Yesterday evening I spent a lot of time hammering out some new lead lines for various sections of my jazz arranging project. This is probably the longest piece of music I've ever written, so I'm finding it a bit difficult to keep my eyes on the big picture; instead, I'm discovering I have a tendency to "chunk" things too much, such that each successive section of the piece follows right after the one before it with very little transitional material.

Actually, in Wednesday's class we talked about this issue quite a bit; the lecture was given by guest artist Lyle Mays, and he spent most of his time discussing how each section of his piece proceeded naturally from the next. It was a bit eye-opening for me; up until now we haven't really spent much class time on how transitions are supposed to work.

That said, the topic has come up from time to time; here are some of the techniques I've learned so far, some from my lab instructor and some from the Lyle Mays session on Wednesday:

  1. Overlap. Before switching to a new texture, introduce it as a background, while the original texture is still going on. For instance, if you're about to hand the melody off from the brass to the saxes, bring the saxes in with background figures a couple of bars beforehand. This one has been suggested quite often, and works quite nicely.
  2. Pedal point. Kind of an obvious trick, but it's one of the few I know at this point: when transitioning between choruses, adding a vamp of several bars over a pedal bass note can help build tension. (I think I overuse this.)
  3. Sequencing (and other development strategies). Again, towards the end of a section, it's kind of nice to take a piece of the last melody phrase and pass it around to different instruments in different keys/registers. This seems to help build tension and volume; I'm using this technique to introduce my shout chorus. (Seems like this is often combined with pedal point.)

If you need melodic material for a transitional section (or background figures), take a look at the themes you've used already, including the head melody. There's probably material there you can adapt (or just flat reuse) to make your transitions work. You might think you're cheating, or that the audience will be annoyed at having to hear the same material again, but if you don't overdo it, it actually lends a great deal of cohesion to the piece.

So that's what I've learned so far. Anybody else have any ideas?