How to Arrange Take the A Train & Other Standards

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?

  1. 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)

  2. Decide how many times you want to play through the song (twice through works well)

  3. Select up to 4 accompaniment patterns that you want to use for individual sections

  4. 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

  1. Notice the structure (also called form) is verse-verse-bridge-verse (you can also assign letters to these sections: A-A-B-A)

  2. 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.

  3. Since Take the A Train is a swing tune, three patterns to use can include: walking bass, stride and bass in 2.

  4. 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