Q&A: How Did You Develop the Skills to Arrange Music?

Question: “How did you develop the skills to arrange music?”

My history with piano arrangement goes back to when I was only an elementary school child. I began taking piano lessons when I was 10 years old. I was a quick learner, because I am blessed with a lot of musical talent in my family. My grandmother served as a church pianist, organist, and children’s choir director for many years. Meanwhile, my father is a singer-songwriter by profession, and he has been fortunate enough to earn sufficient income that he does not need another job. My grandmother oversaw my piano study, and my father lent his musical ear to me. My parentage and upbringing set the stage for my success.

After I acquired the basic abilities to read sheet music, play with two hands, and utilize chords, I began to toy with figuring out video game songs that I liked. I sat down at my keyboard and tapped notes until the sound resembled something familiar to me. If I wanted to check my accuracy, I actually turned the video game on, entered the appropriate screen, and left the game on as I sat and played notes along with the music. This was a time when the Internet was not widely accessible, and YouTube did not exist.

BanjoKazooieTooie1In particular, some of my earliest experiments were songs from the Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie soundtracks. Those were among my favorite video games when I was younger, and I still love them to this day. Among the songs that I attempted were Mayahem TempleTerrydactyland, and Hailfire Peaks.

Later, when I was in high school, I achieved an advanced level of piano-playing ability. I continued to experiment with arrangement, and some of my projects included Simple and Clean (also known as Hikari), Dearly Beloved, and Hollow Bastion from Kingdom Hearts. However, my ability to arrange music required further development, as those attempts contained some inaccuracies and sounded somewhat plain compared to the actual compositions. 6860885033becdd84c0268391e899212

I experienced a growth in my arrangement ability when I was a sophomore in college. That was when I downloaded a 30-day free trial of Sibelius First. I soon discovered that inputting the notes into a program and hearing them played back greatly assisted my arrangement process. Additionally, it allowed me to see “empty” spaces (such as rests or long holds) that could be filled with embellishments. Thus, many more possibilities opened up for my arrangements. With the assistance of Sibelius First, I eventually completed my first piece of sheet music.

After that, I continued to train my ear to listen for underlying harmonies and chords that many people often miss. This, for me, is the most difficult aspect of arrangement—yet it absolutely cannot be ignored or overlooked. To leave out those harmony notes is to sacrifice the song’s beauty.

In essence, my ability for music arrangement boils down to 10+ years of hard work, patience, and perseverance.

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Commentary: Eternity’s Moment

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In 2013, I heard a lot of buzz about an upcoming Nintendo 3DS game titled Bravely Default: Where the Fairy Flies, from renowned game publisher Square Enix. Previews described the game as a promising RPG with a robust job system. I am a fan of the RPG genre, so I was happy to pick up the game upon its North American release.

The game is very intriguing, so I found myself engrossed in it. The first half of the game tells an excellent story and allows you to steadily progress as you unlock new jobs. The ability to mix and match jobs and sub-jobs adds further strategy and customization. Plus, the character Ringabel particularly stands out as a fun addition to the cast.

For me, though, the game’s most defining feature is its beautiful soundtrack. It was composed by Revo, lead member of the Japanese fantasy band Sound Horizon. Truly, the soundtrack has a unique sound to it, utilizing a number of different instruments.

While there are many tracks from that game that I love, I became particularly attached to Eternity’s Moment, the short, simple song that plays on the menu screen. It is charming, but also mysterious in its tone.

Arranging the song for piano was actually a quick process, because it is not a particularly complex composition. I was able to pick it out by ear, practice it, and play it by memory in a matter of days.

Care to listen to the arrangement? Just click this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgTabgfFKCo

Notable YouTube Comments:

“An excellent arrangement of the song, and the most accurate one I’ve seen so far.”
-aquagon_drag

“I just pulled out my 3DS to compare your arrangement to the one in the game and I was astounded by how spot on you are. Plus, piano is just one of the most beautiful instruments. If I could play, I would definitely be interested in learning your arrangement!”
-guildmaster92

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