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The Basics of Pop/R&B/Soul/Funk/Jazz Horn Arranging

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The Basics of R&B/Funk/Jazz Horn Arranging

Start Here
Horn Section Sizes, the Why and the Who
Voicings, 2, 3 and 6 horn voicings
Starting to write
Arranging Styles

Start Here
Rule 1. There are no rules.
These are my guidelines to be used and ignored as needed. The ONLY thing that
matters is whether what you write sounds good.

Instruments, Ranges and descriptions

B Trumpet -

The leader of the horn section, the most important instrument in the band. (in full
disclosure, I play trumpet). The trumpet usually plays the melody/top note of the voicing.
High unisons very powerful. Brass (trumpets/trombones) great for punches/hits.
Mutes (both trumpets/trombones) - Different colors/textures. Give time to change.
Depending on the mute, sometimes the tuning slide needs to be adjusted. Harmon (brassy/edgy), Cup (jazzy), Straight (classical/tinny), Bucket (mellow,
Flugel-ish), Plunger (Dixie-ish)
B Flugel

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In Los Angeles it is assumed every trumpet player plays Flugel. Much more mellow
sound than trumpet. Plays better "in the staff." Doesn't have the high range or
brightness of a trumpet (deeper mouthpiece). Commonly used for solos in ballads
and Bossa Novas. Chuck Mangione brought the instrument to national attention.
Blends nice with unison flute and trombone.
Trombone -

Unofficially plays an octave lower than trumpet. Powerful. Doesn't have the
dexterity of the trumpet, unless you're Bill Watrous.
Mutes - Cup, Bucket, Plunger
Bass Trombone -

Mostly used in larger ensembles (Big Bands). Common to be a "double" for a

trombone or tuba player. Plays lower than Trombone.
Dave Bargeron from Blood Sweat & Tears "doubled" on Bass Trombone (and Tuba).
Also used in the Jazz-Rock band Matrix. The bass trombone plays the 4th trombone
part in a big band.
It is common for woodwind players to "double" on other saxes. Flute and Clarinet
are the most common non-sax doubles for sax players. Some big bands expect sax
players to double on flute and clarinet. Bari sax doubles on bass clar. There are
many other woodwind instruments to double on.
Flute -

Plays the lead. (remember rule 1). Best comibined with another instrument.
Flute/flugel, flute/trumpet w/harmon mute, flute/trombone.
Soprano Sax -

Kenny G made this horn popular. Not a common instrument in a section unless
playing the lead line, used more as a solo instrument. Used in Jazz.
Alto Sax -

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The Basics of Pop/R&B/Soul/Funk/Jazz Horn Arranging

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In the trumpet range. Sounds great as a lead, section or solo instrument. David
Sanborn revolutionized the sound of the instrument which so many others followed
his lead.
Tenor Sax -

Possibly the most common saxophone. Used in all musical styles, commonly used
as both a solo and section instrument. In the trombone range. Unisons of tenor &
trombone have a nice sound. The old Jazz Crusaders.
Bari Sax -

Plays the lowest note of the horn section. Sometimes plays with Bass Guitar and in
big bands with the Bass Trombone. Popular on many Motown songs (HeatWave,
Baby Love, Can't Help Myself, Ain't Too Proud To Beg, etc.).
For the last 40 years, the Bari Sax has been synonymous with Doc Krupka of Tower
of Power. Typicaly the funky Bari plays lead-ins to the root of the chord. Gerry
Mulligan was one of the more famous jazz soloists on Bari.
Transposing trick - bari can read bass clef by adding 3 sharps.

Horn Section Sizes, the why and who -

The size and instumentation of a horn section are dependent on many factors...
Instrumental performance or backing up a vocalist.
Style of music.
Recording or live?
Even what horns do your friends play.
1 horn - Most commonly a sax.
2 horns - Most commonly a trumpet and sax. The Jazz Crusaders believed sax &
3 horns - The most common 3 horns; trumpet, sax and trombone. Chicago.
4 horns - Backing up a R&B/Pop vocalist, it's common for 2 trumpets, sax &
trombone. A 4 horn instrumental jazz horn section is more likely to be a trumpet,
alto sax, tenor sax & trombone.
5 horns - Tower Of Power.
6 horns - My Favorite. 2 Trumpets, Alto sax, Tenor sax, Trombone & Bari sax.
Considered by many to be a "small big band."
Rule 1, there are no rules. A horn section can be any size and combination. Listen,
if you like a horn section sound, use the same size.

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The Basics of Pop/R&B/Soul/Funk/Jazz Horn Arranging

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Random thoughts about Voicings & 2 horn, 3 horn and 4

horn examples with a few more random thoughts.
Voicings convey emotion.
Unless you really really want it, never have the root of a major7 voicing on top.
Rule 1, there are no rules. If the chords are C-Cmaj7-C7-C6, the Trombone playing
the descending line with the trumpet holding a "C" an octve higher sounds good.
For fast moving lines keeping the voices tighter works best.
For slow moving pads keeping the voices spread works best.
Try not to repeat hamony notes unless matching the melody.
2 Horns -

Unisons - Strong

Octaves - Stronger.

Thirds - Thirds and Sixths are interchangeable.


Fourths - A distinct sound, not a voicing to be used contantly.

3 Horns -

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Unisons and octaves also apply to 3 horns. Unisons, all the same note/pitch.
Octaves, trumpet the upper octave and trombone the lower octave. Which octave
the middle voice plays depends on the instrument, the range of the notes and what
sound you want. If a trumpet is the middle voice/instrument he would probably
play the upper octave with the 1st trumpet. Depending on the range of the melody
(top of the staff for the trumpets), possibly a very powerful sound with the
trombone an octave below. Depending on the range of the melody, maybe an alto
sax would play the upper octave while the tenor sax would play the lower octave.

Triads 1

Triads 2

Triads 3 - this is the one I would use. It uses the "color tones," in these examples
the middle voice. In the first group of notes it uses the 9th (G) instead of the 3rd
(A). The second group the 13th (D) instead of the 5th (C). The last note the 9th
instead of the 3rd (D).


Fourths - A more contempoary R&B voicing

4 Horns -

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Close - the closest available note.

Drop 2 - the second voice from "close" harmony down an octave.

Open (my fav)- the best of Drop 2 and added color tones.

Fourths - this voicing isn't used much in this style of music. For me, one of the
things I like about well-voiced horns is hearing the 3rds/7ths resolving.
More Random thoughts With only 2 or 3 horns you can't always cover the melody note and the 3rd & 7th.

Arranging Styles
Chicago - Trombone lead. Unisons, octaves, thirds, sixths and tenths. Pretty safe
Tower of Power - 13+11 chords. Staccato. BARI SAX. (emphasis intended)
Jerry Hey/Seawind Horns - A youtube of Jerry and his guys making it clear why
they're the best. Jerry Workin' Day and Night
Staccato. 4ths
Flugel, flute & trombone unison.
Transcribing is a great way to learn. Here's some of my Jerry Hey learnings,
transcriptions with some horn voicings.
Black & Blue - Al Jarreau
Boogie Down - Al Jarreau
I've Had Enough - Earth Wind & Fire
In The Spirit - Bob & Pauline Wilson
Keep My Eyes On Jesus - Bob & Pauline Wilson
Love Is Real - Al Jarreau
Love Is Waiting - Al Jarreau
Roof Garden - Al Jarreau
Save Me - Al Jarreau
Step By Step - Al Jarreau
Youtube of Jerry and the guys live with Al Jarreau. Sounds like the record.

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The Basics of Pop/R&B/Soul/Funk/Jazz Horn Arranging

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Starting to write
Before the pen hits the paper (old school) Is the song instrumental or are the horns backing up a vocal. In an instrumental
the horns take a much more prominant role, the horns play the melody. Backing up
a vocalist the horns take a supporting role to the singer. Meaning, more notes for
the instrumental, less notes for backing up the vocalist.
Is the arrangement for a nightly performance or a one time recording? Consider:
Endurance for brass players. Recording gives the option of punching in/overdubbing
that live doesn't. Unlike the old days of recording from start to end, today we can
"punch in/out" to start/stop recording at a certain part to allow a break for the
horns to catch their breath or even record individual notes that need to be fixed for
a multitude of reasons, assuming it's not just fixed in pro-tools. Overdubbing to
double the size of the horn section, common for one horn section left, one right. If
for recording, Studio Tricks like having the horn section bounce from one side to
the other, digital delay to give the horns a sound as if echoing away.
The best arrangement played badly sounds worse than the mediocre arrangement
played by good players. Sure, if you live in Los Angeles and hire Jerry Hey, Chuck
Findley, Gary Grant, Larry Williams and Bill Reichenbach to play your stuff, you can
write the unplayable and have it sound perfect on the second take. Unless the
act/client takes the same guys on the road, things might get a little shakey. If the
act/client hires musicians in the towns they perform, it gets even shakier. The best
arrangement played badly sounds worse than the mediocre arrangement played by
good players.
Well prepared music ALWAYS reduces rehearsal time and improves performance.
For the printed page, Articulations are your friend.
Write english on your parts so the horn players have a better idea of your concept.
"Quick short fall" text along with instead of just the musical symbol for a fall. In
slow bluesy songs it's common for "long dirty fall" to be written. Text like "with
bass" or "with gtr" to let a horn to match with them.
Do you know the horn players, if so, write to their strengths. Trumpet player got
some chops, use them best. Can he nail notes out of nowhere or does he need a
little lead-up? Who solos? Solos in the correct style? Tenor sax player double on
Are the tracks already recorded? You can double something or write to match
something (synth, guitar, keyboard, etc.) already recorded. Horn hits with snare
drum hits.
Rhythmic pattern the horn section plays together. Intro on BS&T's Spinning Wheel.
Pads. Usually whole notes & half notes. Unison or harmonized. NOT good for high
Horn fills in between the vocal breaks or sustained notes.
Unisons to mimic a certain sound (Jerry Hey Flugel/Flute/Trb)
Voicings to mimic a certain sound
Call & Response. "Minnie the Moocher."

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Write for the instruments. Hear the instruments in your head. It might sound great
on the piano, not so much with real instruments.
Don't have to use every idea in each arrangement
Contrast harmony/unison and registers (trumpet 8va 2ndX)

Listening - As much as you can.

Tower of Power
Jerry Hey (Michael Jackson, EW&F, Al Jarreau, Quincy, etc.)
Jerry Hey horn demos
Blood Sweat & Tears
Blues Brothers
Brecker Brothers (Fusion Jazz Funk
Yellowjackets (Fusion Jazz)
Horace Silver (Old school Jazz)
Art Blakey (Old school Jazz)
Have you listened to all the youtube links yet?

Resources -

Bill Dobbins Jazz Arranging and Composing, A Linear Approach. Advance Music.
Dick Grove Arranging Concepts Complete. Alfred Publishing Company
Ron Miller Modal Jazz Composition and Harmony - Advance Music
Sammy Nestico The Complete Arranger - Kendor Music
Don Sebesky The Contemporary Arranger. Alfred Publishing Company
Fred Sturm Changes Over Time: The Evolution of Jazz Arranging. Advance Music
Rayburn Wright Inside the Score. Kendor Music
Russell Garcia The Professional Arranger Composer Book 1 & 2 Criterion Music
Berlkee Press has a nice collection of books.
(email me to if you want to be added.)

Hopefully this will give you a great starting point.

Write as much as you can, and hear it played back by real musicians, nothing
teaches better than hearing what you wrote.
If you're not a horn player, let the guys give you their 2 cents on your parts.

Preparing The Score/Parts to print Hand score/parts or computer score/parts? HaHa, I was kidding. Does anyone copy

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by hand anymore? I copied for years by hand, buying the paper and ink at Valle
Music in North Hollywood. Even had an ammonia smelling Ozlid machine.
Score Order Traditionally big band is alto, alto, tenor, tenor, bari. Trumpet 1, 2, 3,
4. Trombone 1, 2, 3, 4. Rhythm section. Many use that as a guide for smaller horn
sections, just removing what isn't being used. I personally like putting the horns in
order for tutti voicings. 6 horns = trumpet1, trumpet2, altosax, tenorsax,
trombone, barisax.
Rehearsal Letters/Measure Numbers. I use measure numbers on the beginning of
each staff unless it's a one time recording (ie. time is money), then I use measure
numbers on every measure. Rehearsal letters always on left side. I put lyric cues
with the rehearsal letters for the band.
Not a rule, but try to keep the music spaced evenly at 4 measures per bar. If a 7
measure phrase, 4 measures on one line and 3 measures on the next line. I indent
the right side of the line so at a glance you know it's not a group of 4 measures.
Note Values, Articulations - Use all the articulations you need to make it clear what
you want. Tenuto, staccato or sfz. You might have a great lick but it's just not
working, try adding or changing the articulations.
Using Big Band parts for 3 horns - My advice, NEVER do this. It's common in big
bands for the lead instruments (trumpet 1, alto 1, trombone 1) to play the same
note in different octaves. When using the 3 horns it will sound like unisons/octaves
and rather empty. Also, any solos or melodies on any of the other parts won't be

Transcribing -

Transcribing is a great way to start learning how to write horn parts. Just like
transcribing is one of the first steps tolearning jazz improvisation, transcribing the
horn parts gives you a vocabulary of licks and an idea of how they sound by their
Thanks to a post on Reddit I've been getting a lot of hits. I'll try and answer a
few of the questions asked there. BTW, I'm not the one that posted the link.
Flugelhorn mutes, yes there are such a thing. Don't write for them unless you know
the player and have confirmed he has one.
Kenny G & Sanborn... Yes, although there are many many legends before them,
Kenny & David are probably better known and brought their instruments to a wider
auidence. How many alto players want to or unintentionally sound like Sanborn.
If playing 4 voiced arrangements at a fast pace would be Mud City, please explain
SuperSax or any big band sax soli by Don Menza. My opinion is the faster the
tempo, the closer the voicings. It's the wide open spread voicings that sound so
lush in ballads that muddy the city at faster tempos.
Trumpet range... I used to play down to Bb concert two octaves below middle C.
Unless a trumpet farting sound was required, writing those notes would have been
a mistake. Can the trumpet play higher than the F concert I wrote. Of course. BUT,
know the player (or band).
The root of the Maj7 on top, props to Big_Star for giving a big answer.
Try not to repeat harmony notes... The harmony notes would be the 2nd horn, 3rd

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horn, etc. of the section. If the melody goes C-B-A-B-C, although correct notes of
the chord, try not to have 2nd horn play G-G-G-G-G and the 3rd horn play E-E-E-EE.

I'm trying a comment section. Do you have anything to say?



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E Braith

a month ago

I am a classical violinist and pop arranger looking to explore jazz and

horn arranging. I have always loved Jerry Hey's arrangements. Looking
forward to exploring this site.


Reply Share

6 months ago

You've written some great advice for someone looking to score for horns
and rhythm section. Thanks! I did a Berklee correspondence arranging
course years ago and am looking to try my hand on a few tunes.


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Updated 4/6/2015

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The Basics of Pop/R&B/Soul/Funk/Jazz Horn Arranging

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Transcriptions for educational purposes only.

Click for orders and transcription quotes.

"Crazy Notes" is the fourth instrumental CD from the high-energy

3 horn instrumental progressive funk band, San Gabriel 7. Check them out!

"Blue Confluence" is a new CD from Australian Jazz singer

Ingrid James and the San Gabriel 7.

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