Arranging for Brass Instruments

Arranging music for brass instruments could be challenging. But, not if you follow a few basic steps. Here you can read some advises about how to get started by Jim Nova, second / utility trombone of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Area Coordinator of Brass; Adjunct Professor of Trombone at the Mary Pappert School of Music at Douquesne University. If John Williams, composer says that Jim Nova does a great job arranging , then you should really keep reading!

How should one start arranging? What is the first step?

Start with music you really love to play! Seems simple but many people forget this. And also, start small. 2-5 parts.

What mistakes would you avoid if you started arranging today? What are the most common mistakes that arrangers or even composers make? 

The melody or “tune” doesn’t always have to be in the top voice. Balance is of critical importance when doing like ensemble arrangements (trombone choir, etc…). Another thing to remember is power of passing of or splitting up difficult passages, aka “dove tailing.” 

John Williams' letter to Jim Nova
John Williams’ letter to Jim Nova
What makes a great arrangement great? 

Much like playing your instrument, sound is more important than ease of play. In other words, I focus on how my arrangement will sound the best and then I try to make it as playable as possible. This is part of why I highly recommend overdubbing your own arrangements. That gives tremendous insight on the sound / playability balance.

How to keep improving your arranging skills?

Listen, listen, listen!

Listen to Jim Nova’s arrangements and get inspired!

I’m always listening to new arrangements that come out from various folks. This can both show you things you like and want to emulate but also show you what you DON’T like.

You should also read Jim Nova’s thoughts about “The secrets of switching between tenor and bass trombones” and “How to record your tape for music festivals and competitions”

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