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Writing horn arrangements for salsa


frogmonkey

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I'm sure this has happened to other keyboard players here: since you're the only one in the band who actually has the skills to do it, you end up writing the horn charts.

 

In this case, I'm transcribing classic salsa songs. El Cayuco, Kimbo Kimbesa, Traigo Salsa, Candela. I love it, and it's work that I'm happy to do.

 

The problem is this: a lot of the horn sections on the recordings have more horn players than my entire state. I'm limited to a single trombone, tenor sax, and trumpet. I'd really like to preserve the original vibe as much as possible but it's tricky with that instrumentation. Needs more trumpets! I find myself trying to sound like a trumpet section, and not taking full advantage of the ranges.

 

My rough-and-ready default voicing has been to double the trumpet part with the tenor an octave down and give the trombone a harmony. It sounds ok in the sequencer, anyway.

 

Does anyone have any insight into punchy salsa horn voicings? Or any insight at all?

 

 

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I don't know about salsa specifically, but for horn parts in general, one key is to spread the intervals when voicing.

 

Don't have the trumpet and sax playing thirds for instance.

 

A C triad might tempt you to voice it C E G, but it will sound bigger if you voice it G E C.

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Be very precise about where to use harmonies. If it's a line or lick containing a lot of harmonic information, an unisono might be ph4tter than even more harmony.

If you use a spread voicing like mate_stubb's, make sure the intervals are kind of equal. The less equal they get, the less solid is the voicing.

Also be aware about which register the instruments play in. If you want a kicking, piercing voicing, let the instruments play in their upper register. If you have a soft background line, don't let the trumpet start on C''' ;-)

It's not a clone, it's a Suzuki.
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I wrote bucket-loads of charts for the standard 3 horns when I was young, then I avoided that instrumentation for years 'cause I was tired of it. Then in the last year I've written for it a bunch again. There are lots of possibilities If you want to share something specific (like 32 bars of a recording and what you've got), I'd be happy to throw out some suggestions. We could do it thru PM's or right here on the forum.

 

 

Dave

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right here on the forum

 

Yes, please.

+1

I would love to see that if you don't mind, Dave E.

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Good ideas guys! I'm already getting better ideas. I think I'm going to write two different arrangements for some of these tunes: one that tries to keep the original sound, and one that is more creative using the strengths of the instruments I have.

 

Dave E, that's great to hear a section with the same instrumentation I'm working with!

 

Here's 32 bars of "Traigo Salsa" in PDF:

http://www.mediafire.com/?n5mmdliwtnh

 

 

(Sorry, it's not labeled correctly. Top to bottom it's trumpet, tenor, trombone.)

 

Here's the original, by Ismael Rivera. The horns are high pitched-- maybe it's just trumpets? My chart sounds a little bottom-heavy in comparison.

 

 

Another tune I'm doing is El Cayuco. Here's Tito with a giant mob of horn players:

 

 

 

 

edit: I wish I could embed that pdf somehow.

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Oh, are you talking about writing out the charts for live players or covering them on a keyboard workstation?

 

Do you have access to a flute player? Or does the sax player double on flute? Maybe they could switch back and forth during the song, which would help with some of the voicings and harmonic interactioon so that the overall effect of the song sounds fuller.

 

Otherwise, the advice given so far is right on the money.

 

My new jazz group is doing several Poncho Sanchez arrangements, and they are pretty remarkable -- especially as they sound like huge big bands but are not. I plan to study those arrangements thoroughly to learn from them, as this will answer your questions which are also my own now that I am charting out salsa.

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Do you have access to a flute player? Or does the sax player double on flute? Maybe they could switch back and forth during the song, which would help with some of the voicings and harmonic interactioon so that the overall effect of the song sounds fuller.

 

I would never, NEVER give the flute any significant harmonic part that is not doubled in any other instrument (unless your talkin' woodwind quartet or something comparably delicate). Especially in Salsa where trumpet and trombone are usually on a quite loud level (in Germany we say "Bratzen" ;) ) the flute will just drown. You'd have to mike it like hell.

When the flute is doubled or doubles, it's a different thing.

It's not a clone, it's a Suzuki.
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Here's the first few bars of "Triago":

 

It's all triadic except for the end of bar 8. If it were me I'd do a standard drop 2 till halfway through bar 11, then close it up. The way you have the Trombone written will be a chop buster... you'll wear the guy out if you leave him up there all the time. I'd say as a general rule don't spend too much time over a G (three lines up).

 

In concert pitch it looks like this:

 

DivShare File - Triago _Concert Pitch_.pdf

 

But Trumpet and Tenor transpose, so the parts will have to look like this:

 

DivShare File - Triago _Transposed_.pdf

 

If your Trombone player says he reads treble cleff, he's probably an ex-Trumpet player, and he'll want the part transposed like a Tenor Sax.

 

I've got 2 charts to do for the Tower of Power horns this week (the session is Friday), and I'm not even close with one of them, so I best get back to work...

 

Hope that helps.

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My rough-and-ready default voicing has been to double the trumpet part with the tenor an octave down and give the trombone a harmony. It sounds ok in the sequencer, anyway.

 

Does anyone have any insight into punchy salsa horn voicings? Or any insight at all?

 

 

When our guys play monas, their voicing is usually,

Trombone - root always lowest,

Sax - 5th or 7th and octave higher,

Trumpet 3rd octave higher then sax.

If you can play second trumpet then you play 3rd, and let real trumpet scream.

 

The other trick (guajeo I think) is more montuno like, when they fit in with whole groove.

Busy part or more notes are usually played on 2 side of clave, where trombone can easily play bass line on 3 side of clave and lick on beats 3,4 on 2 side of clave.

 

Good luck,

Ed

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My rough-and-ready default voicing has been to double the trumpet part with the tenor an octave down and give the trombone a harmony. It sounds ok in the sequencer, anyway

 

Um, I don't like that sound too much, and I'm not sure it's widely used in salsa. I would assign either three-part harmony (three notes from the chord or an upper structure) or unison-octaves. In case the tenor is going too high, try opening your chord by moving the middle note one octave lower.

 

In other cases, you could let the trumpet and tenor travel in sixths, while the trombone plays an obbligato with the bass/piano, or a pedal.

 

 

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Mario Rivera?

 

Good question!

 

Honestly, I didn't know this guy before. There seems to be only one concert of him on Youtube. Damn, this guy plays every instrument! Amazing :love:

However, there was no piece where the flute played an undoubled significant harmonic part in a voicing. Have you got a recording or something where he does this? I'd really be interested in hearing it.

 

 

It's not a clone, it's a Suzuki.
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Here are my first thoughts on "El Cayuco":

 

I think you'd get better impact/execution on the opening D13 - G6/9 hits if you lose the lead Trumpet part and go with stacked up 4ths. (3-13-9 to 6-9-5). If your Trumpet player really wanted to play the high B to A (or if ya'll just dig it), I'd move the Tenor up to C and B (and leave the Trombone part where it is).

 

I wouldn't worry about covering the Montuno in the horns (bars 7-10).

 

Bars 13 and 14: I moved the melodic line from the saxes to the Trombone. It'll jump out better and it makes all the voicings a drop2:

 

DivShare File - El Cayuco.pdf

 

 

 

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Dave E: thank you! That's incredibly helpful. The "rightness" of it is apparent in that, now that you shown it to me, it seems obvious.

 

I have a couple of students before I can dig back into this - but all the kids are on vacation this week so I have all afternoon to geek out!

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Whew! One thing I'm thinking after trying out a lot of these ideas (in the sequencer), is that I need a second trumpet!

 

I've been writing the trombone part high to compensate for the lack of extra trumpets. I know the trombone player is good (he's also a good piano player), so I'm going to write a chart like that and hopefully he doesn't croak. I'll also write a more sensible arrangement in case that one turns out to be unplayable :D

 

listening more closely the Poncho Sanchez tune- which is awesome by the way- it seems like a jazz horn section, playing jazz vocabulary. I guess that's what makes it Latin Jazz :)

 

I Need... more....trumpets!

 

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Yeah, more horns can be more fun to write for...

 

'Course it's more hassle, and one more guy to pay, and the horns take up more space on stage so the Timbalero ends up so close to you the cowbell is in your freakin' ear, and the Trumpet players get in a pissing war and everything gets louder, so the bass player tuns up, so you turn up, and the whole nuclear escalation begins...

 

But yeah, it's more fun...

 

More seriously, arranging is really the art of making use of what you've got. If your band plays Merengues, you'd probably get more milage out of adding an Alto Sax, since that music is full of saxes in 3rds, and Alto goes high enough to play 2nd Trumpet parts.

 

I haven't heard anything recent by Willie Colon, but he used to use just Trombones. You should check him out - it would put a different sound in your head, and maybe give you some ideas.

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:lol: nuclear escalation!

 

Fun is what it's all about with this band. The bandleader is the conguero, and his studio is very comfortable and well-equipped with top-shelf liquor and Tea ;) It's a really nice way to spend Thursday nights, and a welcome contrast to the serious and efficient rehearsals of my pro bands. The band is half amateur, and will probably remain a rehearsal band for a good while.

 

Point taken about alto sax, though. I was considering alto, too, especially for some of the background lines. Ultimately I'll take whatever I can get. So far the only horn-player at regular rehearsals is the Tenor player, half-amateur himself, and it's been pretty funny hearing him try to play ALL the horn parts. I'm calling in some pros on March 18, to put the pressure on a little and to give myself a deadline.

 

 

Edit:

Mo, killer trombone section!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Is it impossible to make this horn section (bone, tenor, trumpet) sound good with the trumpet playing higher than the top E space on the treble clef? It sure seems like it. Every single one of these tunes that I'm attempting to transcribe has a trumpet playing way up there, and I love it.

 

Need more horns!

 

Marino: I forgot to thank you for your input. You're right-- that weird voicing doesn't sound good.

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Sure...

 

Full voicings: probably the highest you can write is something like C (2 ledger lines up) - Eb at the top of the staff, and Ab in the middle of the staff. (Trpt, Tenor, Bone - top to bottom - Treble clef)

 

Above that, probably octaves work best, or an open 4th/5th thing like: D (2 lines up) - A in the staff - D above middle C, or something like that. It's really all contextual: the horn parts that work best are the ones where everybody's part is melodic - no awkward leaps that would be difficult to sing.

 

There's a lot that can be done with just 3 horns. Learning to exploit the capabilities and limitations of this section will make you a better writer over time.

 

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  • 1 year later...

Does anyone have any guidelines for doubling parts in a horn section?

 

I'm now working with 6 horns! I was working with 4. I'd like to keep most of my 4-horn arrangements, and double parts so I can spend my time on new tunes.

 

We added a second trumpet and second trombone. It seems weird to double the high trumpet part with another trumpet. Is it? Should I be doubling across sections (ie double the tenor part with trombone)? Or should I just give the bones the same part?

 

14 months have passed since I started this thread. :) I've written about 20 arrangements for 4 horns in that time. I got a lot better at it, and remembered some tricks that I learned in school. I finally hit my stride with that instrumentation... and then we found our two new horns.

 

I've written a handful of big arrangements for all 6 horns, and it sounds incredible, but it is really difficult for me.

 

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Does anyone have any guidelines for doubling parts in a horn section?

 

I'm now working with 6 horns! I was working with 4. I'd like to keep most of my 4-horn arrangements, and double parts so I can spend my time on new tunes.

 

We added a second trumpet and second trombone. It seems weird to double the high trumpet part with another trumpet. Is it? Should I be doubling across sections (ie double the tenor part with trombone)? Or should I just give the bones the same part?

 

Personally, I feel that it's a wasted opportunity just doubling and not using those additional horns. Fill out the harmony with them.

 

Two trumpets in their lower range (don't go too low) in combination with two trombones can form 4 pt harmony - basically, your left-hand when close-voicing on the keyboard - and sounds very similar to a full trombone section. This can form a pad for the saxes - which sound great playing melody/riffs in unison in that 'between the staves' range - or be used for stabs (though you might want to open the harmony up a little for that).

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That's a very useful instrumentation, Andric. I can think of a whole lot of possibilities for that section. I spent yesterday hanging out with Tower Of Power in Austin, so I've got horns on my mind..

 

I'd create some specific examples later, but here's some quick thoughts.

 

1. Full section in harmony:

 

Close up the intervals for punch. With two Trumpets and an Alto, you shouldn't need to do drop 2 voicings at all. Trumpets should always stay close. Unison, 3rds and 4ths. Trumpets don't blend as well in 5ths and 6ths, and they don't play them very well in tune usually.

 

The top and bottom line will jump out of the mix melodically while the inner parts just fatten. Try 4 part harmony inside an octave top to bottom: Trpt 1, Trpt 2, Alto, Ten, then double Trpt 1 with Bone 1. Bone 2 plays roots down low, or doubles the lead line down another octave, or plays a line with some contrary melodic motion. When you're writing, try playing ONLY the lead Trpt and the lowest Bone part on piano. If the two melodies sound cool together, you're golden. This is classic Tower Of Power style, except the low voice is Bari.

 

Lots of Salsa horn stuff is triad motion moving through the changes, sort of like gospel piano. When you get your triads in motion worked out, double it down an octave: Trpt, Trpt, Alto over Bone, Tenor, Bone.

 

2. Dividing the section.

 

Saxes playing melodically in unison while the brass do stabs in 4 part harmony is very typical. Drop 3 works great if it gets too high to keep the brass inside an octave. You'll want to avoid putting any of the brass on the saxes melodic note (so you don't triple that one note)

 

Any of the three like-instrument groups will jump out if you if you write them in unison, and score the other two in harmony. Nice change of color.

 

If you want to fake a sax section sound, put the two saxes on the highest notes and write the bones on the lower two, Keep it all inside an octave, and mark the saxes "f" and the bones "mf".

 

Gotta go do Mother's Day stuff. I'll creats some examples, which will make all this much clearer.

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