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10mm Horns


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Arranging for horns

Adding a horn section to a track can make a dramatic difference to its impact and overall groove. Composer Dave Gale shows you how...
heres nothing like a live horn section for making a track really groove or adding that extra timbre to give a chorus a lift. And scoring a horn arrangement is easier than it may initially seem think of horns as musical seasoning on the most delicious track youve ever written.


Family values
The first things to consider are the instruments which typically comprise a regular horn section, and your choice of instruments will depend on the tonal colour you are seeking as well as any budget you may be working to. Budgets have to get a mention here as saxophone players often play more than just the sax, making them more affordable from a personnel point of view. The saxophone is often described as a sexy instrument, used to great effect in many films and TV shows, but the saxophone family is very large. It includes many instruments ranging in both size and pitch, but for our purposes, there are only four saxophones that are commonly used, and of those, only two are almost always present. Ascending in size they go from soprano to alto through tenor to baritone predictably, the bigger the instrument, the 1 lower its pitch. The most commonly used saxophones tend to be the tenor and alto and these two instruments will go part way to forming the most basic of horn sections, which would consist of three musicians. The third instrument to be added to our essential horn trio would be the trumpet. The trumpet has a fantastic tonal quality that contrasts well with the mellower tone of the saxophones.

HOW THE HORNS TRANSPOSE Soprano sax (concert pitch)

Soprano sax (tranposed)

Alto sax (concert pitch)

Alto sax (tranposed)

Tenor sax (concert pitch)

Tenor sax (tranposed)


Soprano sax (concert pitch)

Baritone sax (concert pitch)

Baritone sax (tranposed)

Alto sax (concert pitch)

Trumpet in B (concert pitch)

Trumpet in B (tranposed)

Tenor sax (concert pitch)

Trombone (concert pitch)

Trombone (tranposed)

Baritone sax (concert pitch)

Note how the key signature also transposes by the same amount for each instrument, so be sure to enter the correct, transposed key signature.

Trumpet in B (concert pitch)

Trombone (concert pitch)

Some players may be able to exceed these ranges, but that is dependent on the ability of the player.

This trio of instruments act as the foundation on which any other sections are built. You can add a soprano or baritone sax (or further instruments), but the basic three-part construct will act as the bedrock for most of your arrangements. The tenor trombone may also get the occasional outing and is considered similar in range to

the tenor sax, so often appears instead. It has a mellower tone than a trumpet but, again, works well in combination.

Pitch correction
If you ask an alto player to play the note C on his saxophone, you may be rather confused to find that when you approach your keyboard, his C will be

36 May 2005 MusicTech MAGAZINE

MTM26.10mm Horns


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Trumpet in B

Trumpet in B



Full horns (concert pitch)

Horns in unison (concert pitch)

Starting with the three parts as chords, voice out the parts into their transposed versions for each instrument.

Tenor in B

A single line arranged for all three parts. Note that in this example the tenor sax plays an octave lower than the trumpet and alto.

Tenor in B

different from yours. This is because all of the saxophones that we have mentioned are what are known as transposing instruments. So, to get the alto player to play the note you want, you have to transpose the actual note first. It is at this point that you may hear the term concert pitch as this always refers to the actual note that you want to be played. So, if you want a middle C, you want it at concert pitch. If you then work your transposing calculation, you should end up with the

you the note A. Ask them to play an A over an octave above middle C, and you will hear a 2 middle C.

Practice makes perfect

The most common type of trumpet that you will find in horn sections is the trumpet in B . This instrument transposes just like the soprano sax, so perform the same calculation. If you do end up using a trombone, you will be delighted to hear that it is the one instrument in our line-up which doesnt transpose. So, when you

In the early days of the band Madness, their sax player didnt know that his instrument transposed, which is why many of their early recordings have a very out-of-tune sax on them. He tried to detune his instrument far enough to get to the correct pitch!

The arrangement
So, youve got your tune organised and you want to add the horns. Remember, though: dont overuse them. Save them for the second verse or chorus, when you need more impact. You will also have to consider the ranges of the instruments at this point. Unlike keyboards, horns can play only within a certain range of notes and even then, only one note at a time. They will dovetail nicely as you move through the instruments we have mentioned thus far, but do not exceed the note ranges of the instruments. You also have two basic choices: do you get them to play the same notes (or in unison, as its known), or do you get them to play chords? Both are highly effective. If you want the horns to follow the harmonic structure of your song, get the trumpet to play the top part, the alto to play the middle part and the tenor to play the bottom part. You can see a basic example of this in the diagram entitled, Three-part harmonised 3 horn example.

Arranging for horns is great fun, highly rewarding and a great skill to have.
note you want. So, what are these mysterious transposing calculations? For an alto saxophone, if you want the note middle C in concert pitch to be produced, you will need to count up nine semitones, giving you the note A. Ask them to play an A above middle C and you will hear a middle C. For a tenor saxophone, you will need to count up 14 semitones (or an octave and two semitones), which will give you the note D. Ask them to play a D an octave above middle C and you will hear middle C. For a soprano saxophone, you will need to count up two semitones, giving you the note D. Ask them to play a D above middle C and you will hear middle C. For baritone saxophones, you will need to count up 21 semitones (or an octave and nine semitones), which will give ask for a C, thats what youll get. Dont be surprised if all of this technical musical stuff is worrying you it can be daunting when you first start trying to work it out. But, as with everything in music, a little practice goes a long way. However, you do have two helpful friends when trying to ensure you get the right notes. Firstly, many of the major scoring software packages such as Logic Pro and Sibelius have the ability to perform transposition for you, so you choose the instrument you want your line to be played on and it will transpose itself accordingly. Secondly, you wont be the first person that your saxophone player has met who doesnt have a strong grasp of transposition, so most sax players will be used to talking to you in concert pitch and doing the maths themselves.

its name suggests, the players will play a note and then fall off it, normally downwards, although they can sometimes go up as well. Falls are written on the score in a very literal and graphic way, so for an example of this within a unison phrase, see the diagram entitled Unison 4 part writing. One particularly successful British arranger said that when asked to do some horn arranging, he would first listen to tracks by Earth, Wind & Fire. This is a great way to get a feel for what works and sounds great. Arranging for horns is great fun, highly rewarding and a great skill to have. That moment when you hear your music played back for the first time by a real section, is a moment to cherish. MTM

Tech terms

Generic name for a section of saxes, trumpets and trombones.


Where all instruments play the same phrase, using the same note pitches.
Tutti (pronounced too-tee)

Where all instruments play the same phrase but harmonised.

Concert pitch

Description of notes as they would be heard on a piano or keyboard.


Short melodic phrase which tends to be repeated.

MUSIC TO LISTEN TO Michael Jackson, Off The Wall Earth, Wind & Fire, Greatest Hits Al Jarreau, Jarreau Donald Fagen, The Nightfly Miles Davis, Kind Of Blue Tower of Power, any track BOOKS Rock, Jazz & Pop Arranging, Daryl Runswick

Adding extras
Once youve got the basic idea, you can start to embellish the parts and add other devices. A common device is called a fall and is often added at a place where you would like to emphasise a beat or chord. As

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