Have you ever wondered how to keep a song you play interesting?
In this article, I'll show you how to arrange Take the A Train so that it has variety and vitality.
We'll use this approach as a model for successfully arranging other standards.
You'll also learn about musical form and structure.
When I was studying music with composer and multi instrumentalist, Joe Maneri, early in my career, one of the things we worked on was playing standards. When I came to Joe, I was in the process of transitioning from playing organ and keyboards in my jazz and commercial trio, Synergy to becoming a solo jazz pianist.
Although I had played solo piano gigs occasionally since I was 17, this was a much more in-depth study of this wonderful art. After working on learning/arranging more than a few standards under Joe's guidance, I began performing regularly as a solo pianist. Eventually, something wonderful happened though. I found myself able to decide on and switch to different accompaniment styles "in the moment" while performing. What a freeing feeling that is! Watch Diana's performance of Take the A Train below
As an aside, I am delighted to tell you that I now introduce my adult and teenaged piano students to these concepts within their first couple of years of lessons. Here are some of the principles and recommendations that I teach these students.
What Are the Four Principles of Arranging a Song?
Look at the structure of the song to identify the each of the sections (letter names simplify this A-A-B-A rather than verse-verse-bridge-verse)
Decide how many times you want to play through the song (twice through works well)
Select up to 4 accompaniment patterns that you want to use for individual sections
Assign accompaniment patterns to each section for as many times as you plan to play through the song. You can find some help with my free course: Accompaniment Styles to Energize Your Piano Playing
How to Arrange Take the A Train for Solo Piano
Notice the structure (also called form) is verse-verse-bridge-verse (you can also assign letters to these sections: A-A-B-A)
Decide how many times you want to play through this song. If you are staying with the melody rather than adding improvised choruses, playing through this song twice is your best bet.
Since Take the A Train is a swing tune, three patterns to use can include: walking bass, stride and bass in 2.
Assign accompaniment patterns to each section as follows: 1st time: A - bass in 2; A - bass in 2; B - walking bass; A - bass in 2; 2nd time: A - walking bass; A - walking bass; B - Stride; A - walking bass OR bass in 2
Applying the Principles of Arranging to Take the A Train
How to Use Take the A Train as a Model for Arranging other Songs
Needless to say, there are many ways to play the same song. The important thing to realize though, is that once you identify the form (structure) of a song, you can decide which accompaniment styles YOU want to use for each section. For example, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, has the same form as Take the A Train A-A-B-A (verse-verse-bridge-verse). So do Satin Doll, Misty, On the Sunny Side of the Street, Moonlight in Vermont and others. However, Yesterdays, Getting to Know You, I Could Write a Book, Blue Bossa, I Love Paris each have different structures. As a result, you have to assess sections and assign accompaniment patterns differently from Take the A Train. However, if you use variety and vitality as your guiding principles, I'm quite sure you'll get the idea.
Need Some One-On-One Help with Arranging?
You can focus on arranging specifically by taking lessons with our Accompaniment Lessons Elective Program
Diana Mascari has taught piano to hundreds of adults and children for more than 40 years. She holds two Masters of Music degrees from New England Conservatory and taught keyboard harmony to music majors while pursuing doctoral studies at Boston University. Her work as music director for a multi-cultural Presbyterian Church has continued for four decades, and her jazz and classical compositions have been performed worldwide. Diana has been performing for more than 50 years. From solo jazz piano (her first love) to commercial groups touring the East Coast to leading her own jazz ensembles at many colleges and jazz clubs throughout New England.