Arranging parts for a modern pop song
Whether writing and demoing the next Beyoncé smash, orchestrating tracks for that Top 40 band, or simply honing your arranging skills, Jon Bishop reveals the secrets to creating great pop tracks.
Welcome to this unique feature in which we aim to take simple and easy-toplay ideas to create modern sounding pop parts. When arranging guitar for a pop track, less is often more with a simple chord part, popping line or melody providing the hook. Don’t be fooled though, just because the part doesn’t use multi-digit tapping or legato at a break-neck speed, doesn’t mean it’s any easier to compose and articulate consistently. Subtleties such as timing, feel and tone choice all have a big say in how successful the part will function in the arrangement. In this feature we are going to look at many different ways to create parts for a pop track and there are backing tracks provided so you can try out your own ideas. Mega-selling pop artists often ‘cross over’ genre wise so the tracks are often a fusion of rhythm and blues, funk, hip-hop, country and rock. Fusing R&B and rock was perfected by Michael Jackson and Chaka Khan in the early 1980s and has become de rigueur for many modern acts.
We have created six tracks in the style of some of modern pop’s greatest superstars to provide a window into what makes them so catchy and compelling. Kerchiiiiing!!
Example 1 Rihanna style
We start with a funky dance track featuring overdriven rock guitars, heavy synth line and the big beat that’s a cornerstone of Rihanna’s style. The guitar provides a dirty rock edge to proceedings with riffs and power chords and then moves into funky octaves for the second half. Nuno Bettencourt is Rihanna’s guitarist!
Example 2 Beyoncé style
Vocal diva Beyoncé tends not to use a lot of guitars in her studio productions, but live the band really rocks out, adding plenty of guitar action. For this track the guitar is used to add a retro sounding, funky cop show ‘wah-wah’ part. The ‘wah’ underpins the rhythm and the rock-style guitar stabs are very effective when played against this.
Example 3 Justin Timberlake style
The ex *NSYNC frontman and all-round entertainer Justin Timberlake has a killer band and a string of mega cool hits. The key to the guitar hook is the use of rhythmic, 16th-note arpeggios. These are not hugely difficult to play, but maintaining the consistency and getting the right sound is certainly a challenge.
Example 4 Jamiroquai style
Jay Kay is a master of blending old-style funk with modern sounds and guitarist Rob Harris is fantastic at executing them. For this track we used an up-tempo groove and the guitar plays a funky rhythm. For the second half of the track, melodic, single-note popping lines phrase alongside the horn section.
Example 5 Justin Bieber style
In contrast to his often-controversial public persona, Justin Bieber is a talented musician who is just at home behind the guitar, drum kit or microphone. Our track uses openvoiced chords against a funky backbeat.
Example 6 Katy Perry Style
These ideas are easy to play but super effective and would provide a perfect backing for an 80s-inspired vocal melody. We start with some down-picked double-stops and end with some harmony guitar. What’s not to like?
Finally, although this article focuses on pop; change the feel, tempo, groove, and some of the guitar tones, and many of these concepts will convert well to other genres.
Many thanks to Universal Audio for the loan of the Apollo interface for the recording.
Have fun and see you next time.
fusing r&b And pop was perfected by michael jackson in the 1980s And has become de rigeur for modern Acts