Photo credit: Ana Monroe
If you've ever written a song, produced an album or scored a film cue you know that the music's arrangement -- how it comes to life using different instruments, timbres, textures, etc. -- can be just as important as the melody or harmony. In this second installment of our ASCAP Lesson series, the members of L.A.-based The Section Quartet share their approach to arranging music. This "rock band disguised as a string quartet" is certainly an authority on the subject. The Quartet comprises four first-call session musicians with an impressive list of credits on records, film & TV projects (check out their website for the full rundown), and they also routinely apply expert classical technique to the pop and rock tunes that they hold near and dear. Here's what they had to say about their arrangement process.
In selecting a song to arrange we start with the music we listen to, songs we like. Between the four of our tastes, deciding can sometimes come down to an arm wrestle. But more importantly, we consider how a song translates to our instruments. We’ve tried out many songs we love only to find that the vocals, drums and production -- what we strip away -- are more crucial to the song than we originally thought. For example, the melodic lines of Radiohead translate naturally, whereas Bob Dylan's lyric-centric songs, not so much (all due respect). We keep it interesting by utilizing the wide range of textures and articulations strings have to offer, and by passing the roles of melody, rhythm and harmony around all four instruments. But we also go for less obvious choices; our take on The Strokes' “Juicebox” is driven by the rhythm of bow wood hitting the strings, Led Zeppelin's “Heartbreaker” by a hocketing string groove, and Tool's “Undertow” by crunchy string unisons.
After selecting and arranging a song, it's time to bring it to the band. Everyone in TSQ brings his or her own attitude to each part, so when we're arranging, this is kept in mind. Even so, the written arrangement remains open to adjustments.
Muse's "Time Is Running Out” has been an audience favorite ever since we recorded it for our album, FUZZBOX (Decca, 2007). Our violinist Daphne Chen arranged the song for TSQ. "I love Muse, and when I discovered this song, I immediately heard how we could make it our own," says Daphne. "The song has a great groove, supercool bass line, and a long build in to the chorus. We have a blast with it, using muted pizzicato, a wacky harmonic melody and a little more grit in our tone than we might use as session musicians!"
Whether we're tackling Radiohead, Zeppelin, David Bowie or Queens of the Stone Age, we try to show that not only is the rock canon packed with compositions worthy of reinterpretation on centuries-old instruments, but also that these instruments actually have something to contribute in the realm of rocking out. Rock on!
Find out more at The Section Quartet's website, MySpace page, Facebook page or Twitter profile