“An important emphasis of the course is on learning the basic elements that make each musical style what it is,” says Dean. Arranging 1 emphasizes arranging for four styles: swing, Latin/bossa, funk fusion, and rock/pop. Importantly, the course also helps students understand how those parts interact in each style—the very same styles that Berklee arranging students learn in the classroom.
Exercises throughout the course demonstrate the conventions of each musical style. “There are common ways to write things for certain styles,” says Dean. “We look at transcriptions of a variety of tunes in numerous styles, and see the way that each part needs to be written.” Students identify common notation characteristics and musical elements in various styles, then learn to use them to build effective arrangements.
“In rock, for example, there’s typically snare on beats 2 and 4, eighths on the hi-hat, and bass drum on 1 and 3. That’s the most common pattern. After students look at a few of these tunes, they realize that they’re usually looking at that or some small variation of that."
Each week, students complete short writing assignments, and also are required to complete a midterm and a final project. For the projects, students are invited to select a tune that they like and arrange it for a small ensemble. “For the midterm project, students have to take a piece that’s already written—any tune they want and any style they want, but not an original piece—and arrange it for melody, a chordal instrument, bass and drums. And, they have to arrange it into a different style than it’s already been recorded in. For example, they can choose to take a swing tune, and put in reggae.” The final project takes it one step further, adding keyboard and guitar to the arrangement—and students may choose to work with an original tune.
Students enrolled in the class have historically been very helpful to each other, sharing advice and tips via the discussion board, and sometimes even directly on e-mail. “There is a lot of feedback between students,” Dean said. “Everything they do and upload can be viewed by the other students, and students give each other very constructive input.”
Typically, students in the online class are adult learners who are established in their professional careers—but most are not professional musicians. “Most of the students are doing this to add to their musical knowledge, or to pursue a hobby that they want to get more serious about. The people really want to take the course and they’re really excited about learning.” Dean says that the online course is a lot like the course she teaches in the Berklee classroom, but feels that online students tend to explore arranging in more depth because they’re usually only taking one course at a time.
Dean says that she really loves teaching online, and has gotten great feedback from her students. “The reason that I like to teach this so much is that the students are really appreciative and are learning so much. Students are really into it and feel that it has helped them a lot. It’s a good thing. My goal is for students to be able to use this material to make their own music better.