Yes, these are actually skills that people spend years studying to get good at. In my case, beyond the basics of composition and music theory, I didn’t have a music degree or a lifetime of music arranging experience.
But I did have time.
After I decided to write the musical, I spent this time ordering books from Amazon, combing through the library archives, and spending a lot of time listening to “the greats”. But at the beginning, it was reading – here’s a few from the list:
- The Idiot’s Guide to Music Composition, by Michael Miller. It’s a bit embarrassing to list this book because of the name, but it was well written and was a great way to hit the ground running. And since one of the books I wrote was “The Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business”, I wanted to acknowledge that despite the genre title, the books are definitely not for idiots.
- Arranging Concepts Complete, by Dick Grove (433 pages cerloxed!) Who knew that they still sold cerlox books! Seriously, a great reference work on orchestration for small ensembles – it was challenging, but I learned a lot.
- Choral Arranging, by Hawley Ades. A deep dive into writing for SATB choirs. The focus was very much on traditional (classical) music; there is a lot that can be learned from the masters. After reading this, I hoped to put at least one a cappella section into the musical. [Update: look for it in the finale.]
- Arranging & Composing for the small ensemble, by David Baker. Another cerlox special, but this time a mere 184 pages. An exceptionally practical book that helped me think beyond four-voice writing.
- Modern Jazz voicing, by Ted Pease and Ken Pullig. Again, another very practical perspective on voicing – I had fun trying some of their suggestions.
- Song Arrangement for the small recording studio, by Amos Clarke. This short book helped me understand the connection between what I want to achieve as a composer/arranger, and what the mixing engineer needs to craft a great mix.