Arranging For Big Band

Jazz Arranging 2: Big Band Arranging

In this second semester of jazz arranging, we will concentrate on arranging and orchestrating music for 17-piece big band — 4 trumpets, 3 tenor trombones, 1 bass trombone, 2 alto saxophones, 2 tenor saxophones, bari sax (no woodwind doubles), piano, guitar, string bass and drums. There will be one major arranging project, divided into constituent sections, plus preparatory and listening/analysis assignments. The instructor must approve your selection, chosen from the standard jazz repertoire.

Course Outline and Class Schedule

Semester: Spring 2021
Course #: MUSI 3632 (two credits)
Instructor: Earl MacDonald, Professor of Music, Director of Jazz Studies
Class Meeting Times: Thursdays at 9:30AM. Professor MacDonald is teaching online, via ZOOM this semester.

Suggested Textbooks: 

The following big band arranging texts are on reserve in the Music Library. 3-hour loan period.

  • “Inside The Score” (a detailed analysis of 8 classic jazz ensemble charts)
    by Rayburn Wright.  Kendor Music.
  • Instrumental Jazz Arranging
    by Mike Tomaro and John WilsonInside the Score, Rayburn Wright's jazz arranging textbook
  • Basics In Jazz Arranging
    by Paris Rutherford
  • Introduction to Big Band Arranging
    by Paris Rutherford
  • The Contemporary Arranger
    by Don Sebesky
  • Changes Over Time: The Evolution of Jazz Arranging
    by Fred Sturm

Additional titles and resources:

Communication policy

E-mail is the instructor’s preferred method of communication with students. Please allow 48-hours for replies. When requesting a meeting with me outside of my office hours, please submit several meeting time options. I prefer to be addressed as Professor MacDonald.


The major project will be divided into manageable, constituent formal units. Each of the following will be allocated a percentage of your final grade:

  • formal planning – 10%
  • preparatory assignments – 10% (throughout the semester)
  • head statement(s) – 10%
  • soli (1/2 chorus minimum) – 10%
  • shout (1/2 chorus minimum) – 10%
  • solo(s) with backgrounds – 10%
  • intro/ending – 10%
  • realization – 10%

Instituting a number of smaller, weighted deadlines, will help students to successfully deliver the completed big band arranging project on time.

The remaining 20% is designated for ten listening/analysis assignments (2% each). These will typically be due at the beginning of Wednesday’s classes. Visit the following link for a list of suggested big band albums. Students are welcome to borrow scores from the jazz ensemble library. Start with the pieces in Rayburn Wright’s “Inside the Score.”

All assignments are due at the beginning of class on their assigned date. Late and incomplete assignments will generally not be accepted and will receive a grade of zero. If the student has extenuating circumstances (for example, they are hospitalized) that prevent them from submitting their assignments on time, please notify the instructor. These instances will be evaluated on an individual basis. Revisions are encouraged after receiving feedback. Provided the initial deadline was met, and a good faith effort was demonstrated, grades may be increased to reflect improvements.

A mid-semester progress report will be e-mailed from the instructor. There will be no final exam. The course content and schedule are subject to change at the instructor’s discretion and will be properly communicated to students as changes arise.

Grading Scale:

Grade Letter Grade GPA
93-100 A 4.0
90-92 A- 3.7
87-89 B+ 3.3
83-86 B 3.0
80-82 B- 2.7
77-79 C+ 2.3
73-76 C 2.0
70-72 C- 1.7
67-69 D+ 1.3
63-66 D 1.0
60-62 D- 0.7
<60 F 0.0


The following online class schedule is continually evolving and is custom-tailored to meet student needs. Check back frequently, as updates and links will be added before each class.

Week 1:

  • orientation: “big picture” semester overview, text books & resources
  • project management
  • formal delineations, planning and road maps


Week 2: Feb. 1 – 5


    • piece selected
    • written project and band assessment completed
    • rhythmic feel(s) and tempo(s) of your arrangement (swing, latin, 3/4 etc.) chosen
    • listening/analysis assignment #1 (2%)

Lecture Topics:


Using “Inside the Score” and the above, linked example as models, create a detailed plan for your arrangement.  If your song follows a 32-bar AABA form, address each 8-bar section. Describe the orchestration, texture and density. Demarcate where all formal units will take place — solis, solos (including who!), backgrounds, ensemble “shout,” transitional passages, intro/ending etc. Designate the apex. Indicate feel changes and key modulations, if applicable. Use your imagination to include as much specificity as possible. Your plan could be presented as a detailed list (headings and bullet points) or as a graphic, dynamic contour chart, similar to Rayburn Wright’s examples on pages 8, 28, 48, 78, 96, 116, 150, and 160-16.

Week 3: Feb. 8 – 12


    • road map/formal delineations (10%)
    • listening/analysis assignment #2 (2%)

Lecture Topics:


Using copies of the provided score paper, write the lead lines and rhythm section parts for the in and out-heads of your chart. If including ensemble “hits” and backgrounds, write the top, melodic line only. Do not yet harmonize the horns.

Week 4: Feb. 15 – 19


Lecture Topics:

“Complete Ensemble Voicings Overview”

    • 4-part block writing
    • “Basie 4-part,” “Basic Ensemble” (utilizing triadic extensions), “Combination Voicings”
    • Upper Extension triads


    • Preparatory Worksheets: due Feb. 25
      1. 4-part block, isolated chords
      2. Big Band ensemble voicings worksheet

Week 5: Feb. 22 – 26


    • lead line sketches for: in-head and out-head
    • listening/analysis assignment #4 (2%)
    • Preparatory Worksheets:
      1. 4-part block, isolated chords
      2. Big Band ensemble voicings worksheet


    • melody statements (in and out heads) scored: voiced/harmonized, orchestrated. Due: March 4.

Lecture Topics:

    • 4-part block writing, continued: harmonizing non-chord tones within passages
*Mid-semester progress reports issued.

Week 6: March 1 – 5


    • melody statements (in and out heads) scored: voiced/harmonized, orchestrated
    • listening/analysis assignment #5 (2%)

Lecture Topics:

    • soli lines — melodic line writing
    • 4-part block writing, continued
    • harmonization techniques for non-chord tones
    • 4-part block writing, continued
    • rhythm section integration
    • chorale writing


    • Sketch your soli line, considering range and instrumental limitations. Due: March 11.

Week 7: March 8 – 12


    • Sketched soli line
    • listening/analysis assignment #6 (2%)

Lecture Topics:

    • soli line feedback
    • chorale writing
    • soli line feedback/consultations


    • “Beautiful Love” chorale-style head arrangement. Due: March 25th.
    • Harmonize soli. Due: March 25.

Spring Break: March 13 – 21 (Week 9)

Week 9: March 22 – 26


    • “Beautiful Love” chorale-style head arrangment
    • listening/analysis assignment #7 (2%)
    • harmonized soli

Lecture Topics:

    • soli harmonization feedback/consultations
    • “shout choruses:” principles and examples


    • Shout chorus lead line: due April 1

Week 10: March 29 – April 2


    • shout chorus lead line
    • listening/analysis assignment #8 (2%)

Lecture Topics:


    • harmonize the shout chorus (due: April 8)
    • solo and background sections (due: Monday, April 8)

Week 11: April 5 – 9

Lecture Topics:

    • backgrounds/”solo enhancements” consultations
    • Backgrounds/”Solo Enhancements” consultations
    • transitional material


  • listening/analysis assignment #9 (2%)
  • harmonized shout chorus

Week 12: April 12 – 16


    • solo and background sections
    • listening/analysis assignment #10 (2%)

Lecture Topics:

    • Introductions and Endings — principles, examples, consultations.


    • Intro and Ending (due: April 22)

Week 13: April 19 – 23


    • Intro & Ending

Lecture Topics:

    • Finale music notation software guidance
    • articulation markings & dynamic schemes
    • part formatting
    • proofreading
    • Consultations, guidance
    • advanced reharmonization
    • motivic and rhythmic development
    • …and more


    • Finale note entry.  Creation and formatting of score and parts

Week 14: April 26 – 30

  • Part taping.
  • Final scanning of parts.
  • Highlighting roadmap instructions (D.S., etc.).
  • Reading Sessions #1 & #2
  • evaluative, critical listening to recordings of student arrangements


Except for final examinations, the instructor has final authority in permitting students to submit assignments late or make up examinations.


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