Help me blow my own trumpets

December 27, 2010 6:24 PM

Horn section arrangement question. I am trying to write a horn section part for a song but I need some reality checks.

The tune is a sort of motowny blue-eyed soul thing based on this which is now a fully formed song. I have some nice little horn riffs for it but in turning them into a horn section I have some question.

What is a standard horn section in terms of number and instrumentation? Think of a band like Elvis Costello and the Attractions or Graham Parker and the Rumour, or the E-Street band.

What is the standard way (if any) to harmonize? Is it playing in unison/octaves, or sixths, or a bunch of contrapuntal lines?

Some basic tips on making it sound vaguely like a horn section would be gratefully received. Currently it sounds OK with a trombone section and a trumpet section playing the same melody an octave apart, or harmonizing in sixths more or less, but I've really no idea what I'm doing.
posted by unSane (7 comments total)

I'd go for tight harmonies and staccato riffs, in general. Leave the longer notes for a bangin' solo. The spaces in between the notes are especially important in horn parts, because they are breathed, like the voice. Don't forget the sax(es). And I'm sure I don't even need to say this, but googling "how to write horn charts" seems to bring up a lot of additional advice.
posted by abc123xyzinfinity at 10:45 PM on December 27, 2010

Yeah, I found quite a lot of stuff on Google. I think I have read just enough harmony 101 theory that I had convinced myself I couldn't mix unison playing and harmonized lines!
posted by unSane at 4:34 AM on December 28, 2010

I really like the Dap Kings instrumentation for a horn section - tenor sax, baritone sax and trumpet. But there isn't necessarily a standard. Some horn sections sound good with just a tenor sax and trumpet, others sound good with a larger section including a couple of saxes, trumpets and trombones. Beyond four pieces may start to get unweildy.
posted by andrewraff at 1:21 PM on December 28, 2010

At the moment, it seems like a pair of trumpet and a pair of tenor sax playing rougly a sixth apart seems to be working well. I tried adding in trombones but they seemed to muddy everything up unless they were playing either unison with the melody or shadowing the bass line. It is a very busy arrangement so I'm trying to keep it simple.
posted by unSane at 6:09 PM on December 28, 2010

Here's what I got so far -- it's totally rough and there is WAY too much brass but you get the idea. The final version will have everything redone entirely as usual.

(No vox on this yet as the lyric hasn't been written)
posted by unSane at 1:47 PM on December 29, 2010

hmm - you're really going to need those vocals in there - build the horn arrangement around the melody, not the melody around the horn arrangement

it's pretty much close to the 60s pop style, though - i'd let the horns play the riffs and have a string section play the longer notes - which is pretty much 60s pop style too

kept expecting gary puckett or billy joe royal or someone like that to start singing ...
posted by pyramid termite at 1:42 PM on January 1, 2011

Yeah I have the melody in my head and the arrangement takes that into account. I built the arrangement around me singing nonsense words for the vocal.

Good idea for the string section...
posted by unSane at 3:44 PM on January 1, 2011

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