What does a Music Arranger do?

Josie Myers

A music arranger takes a piece of music and organizes it, or lays it out, for a particular group of musicians to play. An arranger does not create new pieces of music, but rather creates new ways to play old pieces. He works in a variety of places and produces musical arrangements for a number of different types of musical groups.

Music is arranged so that musicians with similar instruments can coordinate their playing.
Music is arranged so that musicians with similar instruments can coordinate their playing.

Becoming a music arranger requires a good background in music. These artists must have a solid knowledge not only of how to read and write music, but also of how the different instruments work in conjunction with one another. They must understand how to arrange the pitches and volumes of various instruments in order for the melodies and harmonies to best come forward. While there are certainly some with natural ability, the majority of arrangers have had some classical training, through either private lessons or formal education in music, or both.

A music arranger might produce sheet music for a publishing company.
A music arranger might produce sheet music for a publishing company.

Arranging is similar to, and sometimes confused with, orchestration. Orchestration is laying out an existing piece of music for a given group of musical instruments. Arranging is slightly different in that it allows for some creativity in the music arrangement. Harmonies can be altered and themes changed slightly, rhythms changed up, new endings written, or the piece can even be combined with another for a "mash-up."

Arrangements can be made for all types of musical genres. Classical, popular, and jazz are among some of the most common genres to use arranging. Sometimes these cross over into each other, in that jazz artists may borrow tunes from popular music, or popular music may borrow from classical. A well-known example of this is The Beatle's "With a Little Help From my Friends," which was an upbeat pop tune. A music arranger took the song and arranged it into a much more soulful version just a few years later, which was performed by singer Joe Cocker. The two are the same song with completely different rhythms and patterns, a type of arrangement sometimes called a cover song.

Some arrangers work for publishing companies, producing sheet music for single instruments or combinations of instruments. A music arranger can also work to turn musical pieces into arrangements for larger ensembles, like marching bands or orchestras. Sometimes this is a canned process, meaning that a general arrangement that should work adequately for the majority of bands is created and mass-produced. Other times, arrangers work on-on-one with a group to create a custom piece of music. This is especially helpful when dealing with a band that works outside standard methods, or when it is entering a competition, such as drum corps contest, in which originality is a must.

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Discussion Comments


When I sang in a church choir, we would perform cantatas at Easter and Christmas. Most of the music was traditional hymns, but an arranger would add music for strings and horns that connected each song. Sometimes the song's original tune would be changed in order to sound more dramatic or to give someone a solo part.


You can really see what a good music arranger does whenever you hear a pop song played in an old fashioned style, like doo wop or 30s jazz. The music arranger has to decide which instruments should play each element of the song. If a 40s big band wanted to cover the song "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones, for instance, the arranger might give the guitar riff to a horn section and the vocal line to a piano. The percussionists might be asked to play in a bluesy jazz style. The audience would recognize the tune, but it would be arranged for a different playing style and different instruments.

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