topic.

Chapter 1: Score Study

The study of scores is integral to the understanding of both the historical traditions of master composers and the musical content of a work. The nexus of vertical and horizontal thought, once understood, can unlock vast musical potential. This chapter begins with a method to reduce this content so that one can easily view how the music may be orchestrated to achieve various goals.

It is important to understand the musical context of a score before beginning an arrangement. There are numerous analytical tools available to the arranger to begin an in-depth exploration of the music to be arranged. It should be common practice for the arranger to understand, through analysis, both the short term and the long term goals of the work. Jazz symbols, Roman numeral analysis (for tonal music) or any other additional types of analysis that help reveal the movement and form of the work should be employed early in the study process.


Reduction is the method by which a score can be transcribed to a few number of staves to represent, in as small amount of space as convenient, all of the pitches to be produced by an ensemble.

Example 1-1 Antonio Vivaldi, The Seasons: Autumn, mm. 1-3.

Creating a Reduction

Example 1-1 shows a reduction of a 5-voice score into two staves. Care must be taken so that each voice may be understood as linear movement. Each voice of the reduction has been labeled so that the instrument lines can be seen throughout the work. A reduction is similar to a reduced score.

Reductions may employ any number of staves, though for analytical purposes and piano realization the traditional number of staves is two. It may be useful to create a dedicated percussion staff or other specialized staff, such as a solo staff, for other occasions. Keep in mind that the goal of the reduction is to reduce to as few staves necessary, the content of the score.

Through studious reduction and analysis of numerous masterworks the inquisitive arranger can begin to internalize the art of skillful voicing in ensembles.

Transposition From a Score

Notice that the contrabass line in example 1-1 (CB) is notated an octave lower than the written part. The representation of the voices as heard is essential in the creation of a useful reduction.

One barrier to immediate vertical understanding, and indeed the primary reason reduction can be so illuminating, is that many instruments are not written as they sound. There are reasons, both practical and traditional, for this to be the case. Regardless, to study a score knowledge of the sounding pitch is essential. Thus, from the beginning, transposition from a score must be understood and mastered.

Laws of Transposition

To simplify the understanding of transposition we can recognize 5 laws.

I. Law of sees. Sees a “C”, sounds its key. A written note C, when played, will always produce the sounding pitch name of the instrument. For example, an E-flat Alto Saxophone when playing a written C will sound an E-flat.

II. Law of action. Writing for a transposing instrument must be opposite in direction of its sounding pitch. For example: a B-flat trumpet sounds a major second below its written pitch. To counteract this, the music must be written a major second higher. So, to hear a particular note a trumpet, the pitch has to be written a step higher.

C  đź‘€   W = Written

Bâ™­ trumpet

Bâ™­ đź”Š  S = Sounding

III. Law of size. Most transposing instruments will sound lower than written. This is easily understood if you can see the size of a flute in C. A longer instrument would necessarily tend to sound lower.

IV. Law of keys. An instrument’s key name will determine its transposed key. For instance, an E-flat alto saxophone “carries” 3 flats with its name. To sound in a particular key, the opposite must be applied. So, an alto saxophone written in the key of G (one sharp) would sound in the key of B-flat once the key name had been applied. Stated another way: 1 sharp (G) plus 3 flats (E-flat)equals 2 flats (B-flat).

V. Law of Accidentals. In a piece with a key the number and placement of accidentals in a musical line will be identical. Consider the part below:

Example 1-2. Melody with key and accidentals.

This line, when realized as it would sound as through an instrument in F would look like this:

Note that the number and placement of each accidental is identical to the original music.

Types of Transposition

The distance movement required for transposition may be facilitated by a number of means. The following are the most common.

I. Interval. Interval transposition is related to the law of action. If an instrument sounds a certain distance away from written, it must be written so that the sound will end up where wanted. Knowing the distance for each transposing instrument from written pitch to sounding pitch is essential to understanding the content of a score. A list of transpositions is included in Chapter 8.

II. Degree/Solfege. This transposition method is useful for music that has a key designation for each instrument. It is less useful in an open-key score. Each instrument’s key designates the tonic. Therefore if a transposing instrument is written in the key of D, then D is tonic, do, or scale degree 1. This information may then be related to the concert key as the same tonal relation. Scale degree remains consistent through transposition.

III. Clef. Clef transposition (also called imaginary clefs) can be used to immediately identify sounding pitches, without the need to mentally alter a note’s placement on the staff. This type of transposition necessarily deemphasizes octave designation which must then be compensated for when used to reduce scores. It is through this type of transposition that a baritone saxophone instrumentalist may easily substitute tuba music in lieu of a, perhaps missing, baritone saxophone part. The player reads the music as written, but imagines a treble clef and adds three sharps (Law of keys) to the written signature. Likewise, a score reader will may see an instrument part written in E-flat in treble clef and imagine a bass clef with three flats added to the given signature. For instruments not in E-flat, the imaginary clef best used is the C-clef. It is indeed an interesting quirk of coincidence that the placement of the imaginary C-clef correlates its position with that an inverted bass clef as demonstrated in example 1-4.

Example 1-4. The inverted bass clef and corresponding keys.

IV. Finger. Finger transposition is a transposition used when reading a part on specific instruments to produce a result other than what would normally be expected. For example, a written C4 on clarinet or bassoon would be played with LH 123. Whereas LH 123 on saxophone is realized as a written G. Therefore if saxophone fingerings are used on the clarinet (below the throat tones), bass clef instrument parts in C can be read at sight with the sounding pitches realized at a congruent pitch class. Similarly, trumpet fingerings may be used on a euphonium to read Bb parts, etc.

Chapter 2: Transcription

Orchestration is an adaptation of a work for orchestra, a processes that typically involves the conversion of a few staves to many. In orchestration it is understood that notes may be added or moved by octave to suit an ensemble or to better achieve a desired musical effect. The term orchestration may also be used for other ensembles, though in some circles other terms such as “bandstration” are used to distinguish the ensemble for which one is creating the orchestration. Transcription is understood as the adaptation of a particular work to another medium. An arrangement will employ liberties in regard to structure or content (or both) as compared to the original.


As mentioned earlier, the analysis of music is integral to the creation of a successful arrangement. Recognition of the musical structure of an extant piece and its transformation during the arranging process can yield a successful product that is musical art in its own right. Understanding the harmonic content of a work is of equal importance to the form as a whole. Vertical chord labeling, here referred to as jazz-symbols, is a good first step in understanding a musical work. Roman numerals are useful on the small scale as well. The location of phrases, designated by cadences in tonal music or otherwise by points of arrival are essential in the understanding of is form. Once a work’s form is understood by the arranger important decisions can be made in regard to the new work’s length and content. Analysis must be undertaken before the arrangement has begun, though the extent of the analysis is up to each arranger or as directed by an instructor.