Composing vs. Arranging: What Musicians Should Know

Do you want to learn more about composing vs. arranging? Knowing how they compare is great whether you want to get into it or commission someone.

Composing vs. Arranging Music | Hannah B Flute

I’ve done both, and there are similarities and differences. Keep the following in mind when choosing which project to take on.

Composing vs. Arranging Similarities

While they’re two different things, there are a few similarities between composing vs. arranging.

Consider the following aspects of both musical art forms.

Creating Something New

Whether someone composes or arranges something, they’re creating a new piece of music. Sure, the origins of that work are different, but the end product is the same.

If you want to create a new piece, you can compose or arrange. An arrangement might be similar to the existing work. However, there should be at least something different, such as the instrumentation.

That way, you end up with a new piece that you can play. I do a lot of arranging, and I find it very rewarding to give current pieces new life.

Choosing the Instrumentation

I mentioned that composing and arranging both allow you to choose the group of instruments for the piece. This is nice if you want a solo piece that you can play without worrying about finding other musicians.

However, you might have a chamber group with an odd instrumentation. An arrangement or original composition can work specifically for you and your collaborators.

Both types of pieces can be small, such as solos or duets. On the other hand, you could also find an arrangement or composition for orchestra or band.

Option to Add Multiple Lines

Whether it’s a new work or an arrangement, you can add as few or as many parts as you want. You could go the simple route and just write a solo that plays the melody.

Or you might want to go big and add new lines. Once you have the arrangement and basic chord structure, you could add a counter melody.

This applies when composing or arranging. I like getting to add some extra notes and parts to the music. But I also enjoy simplifying current works and making them playable on a solo instrument, like the flute.

Composing vs. Arranging Differences

While there are similarities, composing and arranging aren’t the same. If you want to do either or both, you should know how they differ.

Then, you’ll know what kind of project to work on.

The Beginning Work

One of the biggest differences between composing vs. arranging is the starting point. Of course, a composition may start with a small idea for a melody or a chord progression.

When you’re doing an arrangement, all of that is ready to go. You just need to figure out the instruments to arrange for and how to distribute the existing parts.

Arranging is nice because much of the work is already done. That means you can get into the meat of things sooner. Composing requires dealing with writer’s block, and it can take a long time to write a piece.

Necessary Skills

Composing and arranging require different skills. If you want to compose music, you need to know how to write a good melody. You also need to understand theory and how to choose chords.

When you’re arranging music, you need to know some of those things. You should understand theory and chords. But you don’t have to write a melody from scratch.

Instead, you need to know how to assign those parts to various instruments. If you don’t know how instruments work, you could make a pretty bad arrangement.

Creative Freedom

You can enjoy some creative freedom with composing and arranging. But a composition is something that you have total control over. That means you can be as creative as you want.

On the other hand, arranging has some parameters to follow. You can get creative with how you assign the melody. However, you want to make sure the melody comes through in some way.

If you want to be as creative as possible, composing original music is probably better for you. But if you like having something to guide your creativity, arranging is great.

Do All Composers Arrange Music?

Many composers arrange music but probably not all. If a composer doesn’t want to deal with existing works, they won’t arrange anything.

But composers might arrange their own works for a new instrumentation. I’ve seen a few people that have done this.

Do All Arrangers Compose Music?

I’d guess that not all arrangers compose original music. Composing requires more skills and time, and some arrangers don’t want to deal with that.

Also, while I’ve done both, I prefer arranging. So I spend more time doing that so that I can get better at that specific thing.

Can Performers Compose and Arrange Music?

Performers can compose and arrange music. If you’re interested, I’d say you should give it a try.

You don’t need to take lessons or buy an expensive notation program. That means you can get started quickly and for free.

Composing vs. Arranging: In Review

I’ve enjoyed composing and arranging, but there are some differences. If you’re interested in doing this work or commissioning someone, you should compare composing vs. arranging.

Then, you can figure out which suits your needs better. And you can find the right creator or learn the necessary skills to do it yourself.

If you want to see an example of an arrangement, check out Variations on Danse Macabre!

Danse Macabre preview

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