Arranging 1: Rhythm Section


Authored by Suzanne Dean


Course Code: OCWPR-130

Next Term Starts April 2

Level 1

Level 1

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Arranging 1: Rhythm Section explores all aspects of writing and arranging for the rhythm section. Part of Berklee's required core curriculum, this music arrangement course will teach you how to write for the rhythm section (drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards) and create killer arrangements that really groove. This music arrangement course also directs you on everything you'll need to create an effective arrangement; including rhythm section notation, adaptation of the melody and chords, intros and endings, articulations and dynamics, and how to create an emotional contour throughout the arrangement. Arranging 1: Rhythm Section is essential learning for anyone interested in arranging music for a band, you'll discover how to pick and choose the techniques that work best for you, and how to put them all together in a way that will get everyone moving!

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By the end of this course, you will:

  • Know the parts of a song and be able to analyze a lead sheet
  • Understand drum notation
  • Understand bass notation in Swing, Bossa Nova, Samba, Latin, Pop/Rock and Funk styles
  • Understand guitar and keyboard notation
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Lesson 1: Parts of a Song

  • Parts of a Song
  • Analyzing a Lead Sheet
  • Formal Analysis
  • Choosing a Style

Lesson 2: Adapt Your Lead Sheet

  • Anticipations
  • Delayed Attacks
  • Diminution and Augmentation
  • Altering Pitches in the Melody
  • Altering Chord Changes

Lesson 3: Drum Notation

  • Specific 3-Part Notation
  • Basic Time, Cymbal Accents, Fills, and Kicks Over Time
  • Stop Time

Lesson 4: A Closer Look at Drum Notation

  • Notation Variations
  • Variation 2
  • Variation 3

Lesson 5: Bass Notation

  • Range and Transposition
  • Bass Lines for Swing
  • Bass Swing Exercise
  • Bossa Nova and Samba Bass Lines
  • Latin Bass Lines in Relation to Other Instruments

Lesson 6: Bass in Pop/Rock, Funk, and Fusion

  • Pop/Rock Bass Lines
  • Funk Bass Lines

Lesson 7: Introductions, Endings, Articulations, and Dynamics

  • Introductions
  • Endings
  • Articulations
  • Dynamics

Lesson 8: Guitar Notation

  • The Instrument
  • Comping
  • Solos
  • Fills
  • Single-Note Comping with Rhythm Slashes
  • Single-Note Comping with Specific Notes
  • Top-Note Voicing

Lesson 9: Guitar Notation Continued

  • Specific Voicings
  • Repeated Voicings
  • Specific Rhythms
  • Power Chords
  • Muffled Chords and/or Single Notes

Lesson 10: Keyboard Notation

  • The Instrument and Hand Span
  • Single and Double Staves
  • Multiple Keyboard Parts
  • Sustain Pedal
  • Chord Voicings

Lesson 11: Keyboard and Guitar

  • Keyboard and Guitar in Rock
  • Keyboard and Guitar in Funk
  • Keyboard and Guitar - Latin Feel
  • Keyboard and Guitar - Funky R & B

Lesson 12: Final Review



Completion of Music Notation and Score Preparation Using Finale or Music Notation Using Sibelius and Music Theory 101 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. Recommended experience in a DAW of choice. 

You should be able to:

  • understand music theory, including intervals, chords, major and minor scales, and key signatures
  • read both treble and bass clef notation
  • notate music and create MIDI or audio files

No Required Textbooks

Requirements for Assignments: Scores

Scores can be produced through one of the following means:

You can produce scores in Finale (full version, 2010 or higher) or Sibelius (full version, 4 or higher) and submit them as PDF, JPG, GIF, or pasted into DOC files. Note that Finale Notepad, PrintMusic, and Finale Guitar are not sufficient for use in the course. You can hand write scores, scan them, and submit them as PDF, JPG, GIF, or DOC files.

Scores should conform to the file formats listed above to ensure that you can share your work with your instructor and fellow students.

Do you have the prerequisite knowledge needed to use the notation software Finale or Sibelius in the course? Take our self-assessment quiz to find out!

Requirements for Assignments: Audio

Audio versions of the scores should be produced through one of the following means:

If using the notation programs Finale or Sibelius to create your scores, you can save and submit them as MIDI files.You can record live musicians playing your scores and submit them as MP3 files, using audio recording software such as Audacity.  You can sequence your scores in a program like Reason, SONAR, Digital Performer, etc., and submit them as MIDI or MP3 files.

Do you have the prerequisite knowledge needed to use audio production software such as Reason, GarageBand, SONAR, or Digital Performer in the course? Take our self-assessment quiz to find out!

Audio should conform to the file formats listed above to ensure that you can share your work with your instructor and fellow students.

Software Requirements

  • You must be able to submit scores--either hand-written or created using the notation software Finale (full version, 2010 or higher) or Sibelius (full version, 4 or higher)--in one of the following formats: .PDF (Adobe Acrobat file) .JPG (graphics file) .GIF (graphics file) .DOC (Word document, with score pasted in)
  • If you are not using notation software, you will need audio recording or MIDI sequencing software that will save or export your work as MIDI or MP3 files
  • Tutti Music Player: Arranging 1 Collection (Discount will be provided at the start of the course)

Mac Users

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Windows Users

  • Windows 7 or higher (click here for system requirements)
  • Latest version of Google Chrome

Hardware Requirements

  • A scanner is required for those creating scores by hand (see Software Requirements above for acceptable formats) and strongly recommended for those using a notation program, so that you can hand write portions of your scores, such as drum notation, if need be
  • A printer is recommended, so that you can print out scores used in the course
  • 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended)
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Speakers or headphone
  • Webcam
  • Internet connection with at least 4 Mbps download speed ( to verify or download the Speedtest by Ookla app from your mobile app store)




Suzanne Dean is an arranger, composer, keyboardist, guitarist, vocalist and educator.

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In addition to releasing two albums on Nova Records, she worked as an orchestrator on the television series Jake and the Fatman, and taught at Berklee College of Music from 1997-2017. Her new EP Come To Paradise, was released in April of 2016. One of Suzanne’s songs, Ngizohmaba, was nominated for Best World Traditional Song by her Independent Music Awards fans, for 2016.

Suzanne received an Associate’s Degree in music from the University of Maine in Augusta, after which she spent some years performing and was the leader of her own jazz quartet. She then attended Berklee College of Music and received a Bachelor's of Music in Film Scoring. After a move to LA, and releasing her first two albums, she attended the Master's program in music composition at California State University in Northridge, California.

Suzanne released her first album on Nova Records in 1987, entitled Dreams Come True. Her second album was released in 1991, entitled I Wonder. These albums featured some of L.A.'s finest studio musicians, such as contemporary jazz greats John Patitucci, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Peter Erskine. These recordings received worldwide distribution and continue to receive airplay in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. The writing and arranging vary from acoustic jazz to fusion and incorporate orchestral elements. In addition to composing and arranging music on the albums, she also served as the keyboardist and vocalist on several of the tracks.

Suzanne’s newest CD Come to Paradise, features well-known LA session musicians including saxophonist Bob Sheppard and guitarist Dean Parks. The music is eclectic but this time consists entirely of original songs for which she wrote both the music and lyrics, with the exception of one song, which was co-written. For this new CD, Suzanne features Nicole Zuraitis, a New York based vocalist versed in a multitude of styles. Suzanne adds some vocals on a few tracks and plays 8 string ukulele on the title track.

Suzanne recently retired as Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music in the Contemporary Writing and Production Department. She taught Music Application and Theory, Arranging 1, Harmony 2, The Music of Laurel Canyon, Women Songwriters of the 20th Century, Artistry Creativity and Inquiry and Arranging for Songwriters. She also authored and teaches Arranging 1: Rhythm Section, for Berklee online.  Read Less



Dan Moretti is a professor in the Contemporary Writing and Production (CWP) department at Berklee College of Music. In 2006, he received the Curriculum Development Award for the course Groove Writing. Dan later adapted this course for Berklee Online, where it is called Arranging: Contemporary Styles. He also co-authored the book Essential Grooves (Sher Music Co.) and produced content for the Tutti Interactive Video Platform for the company Spectrum Interactive.

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Dan is a saxophonist, flutist, composer, producer, and audio engineer. He has produced and recorded 17 releases as a leader. His last five albums have made the top 40 charts in the United States. In 2017, Dan was inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame Jazz category. He has toured throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa, presenting educational seminars and performing as a leader and a sideman. Since 2006, he has toured with the legendary Grammy Award-winning producer and guitarist Nile Rodgers (Daft Punk, David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran, and more). Dan's influences—ranging from jazz and classical to funk and Latin jazz—come from his experience performing and recording with artists across the musical spectrum such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, the Temptations, the Crusaders, Mike Stern, Dave Samuels, Dave Liebman, and Marvin Stamm. For more information, visit Read Less



Bassist, arranger, and composer Mark Poniatowski is an assistant professor in the Contemporary Writing and Production department at Berklee College of Music. His extensive performing experience includes the Bruce Katz Band, Kenny Hadley Big Band, Soul Kitchen, Floyd Dixon, Junior Watson, Janiva Magness, and Kid Ramos. His performances throughout the United States and Europe include the Boston Globe Jazz Festival, Orange County Blues Festival, The River Festival, The Natt Jazz Festival in Norway, and at the Konzerthaus in Vienna, Austria. His recordings include Mississippi Moan, Something Like That, It's About the Blues, Radio Fusion Radio, and More Than Live. Poniatowski holds a Bachelor of Music Degree from Berklee College of Music and a Master of Music from New England Conservatory.

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