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Arranger


Description

Most adults in the United States today will have some experience playing a musical instrument. If you ask them, they will remember plinking through piano lessons in first grade, playing the recorder in sixth grade, or band practice in high school. At some point, all these Americans could read a simple piece of music.

Twelve-year-olds learning the recorder often play Beethoven's "Ode to Joy". This popular piece found in recorder workbooks consists of only a few simple notes, making this symphony easy to play. But Beethoven certainly did not write this symphony with twelve-year-old recorder players in mind. He was writing symphonies for experienced musicians and sophisticated audiences. So how did his elaborate "Ode to Joy" become one of those simple pieces used by beginners?

Beethoven was the piece's composer. He came up with the music in the first place, but an arranger came along years later, analyzed his music, and rewrote it, simplifying the music until it was broken down into a few simple melodies even the least skilled recorder player could understand.

Arrangers work for orchestras, music publishing companies and independently. They adapt musical arrangements so that different parts can be played by different instruments, or so that voices can take over where, perhaps, violins had originally been written in. They re-write the music, keeping the same melodies and harmonies, but changing the actual sheet music so that other musicians can play the song.

Arrangers can use computer programs, handwritten notes and instruments when trying to rescore a piece of music. They may be lucky enough to be able to consult with the original composer, but, as in the case with the arranger of "Ode to Joy" for the recorder, they may have to work on instinct alone.

Some arrangers work on writing down folk tunes which have become part of the cultural consciousness, but were never published by a composer. "Three Blind Mice" is one such song, which has no verifiable composer, but has been arranged by a number of individuals.

Arrangers are often composers and musicians themselves. These experiences can give them a good grounding for their work as arrangers, where they take other people's music, mix it up and rewrite it, all in an effort to have it played by as many people as possible.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$14,590
 
Median Salary:
$31,310
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$67,330

  Interests and Skills  
Interested in becoming an arranger? Arrangers must be musically talented. As well as being good with instruments, they should also have a solid understanding of how music sounds and is created. Arrangers need good eyesight and hearing. They should be determined, driven people with tremendous amounts of passion. They need to be organized, methodical, and able to work alone.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Select a piece of music for arrangement
  • Listen to the songs carefully, while studying the sheet music
  • Arrange the music according to the target musician (children, a string orchestra, a percussion group)
  • Use computer programs
  • A typical day will involve a lot of listening, and playing around with different instruments, note arrangements and selections until the music is reworked satisfactorily. There may be some consulting with composers, musicians and conductors, particularly when working on a difficult piece. There may be some travel involved, but most of each day will be spent at work alone in a studio.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Arrangers are typically employed by symphony and chamber orchestras, bands, choirs, sound recording companies, orchestras for ballet and opera performers, or they may be self-employed.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Arrangers can go on to work as composers, musicians, artists, conductors and music teachers. They can take on administrative duties for an orchestra, open a music store or write books and articles about their experiences in the world of music.
 

  Educational Paths  
A university degree in music or completion of a program at a music academy, conservatory or school of music is usually required. A period of specialized study related to arranging is usually required. Musical and creative talent and ability are important hiring criteria.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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