In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the first five steps for teaching a piano student to arrange a song. Once they can successfully play the melody with the root position blocked chords, it’s time to start arranging!

Beginning Arranging: Second Lesson

Using Greensleeves as an example, here’s the lead sheet that the student has learned to play:

Greensleeves (Ex. 1) (full)

6. Add Major or Minor Chords

A good first step in arranging is helping the student consider ideas for adding major or minor chords based on common tones with the melody. Below, I’ve added an Em chord in m. 2, a Dm chord in m. 6, and a C chord in m. 10 based on tones these chords have in common with the melody in those measures.

Greensleeves (Ex. 2)

7. Discuss Chord Inversions for Optimal Voice Leading

Explain how a pianist can use different chord inversions to make a progression easier to play. Help your student make some decisions about changing the inversions of selected chords. The new inversions should be notated with slash marks, which are easier to understand than classical notation and are standard in jazz:

Greensleeves (Ex. 3)

The chosen inversions may or may not provide an optimally effective root progression, but at this point it’s probably easiest to avoid this discussion and simply focus on the ease of playing the chord progression with the new inversions.

8. Consider the Harmonic Texture

Now you can explain to (or remind) the student that chords can also be played in a broken pattern. Brainstorm and improvise some possible variations of broken chord patterns. Try each variation with a few bars of the tune. Ask the student which sounds best. Then help them get started notating a full piano arrangement on a grand staff with a mix of blocked and broken chords (or all broken chords).

Discuss how the broken chords keep the song flowing during longer-duration notes in the melody (mm. 3-4 and 8):

Greensleeves (Ex. 4)

More advanced students may enjoy the challenge of arranging the song with the melody in the LH and the chords in the RH, if it makes musical sense.

9. Consider Harmonizing the Melody

Discuss the possibilities for harmonizing the melody in the RH, particularly with thirds or sixths. This can be especially effective when the LH is playing broken chords:

Greensleeves (Ex. 5)

Harmonizing the melody is also an effective way to establish a different texture or sound for a different section of the song, as in the above example.

10. Learn to Play the Arrangement

Have your student learn their arrangement as they would any other piece. Consider allowing (or encouraging!) them to play one of their arrangements in a recital. This can be highly motivating and ego-boosting for students of any age!

Have fun!

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