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The Trombone ForumTeaching & LearningComposition, Arranging and Theory(Moderator: zemry) Arranging for odd-instrumentation 'little band'
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davdud101
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« on: Feb 14, 2017, 07:49PM »

In a few weeks I'll be leading a sort of small band with some folks from my church. We've got an instrumentation of two guitars, drums bass and piano, three trumpets, two trombones, alto and tenor saxophones.

We're playing a tune I've written that's between the styles of night-show opener (think "Spanish Flea") and Cold Duck Time/Cantaloupe Island.


So the couple of things I'm curious about are the following:

- What can I write so that 2 guitars AND a piano are all doing something - and not all the same thing? Perhaps one guitar is always on the melody and the other plays tensions?

- How does one write backgrounds/fills from the horns when there's a little less variety? I had a guy on baritone (trombone 3) and had to move him to trumpet as we lost one, and I *might( lose trombone 2 as well. That'll reduce the amount of variety available, I'd think.

- How can I write to be 'safe' in case there are parts that people struggle with, or that people otherwise aren't able to perform with the group?

- What's a good way to set up on stage with a group like this? I initially thought, two trombones and two saxes sitting / leaning in front with trumpets standing behind, but even that I'm not sure of. Then there's the two guitars...

Just not sure!

Good thing I've got time. It's almost 1.5 months until the performance, and I won't be sending music out until Thursday, so I can still work on the arrangement.


[edit.. this may well be posted in the wrong forum. I thought the post would be about leading a band but it didn't end up being that way!]
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« Reply #1 on: Feb 14, 2017, 08:34PM »

Going to move this to Composition/Arranging.

Some random suggestions:

1.  Have one guitar playing a melody line and the other doing "rhythm guitar" (chords).  Switch them off so nobody gets bored.

2.  You can set up your horns as a stacked chord with 2 trumpets on top, then alto, then tenor, then the 2 trombones.  Or trumpets/alto/trombones/tenor.

3.  Consider call and response for the horns between 2 choirs: trumpet/alto/trombone and trumpet/tenor/trombone.

Good luck.
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« Reply #2 on: Feb 14, 2017, 09:27PM »

Your first time out... keep it simple, with lots of doubling.
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« Reply #3 on: Feb 14, 2017, 10:14PM »

In a few weeks I'll be leading a sort of small band with some folks from my church. We've got an instrumentation of two guitars, drums bass and piano, three trumpets, two trombones, alto and tenor saxophones.

We're playing a tune I've written that's between the styles of night-show opener (think "Spanish Flea") and Cold Duck Time/Cantaloupe Island.


So the couple of things I'm curious about are the following:

- What can I write so that 2 guitars AND a piano are all doing something - and not all the same thing? Perhaps one guitar is always on the melody and the other plays tensions?

One guitar plays rhythm chords or bass.
The other guitar plays 'obligatos' to back up the trombone, takes the melody when the trombone rests or otherwise play chords if the other guitar is  bass.  Or any combination of the above is totally OK.
The piano can be scored to support both the bass/rhythm guitar and the backup guitar, or even take a solo. Otherwise should support the rhythm and chord structure.

- How does one write backgrounds/fills from the horns when there's a little less variety? I had a guy on baritone (trombone 3) and had to move him to trumpet as we lost one, and I *might( lose trombone 2 as well. That'll reduce the amount of variety available, I'd think.
If you have other horns that is great!!.  Get them to back up the solos with chord support and 'obligato'/counter melody.  Use them for off beat 'punch' notes to back up other instruments.

- How can I write to be 'safe' in case there are parts that people struggle with, or that people otherwise aren't able to perform with the group?
Use common sense.  Determine the abilities of your players and score accordingly. If your stuck with a particular set of musicians, you have to make do.

- What's a good way to set up on stage with a group like this? I initially thought, two trombones and two saxes sitting / leaning in front with trumpets standing behind, but even that I'm not sure of. Then there's the two guitars...
This is getting quite big.  However.  Trumpets and rhythm at the back, saxes and trombones together (as long as there is not more than 4 or 5 of the combined group) and solo trombone out front for solos.   BTW Piano, Guitars, basss and drums are all rhythm.  They should be at the back or off to (usually) the right side. 
 
Just not sure!
  Get sure.  Your leading, make some decisions.  The band needs a leader.

Good thing I've got time. It's almost 1.5 months until the performance, and I won't be sending music out until Thursday, so I can still work on the arrangement.
Well, if you have time, do some experiments.  Just don't appear to be anything but in charge while you do it.  Make decisions, stick by them, and move forward with changes as required.

[edit.. this may well be posted in the wrong forum. I thought the post would be about leading a band but it didn't end up being that way!]
This game is that way.  Get used to leadership.  Your questions were definitely those of someone in a position to lead. So lead...

Use what you have.  Your best musicians should be brought to the fore.  Get the best folks to do the real work, and get the rest to build the support.  This is what all band leaders have always done.
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davdud101
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« Reply #4 on: Mar 06, 2017, 08:32PM »

Great tips here, I've used a lot of them!

Over the weekend, we had our first rehearsal (of only two total, plus sound check). We're playing one tune as part of a larger "concert"-type thing.
The stuff I wrote has a lot in common with my trumpet players, so apparently my sax player felt a little neglected. Bare in mind that this is a group at the level of a somewhat low-level high school jazz band, so I had to work a LOT with the trumpets since they carry the majority of the melodic stuff.

What can I do to avoid situations like this? My alto player isn't a super-skilled reader, nor is he very confident in his playing. Unfortunately, as said, I had to focus on getting the trumpets to recognize their rhythms and get their notes down. And boy, was I beat 40 minutes in!
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« Reply #5 on: Mar 06, 2017, 09:24PM »

Great tips here, I've used a lot of them!

Over the weekend, we had our first rehearsal (of only two total, plus sound check). We're playing one tune as part of a larger "concert"-type thing.
The stuff I wrote has a lot in common with my trumpet players, so apparently my sax player felt a little neglected. Bare in mind that this is a group at the level of a somewhat low-level high school jazz band, so I had to work a LOT with the trumpets since they carry the majority of the melodic stuff.

What can I do to avoid situations like this? My alto player isn't a super-skilled reader, nor is he very confident in his playing. Unfortunately, as said, I had to focus on getting the trumpets to recognize their rhythms and get their notes down. And boy, was I beat 40 minutes in!
It seems you have skills issues.  This is certainly not unheard of ...  If you had the money to hire pros, you could avoid this, but ...

My guess is this is something new for you and your group.  Lessons learned here.  Going forward try to allow yourself enough rehearsal time to give everyone attention.  If you are comfortable with the folks you have, put together a regular schedule for rehearsals.  Amateurs need this.  Start collecting or creating charts to build a repertoire so that the next, or some later opportunity will be met with a well prepared group.

I've found myself in a similar position last year.  I organized a Big Band consisting of 22+ musicians ranging from folks that have never played in a big band to those that have made money at it.  Like you , we gave our first performance before we were 100% ready.  You know what?  The audience loved it anyway and booked us for a spring dance.

Here is a rendition of "Summer Samba, So Nice" they really got enthusiastic about:  http://www.onebytecpu.com/Music/Track23.mp3

We only rehearsed this twice.  Yours truly on bass trombone (don't ask about that missing 10th note).

The intent on putting this band together was to bring swing to the area.  I knew we'd have a mix of players, but the intent was never to light the swing scene on fire, but just to have fun and bring this great music to the community.  I'm 100% fine with all the musicians in the band and we'll try to stick at this and get it down pat.  It seems you might have similar goals.  Keep at it.  Keep the ball rolling and things will get to where they need to be.

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davdud101
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« Reply #6 on: Mar 06, 2017, 09:50PM »

My guess is this is something new for you and your group.  Lessons learned here.  Going forward try to allow yourself enough rehearsal time to give everyone attention.  If you are comfortable with the folks you have, put together a regular schedule for rehearsals.  Amateurs need this.  Start collecting or creating charts to build a repertoire so that the next, or some later opportunity will be met with a well prepared group.

//

Here is rendition of "Summer Samba, So Nice" they really got enthusiastic about:  http://www.onebytecpu.com/Music/Track23.mp3

We only rehearsed this twice.  Yours truly on bass trombone (don't ask about that missing 10th note).


Hit the nail on the head, Bill! This is my first time directing a group.

Unfortunately, as far as rehearsals altogether go, we're a church consisting of several smaller groups on the east coast, and we only meet up maybe once a month for conferences. It'd be awesome to get more practices in, but for now, I'm working on a sort of "honor system", banking on the hope that everyone is practicing when I'm sending out the messages.

I might end up having to pare the group down in the future, make it a bit more exclusive with the condition that we take only those who practice. It actually sounds very cruel, but it'll wake folks up a bit to the importance of practice, and give them a goal to work towards that's far higher than being able to *just barely* pull off playing most of the right notes during the performance. Just a thought.

I'm going to definitely make it a priority to start building a repertoire with my players. The majority of these players either learned classically, or have just messed around/played in school. None have played professionally, myself included in that majority. A lot of these guys struggle first and foremost with rhythm and stuff, so heavy-duty big band stuff is difficult to do because our lead trumpeter AND piano player have trouble with that. I think giving the folks a couple of pieces and just working on them, getting past playing right notes, into the deeper layers of music - dynamics, articulation, phrasing, etc. - would be very good for the band.

There's a lot to work on.



Your group really sounded good! Of course there's the little quirks here and there, but if I can get my guys to sound half as good as yours did, I'd be ecstatic! Sounds like you've got a clarinet on the lead alto part?
Either way, I can tell you've got both highly-experienced and less-experienced players in your group. I know that helped me a LOT when I first moved into my upper-tier symphonic band in high school, because I could lean on the more skilled, more practiced players. Now, it's a matter of helping develop those players who can be leaned on in my band.
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« Reply #7 on: Mar 07, 2017, 03:01PM »

Your group really sounded good! Of course there's the little quirks here and there, but if I can get my guys to sound half as good as yours did, I'd be ecstatic! Sounds like you've got a clarinet on the lead alto part?
Either way, I can tell you've got both highly-experienced and less-experienced players in your group. I know that helped me a LOT when I first moved into my upper-tier symphonic band in high school, because I could lean on the more skilled, more practiced players. Now, it's a matter of helping develop those players who can be leaned on in my band.

Thanks.  We'll get better as time goes forward.  Actually I can't really take any credit.  I may a gotten the band together and manage it, but I'm not the musical director.  We have someone much better at that than me.

The alto solo was played on a ... alto sax!  The player is definitely one of our best and can play clarinet, flute, tenor sax - whatever.  But for this he was playing an alto.

When I first put out word that I wanted to get a band together, I did not think we'd get too many great players, but we got quite a few.  It's great having them as they do assist the relative newbies in getting their swing on.
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« Reply #8 on: Mar 07, 2017, 03:07PM »

Thanks.  We'll get better as time goes forward.  Actually I can't really take any credit.  I may a gotten the band together and manage it, but I'm not the musical director.  We have someone much better at that than me.

The alto solo was played on a ... alto sax!  The player is definitely one of our best and can play clarinet, flute, tenor sax - whatever.  But for this he was playing an alto.

When I first put out word that I wanted to get a band together, I did not think we'd get too many great players, but we got quite a few.  It's great having them as they do assist the relative newbies in getting their swing on.

How'd you do it, actually? I've been heavily considering doing something similar in a few years (after playing in some more legit bands myself, getting a couple more years of playing, lesson-receiving and teaching under my belt), though it's only because I really would like to play more big band stuff and rarely get a chance to do so.

Is yours a pay-to-play program? Or can absolutely anyone join?
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« Reply #9 on: Mar 08, 2017, 08:50AM »

How'd you do it, actually? I've been heavily considering doing something similar in a few years (after playing in some more legit bands myself, getting a couple more years of playing, lesson-receiving and teaching under my belt), though it's only because I really would like to play more big band stuff and rarely get a chance to do so.

Is yours a pay-to-play program? Or can absolutely anyone join?
I've been a part of the local music community for about 30 years and know, or know of, most of the musicians.  I just sent out an e-mail asking if anyone was interested in forming a Big Band.  I had the band put together in about 3 days.

Right now it's pay to join ($75 for the year) but we hope to get enough gigs in coming years that it will be free to join.  At that point we may need to be a little more choosy about who gets to play.  However, in the meantime we hope we can get enough players up to speed in playing swing and Latin music that we'll have enough to have a core band and plenty of subs, if required.
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