Musicians, Song Arrangement, and When to Keep Your Finger Off the Fader

Chris Huff explains techniques for mixing worship music.

Let’s be honest, musicians only play the music but we’re the ones who form it into something great. Their music pales in comparison to what we create. We are mixing gods!

I so hope you were offended by that. I didn’t mean it. The problem is some techs buy into that belief. The result is they work against the musicians and not alongside them. That needs to stop, today.

Musicians give us the most wonderful gift we can get – good song arrangements. Song arrangements that carries the listener through the composition, with energy, with emotion.

Great arrangements make for easy mixing but if one doesn’t recognize the power of an arrangement, then mixing becomes about creating sound, not creating “music.”

What is an arrangement?

A musical arrangement is the representation of a composition through the unique design of the song. This design, called the form, uses the areas of melody, harmony, style, and rhythm.

A composer can create several arrangements of their own composition. Other people can create new arrangements of a song. Take “Amazing Grace” as an example. The song, published in 1779, has had various arrangements including one recently made popular by Chris Tomlin.

An arrangement is more than a re-interpretation of a composition. It’s gives the song emotion and energy, sometimes in a new way. Having once been in a worship band, I did my share of studying good and bad arrangements.

A bad arrangement is like a straight road. The listener is riding in a car, going straight down the road for four minutes with nothing to see but asphalt. They get tired. They want beautiful scenery, curves in the road, even some hills.

A good arrangement is one that provides changes throughout a song that affect the movement of the song. Drums only come in during the chorus. A trumpet plays during the bridge. Backing vocal volumes change. A song starts with two lead singers but one drops to a supportive role during the chorus. An electric guitar is out front in the verse but subdued in the chorus.

Arrangements that build to a crescendo are easily recognized as arrangements with building energy and movement. Likewise, an arrangement that slowly strips the song of its instruments can do the same. There are no rules to arranging. A good arrangement is one that carries the listener through the song, not one that drags them through it.

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Essential reading for worship leaders since 2002.


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