Steps to Creating a Choral Arrangement

DECISIONS

Select a song that you find inspiring and meaningful.  It should have a strong melody and interesting harmonic possibilities.  If it is in the public domain, licensing is not required.  Get to know the song intimately, and decide how you will harmonize each note.

ASK THESE QUESTIONS

  1. What is a good key for your singers, based on the range of the song?
  2. What is the style, the tempo, and the rhythmic feel?
  3. How many parts will you use, and will there be a soloist?
  4. What form or structure will it take? (Intros, verses, choruses, endings, etc.)
  5. What textures will you use? (unison, imitation, homophony, etc.)
  6. Will there be an accompaniment, and what role will it play?

FOLLOW A PROCESS

  1. Choose the parts that will sing the melody, and write them first with lyrics.
  2. Indicate your choices of harmony with Lead Sheet symbols or Roman Numerals.
  3. Write a bass part with some contrary motion to the melody, using roots at cadences.
  4. Add some lines for inner voices, with smooth voice-leading techniques.
  5. Sketch your accompaniment, or make a rehearsal version of the parts below the score.
  6. Sing each part, and make edits as desired.

CREATE INTEREST IN YOUR ARRANGEMENT

Now that you have a rough sketch, you can think about ways to make it more appealing.  Avoid keeping the voices in a narrow range, singing continuously in four parts.  You might start simply, add fullness gradually, reach a climax, then wind down.  You could experiment with humming, mono-syllables, imitation, an ostinato, or call and response.  Experiment with some of the options below to introduce more contrast in your arrangement.

Change Textures

Examples of contrasting textures are dense vs. sparse, close vs. open, and active vs. inactive.

  1. Employ a continuous texture with no change.
  2. Make a gradual progressive change.
  3. Make an abrupt contrast.
  4. Change rapidly between textures.
  5. Vary the texture, then return to the original.

Vary the range, spacing, and density

  1. Vary the number of voices, allowing some to rest, and use different combinations.
  2. Use a pair of voices in motion with a sustained voice.
  3. Reduce and expand the number of notes sung at the same time.
  4. Vary the spacing between voices to bring a specific voices into focus.
  5. Move active lines around between different parts, giving each some interest.
  6. Use a combination of higher voices to contrast a group of lower voices.
  7. Try antiphonal effects with different groups, or overlap entries of voices.
  8. Vary the texture between homophonic vs. contrapuntal or dense vs. thin.

Parameters for Variation

Texture: 
Change from homogeneous tutti to accompanied solo; feature a small group within the larger group; add additional lines or ornamentation when the music is repeated; put the melody in a different voice; double the melody in two or more voices; feature different parts of the choral range.

Harmony:
Change key; change mode; change between diatonic and chromatic passages; reharmonize; add upper extensions.

Rhythm:
Change relative activity and complexity; use an ostinato; add or delete rhythmic layers; change tempos or time signatures; introduce syncopation.

Voice Groupings:
Progressively add or delete voices to produce a wave, a pyramid, or a fan shape; use two contrasting pairs; contrast one voice with others; use parallelism or planing; combine different sections in diverse ways.