What Makes An Arrangement Difficult?


If people are to sing well, they need to sing songs that are of an appropriate difficulty for them.  But what makes one song more difficult than another?  Unfortunately, the specifics to answer this question are very complex.  Here are 8 or 9 points to consider.

An obvious answer is that once an arrangement becomes familiar to the singer, it is easy.  But this DOES NOT MEAN that a song that is well known to the group won’t pose problems UNLESS THE ARRANGEMENT IS EXACTly as the group has known it.  This brings us to the very important next point.

Similar points in an arrangement are more difficult than point that are totally different.  And “similars” are quite common.  Songs almost always repeat phrases but usually not exactly the same way.  Arrangers like to do things differently a second time around so, Similar phrases are traps and make things more difficult.  People tend to sing songs in “auto-pilot” without much cognitive thinking.  This is where the trap comes in, since “similar but different” requires some cognitive thinking and becomes a trap if they are attempted in  “auto-pilot”.  A good practice technique is to practice “similar but different” phrases back and forth, mixing them up until it is very clear when we are to do the first thing and when we are to do the second thing.

Extreme ranges (very high & low notes) required by some arrangements are probably the major consideration in ascertaining difficulty. But wait!Not as well understood is a similar concept - the tessitura of a voice part.  Tessitura refers to how long you stay at a given range.  Thus some parts may have a high tessitura and others may have a low tessitura. 

        For instance, a single quick high G in the lead part may be quite negotiable whereas if that high G is to be held for 8 beats, it may become a serious problem. Tessitura-range is often a serious problem for leads, since many people sing lead because they don’t want to sing a harmony part or aren’t used to harmonizing.  Yet their vocal range may be too low for ideally singing lead.  Their ideal solution is to extend their range thru developing their falsetto.  See my topic called “Singing Better Thru Register Understanding”.  Another solution is for a lead who has problems with high notes, to learn to sing a lower harmony part and learn how those parts are harmonized.  Unfortunately many leads resist this.

        On the other end are low notes for the basses.  Sometimes this can be corrected by having the basses go up the octave.  After doing this, sometimes the key of the song can be lowered to help the leads - if they have high note problems.

        Regardless, “tessitura-range” is a major consideration in determining difficulty.   

Rhythmic difficulty is not a matter of how black the notes are.  Instead, it’s a matter of how many rhythms are different from the way you would naturally speak the words.  Rhythmically there is a natural way that we usually would speak a phrase, so when the song’s rhythm is different from this, it makes it more difficult..

Wide Jumps are usually harder than more scale-wise  or smaller interval movement.

There are certain Jumps such as the Diminished 5th (Augmented 4th) that are usually harder and certain Chords such as the Fully Diminished Chord which is harder to tune.  A sequence of difficulty of Chords from easiest to hardest might be this:

        Major Chords

        Barbershop 7th Chords

        Minor Chords

        9th Chords

        Half-Diminished Chords

        Chords with an Added 6ths

        Augmented Chords

        Fully Diminished Chords

        More unusual Chords such as Chords with Major 7ths

Modulation can cause some difficulties and especially Unusual Modulations. The most common and thus the easiest modulation is “Up a Half Step”.  Fairly easy is the “Up a Full Step” and “Up a Perfect 4th” (since it follows the Circle of 5ths). Other modulations may be much more difficult.

Having a Lot of Words to memorize makes it more difficult.

Obviously a Real Long Song is harder to memorize.

So here’s my analysis of areas that make a song more difficult.  Check a song out in these areas.  Of course some people have more difficulty with some types of problems than other problems so know your group.

    1. Similiars - not the same

    2. Tessitura-range

    3. Un-natural rhythms

    4. Wide Jumps

    5. Difficult Jumps &/or Chords

    6. Unusual Modulations

    7. Lot of Words

    8. A Real Long Song

Happy Singing!

Music Ed Ted

     I would love to hear from you.  I appreciate any comments or suggestions.


            Click here to Return to MusicEdTed.info HomePage.