A Cappella Arranging: 101
— Tips + tricks for vocal arranging.
1 - The Bass is the Foundation
Not to get too deep into music theory, but the bass (aka the lowest note) truly is the root of any chord and there’s no way to get around it. No matter how you arrange the notes in any given voice part, the way people hear tonality is rooted in the lowest note. A good way to keep this at the forefront of arranging is to chart out the chords of the song prior to composing the arrangement, making note of where the bass note should appear, and you will essentially have a road map to the lowest voice part and can begin to fill it in.
2 - Don’t Forget About the Melody
Melody is the thing that will make people nod and say “Oh yeah, I love that song!” It is essential that the melody is present and prominent throughout an arrangement. Sometimes it is so easy to get bogged down by all of the harmonies and individual voice part lines, that melody becomes an afterthought. But whether the melody is sung by the vocal lead or written into one of the voice parts of the ensemble, make sure that the arrangement as a whole compliments the melody and does not drown it out.
3 - Make it Your Own
Finally, put your stamp on it! Don’t be afraid to play around with structure or tonality. Some of the best a cappella arrangements out there have elements that are completely absent from the original songs they are based on. Flipping the key from major to minor, or adding lyrics from another song during an instrumental bridge could be the difference between a boring arrangement and an exciting, original arrangement.