The late summer brings a magical time of year when you hear the immortal phrase, “Welcome to Band Camp!” For many music educators and teens this is a special time of year when there is promise of competition, skill development and accomplishment. For some programs, band camp is a time to prepare for parades and competitions. For others this is a time to prepare for spirited football game performances and a chance to get your groove on. Regardless, this time of year is a chance to showcase excellence in music making and today we will discuss “Basic Scoring Techniques for the Marching Band.”
Music educators use all sorts of resources that have been composed by others and would sound great on the football field or in the stands. These come from lead sheets, concert band compositions and even orchestral scores. In their original format these pieces are not adequately written for marching band instrumentation and must be rewritten.
Challenges often arise when music educators try to input music using a MIDI keyboard. Sometimes inconsistent notation issues may surface in the arranging process. In other instances, music educators will scan music and will lose precious rehearsal time due to the frequency of trips having to go the copier.
Transcribing or “Lifting” music is the skill and act of listening to a recording and arranging what you hear for your marching band. This skill takes time and patience to develop into a craft that is exponentially rewarding. Some band directors will sit and listen to a recording and write out the music in a more traditional way by using a pencil and manuscript paper. In contrast, others may use a more modern approach by using some sort of notation software like Finale, Sibelius or Noteflight.
Mr. Spencer-Pierce recommends that when “lifting” to analyze in short phrases and then build up the texture a little at a time. Start by notating the melody and bass line. Keep in mind what is happening with the moving counter melodies and any rhythmic elements along the way. Once this is established it is much easier to fill in the remaining harmony.
Personally, my preferred way for arranging music is through music notation software. Inputting music notation can be done in a variety of ways such as using a mouse, MIDI keyboard, scanning or even recording an instrument playing. You should use what works best for you.
As you enter notation and various data you are able analyze what the piece of music you are working on sounds like. This is considerably helpful feedback. An additional benefit to using notation software includes being able to speedily enter information. My recommendation is to enter pitches using a MIDI keyboard in the left hand and then using the number pad or mouse to enter note values or other symbols into the digital manuscript.
Choosing a Key
Many times choosing the right key for your students to play in depends on the range of melodies and musical effect you want to create. Think big picture. Mr. Spencer-Pierce wants you to consider that the keys of F, Bb and Eb all work well with your brass performers. This is important because the brass musicians carry the majority of the projected melodic lines. As a result of what keys marching band instruments are pitched in, you may find that the majority of the music that you write for will be in the keys of Bb, Eb, Ab and sometimes Db major.
As you write in small chunks of music you might also find that there will be areas within the music that escape these previously mentioned primary tonal centers. Don’t be afraid to use accidentals that work best in these chucks of music. If you find that you are trying to transcribe music that has a different tonal center for more than 8 measures, then it is best to change your key signature.
If it is possible, try to keep the key relationship within a musical piece the same. This requires you to study the piece a bit and think ahead. Popular tunes typically have simpler internal key relationships. In contrast, orchestral or formal wind literature may have more complex key relationships. Regardless, you want to arrange music so that it is in it’s clearest, simplest and most comfortable forms and ranges for all instruments – as much as possible.
The Character of Melody
Plan on arranging musical parts where the strongest players play on the upper parts which may also be more rhythmically complicated. In contrast, water down the lower parts so that the weaker players may also be successful and feel like they are part of the team.
Focus on Block Scoring
Upper Part Orientation
Lower Part Orientation
Scoring for Powerful Moments
The act of scoring, writing and rewriting music for your marching band has huge benefits when dealing with issues of skill, size, competition and effect. Music educators are faced with scenarios where, for one reason or an other, pre-arranged music for their ensemble doesn’t fit their individualistic needs and thus changes are required. Having this basic scoring knowledge helps music educators become more in-tune with their craft and the needs of their students. Ultimately, scoring technique and its application is but one of the many skills that band directors can use to help achieve a sense of success during their marching band season.
About arranging for band. Silver Clef Music. (2018, February 15). https://silverclefmusic.com/about-arranging-for-band/.
Arranging guidelines. Arranging Guidelines | Yale Bands. (n.d.). https://bands.yalecollege.yale.edu/yale-precision-marching-band/music/ypmb-junta/arranging-guidelines.
Spencer-Pierce, W. (2008). Marching band arranging: Methods-materials-techniques. Creative Media Consulting.