This chart is from the Broze Brothers collection, along with in-depth descriptions of the techniques used and why. Take them as arranging tutorials.
Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen. TTBB, as sung by the UNC Achordants.
A firey and energetic song, to say the least! This arrangement is challenging but rewarding, and lays most of the driving momentum in the hands (mouths?) of the basses. The original track and complete a cappella arrangement are just below. The a cappella recording is a bit rough; it’s just multitracked as I read from the score, but it gets the job done.
Below is a line-by-line analysis of the arrangement techniques used:
The intro begins with full block chords, with matched vowels straight through the ensemble. The voice is good at sustaining pitches like this. All voices are moderately spaced, using traditional voiceleading rules. The bass is the voice that most often breaks away, usually as pickups to the next measure (m3 provides motion to cover for the breaths above). m5 contains a bell chord arpeggiation. m5-6 has a vowel change without an interrupting consonant. Note the syllable choices — very very simple consonants so as not to interfere, and only three basic vowel types. Pure vowels are your friends!
The Tenor Is split; it is usually better to split the highest voices first (and also have fewest people singing the highest parts). Note also the compression of intervals between the higher voices: space upper register singers more closely. m12 has a sustained bass part to provide connection, but the upper voices break off and punch in with an offbeat “hoo”. This provides forward momentum, and the vowel mismatch with the bass makes the arrangement sound to be gaining layers. m14 the basses begin to pound away and hint at their timekeeper role later.
The real texture begins. The basses are running this program with a repetitive rhythm and sometimes walking line. In m19-20 their rhythm’s syncopation helps create tension before they return in 21. The upper voices are working as a unit, sweeping along on long notes with offbeat accented entrances, and exaggerated dynamics. In m19, the offbeats are again emphasized. In m21-23, the same material as in m16-18 could be used, and indeed the bass part is just repeated and the upper voices use the same rhythms. However, the upper voices do the opposite from the first time, by descending melodically AND dynamically. This makes this 8-bar phrase sound like a unit with a gradual rise and fall, and helps keep the piece from sounding too “blocky”. Note too that Queen is really using 5-bar phrases; this 8-bar superposition makes for an even more flowing sound, with no clear starts and stops.
The upper voices are harmonizing the soloist by stealing his syllables and words, while still maintaining their sustained note in m25. The basses here are switching to a new syllable to match the upper voices, and in m25 they are singing along with the soloist, making a connection from the very top to the very bottom of the group. This is a very useful trick to unite the sound of the whole, and it used very often in this arrangement. In m28 the basses have “skah” written to match the soloist’s “sky” — this is done to keep them on pure vowels and maintain the integrity of the bassline. In m24 note the C7 chord without the third: in rock especially, dropping the third is perfectly fine on this chord. A similar thing happens below in m39, where a C9 (gm/C) is “resolved” upwards through a C7 chord to an F. Remember that gm/C is close to a C9, and can act as a slightly weaker dominant sound; adding the E makes it stronger.
All four voices on the pickup to m33 are punching an “ah” syllable at the same time as the soloist (“light”), which creates sudden unity before a massive crescendo m34 sees homophony, and then in m35 the important piano part is split between the upper and lower voices. In m33, I shouldn’t have written that rest in there — very bad call. Ignore it. The syncopated rhythm in the upper voices in m36 is incredibly challenging for many musicians, and they will generally rush them beyond recognition. To remedy this, the bass part was filled out (“Don’t try to stop”) in order to audibly subdivide beats 1 and 2. The upper voices hear this and never rush. In m37 we have a return of our “hoo”, and sustained notes allow for an easy to sing buildup of excitement. The dynamic shifts in this arrangement are the key to separating “backup singer” parts with “background instrument” parts.
More of the same. Notice the upper voice is the one that’s split, and the bass part is getting more complex and interesting (difficult!) underneath the tops. And also, time and time again, “oo-ah” is written instead of “oo-wah”, since writing the ‘w’ would tend to make the choir scoop and punch in strange ways. “oo-ah” avoids this!
Homophony returns with strong and simple voicings near the middle of singers’ ranges. Note the baritone line in m49: the half-step between the G and the Ab is relatively small (Ab is lower than G#), and the half step upward from the Ab to the A is a rather large half-step indeed. If you try this chart, make sure your guys know to be very careful in slotting the Ab lower than they might otherwise, and then resolve it by surprise to a very buoyant A natural on the downbeat of m51. Here, the second verse begins with new material — there is no repeat. In m52, the upper voices are echoing the soloist’s “to mars” line, although it’s written with the “soh” as one syllable to encourage its proper placement. In m53, the upper voices use a stylistic fall-off. The bass continues to sing lyrics.
“Out of Control” has a strange rhythm to be confusing — I would rescore it to be more crazy if I were to do this over. “Reload” in the solo is echoed in m57 as “oo ree loh duh ree loh — doo”, phonetically spelled. The most split parts occur in m59-61, and this height of intensity is underscored by a complete removal of all but the bass for the next two measures.
The basses are treated almost as a soloist, and have an elaborate part with lyrics in time with the soloist. Upper voices enter with a completely new texture: something simple and contrapuntal, with individual lines weaving in and out. Imagine a traditional choir, but by m67 they’re back in action.
The basses drop out completely, and except for m75, this is all unison. Lifted directly from the original.
Ambitiously, a breakaway group of five singers have a fully harmonized version of the guitar solo. The syllables were written just by scatting freely over the solo section. Alternately, a single person would sing the solo as the group repeated to the first verse.
Now for an example of how this works with a soloist. Freddie Mercury I am not, but you’ll get the idea. Listen for how sometimes the backups are reinforcing the soloist as a block by using the same vowels or even words and rhythms, when the basses alone are reinforcing the soloist by using the lyrics in the bassline, and then when the entire block is getting deliberately out of the way during the important part of the soloist’s lines. The verses and chorus alternate between singing their phrases along with the soloist and in opposition to him. In general though, block chord often use the most important sustain vowel of the soloist when a strong sound is desired, and a different one when the soloist is meant to be heard distinctly.
To say a word of process: this arrangement was written entirely with the voice, and not with Finale — Finale was only used as a notation tool after the fact. So, over a looped recording of the original, I’d recommend singing various parts that pop into your mind, and then building the arrangement around these naturally improvised parts. This keeps the syllables and dynamics a crucial part of the partwriting, as they ought be; additionally, most lines tend to be very singable with good voiceleading. If you want to download a PDF of this arrangement, click here:
Finally, here is a YouTube of the Achordants performing the arrangement:
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