Arranging: Contemporary Styles

Author: Dan Moretti   •   Course Code: OCWPR-250

Arranging Contemporary Styles is an informative ear-opening course covering writing and production in over 30 styles. The course has been a requirement on campus at Berklee for more than 15 years where it is called Groove Writing. It is a perfect follow up to Arranging 1 Rhythm Section. In this music arrangement course, in addition to learning about these important styles, you will create your own great grooves and hybrid styles in the same fashion as many successful contemporary artists and producers. These Essential Grooves (required book) are a must have vocabulary for the contemporary producer and artist. Learn how to write, record, and produce for the rhythm section (drums, percussion, bass, guitar, keyboards, and melody) no previous DAW experience necessary. Some of the styles covered include rock, pop, soul, R&B, Brazilian, Afro Cuban, funk, and hip-hop. During this process, increase your style vocabulary and performing skills and learn a bit of background history too. These styles are also essential learning for producers and instrumentalists interested in songwriting, composing music for soundtracks, jingles, music beds, and film work. Use the interactive Tutti Music Player multi-track video and audio platform of live players to get an inside look at how these grooves are performed. Short 4-8 measure examples are produced weekly with a Mid-term and Final Project. By the end of this music arrangement course you will have a greater knowledge of styles, including scoring, production skills, and creative techniques that can be used to duplicate or combine styles. You will build an impressive portfolio of recordings and arrangements that will enhance your songwriting and production library and impress potential clients.

By the end of this course, you will:

  • Understand contemporary styles and their applications in today's music world
  • Recognize style influences and create your own grooves using a root approach
  • Recognize the production approaches that define these styles
  • Expand your musical language stylistically through leaning identifiable rhythms

Lesson 1: The Great Rhythm Sections

  • Listening Analysis: How Should You Listen?
  • The Great Rhythm Sections
  • Discussion 1.1: Discuss What Makes a Song Groove?
  • Motown: Jamerson/Benjamin
  • Stax Records: Dunn/Jackson
  • British Invasion Rock: The Who
  • California '60s: Osborn/Blaine, "The Wrecking Crew"
  • Big Easy Funk: Porter/Modeliste
  • The Philly Sound: Baker/Young
  • Muscle Shoals: Hood/Hawkins
  • The Funk: James Brown
  • British Invasion Rock: The Stones
  • Nashville: Moore/Harman
  • New York Soul: Rainey/Purdie
  • Reggae: Sly & Robbie
  • Hard Rock: Rush
  • Discussion 1.2: Your Favorite Rhythm Sections
  • Quiz: The Great Rhythm Sections
  • Assignment 1: Write Your Grooves

Lesson 2: Pop/Rock

  • What Is Groove?
  • Style Characteristics of Pop/Rock
  • Listening Analysis: How Should You Analyze?
  • Listening Analysis: Van Halen, "Jump"
  • Listening Analysis: Rolling Stones, "Satisfaction"
  • Listening Analysis: Paula Cole: "Me"
  • Listening Analysis: The Pretenders, "Chain Gang"
  • Listening Analysis: Sting, "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You"
  • Discussion 2.1: Analyze and Transcribe
  • Quiz: Identifying Pop/Rock Grooves
  • Assignment 2: Write a Pop/Rock Groove

Lesson 3: Brazilian, Part 1: Samba and Bossa

  • Style Characteristics of Samba
  • Samba Rhythms and Instruments
  • Samba: Surdo de Primera
  • Samba: Surdo de Segunda
  • Samba: Surdo de Tercera
  • Samba: Repinique
  • Samba: Caixa
  • Samba: Tamborim
  • Samba: Agogô
  • Putting It All Together: Samba Batucada
  • Listening Analysis: Samba with Contemporary Rhythm Section
  • About Bossa Nova
  • Style Characteristics: Bossa Nova
  • Listening Analysis: "Girl from Ipanema"
  • Listening Analysis: "Song for My Father"
  • Generic Bossa
  • Discussion 3.1: Explore Samba and Bossa
  • Assignment 3: Write Your Grooves

Lesson 4: Brazilian, Part 2: Partido Alto, Baião, and Hybrid Grooves

  • Style Characteristics of Partido Alto and Baião
  • Building the Baião Rhythm: Pandeiro
  • Building the Baião Rhythm: Zabumba
  • Building the Baião Rhythm: Coconut
  • Building the Baião Rhythm: Triangle
  • Putting It All Together: Baião
  • Hybrid Styles
  • Discussion 4.1: Analyze Brazilian Hybrid Styles
  • Quiz: Brazilian Music Listening
  • Assignment 4: Brazilian Styles, Part 2

Lesson 5: Afro-Cuban, Part 1

  • Style Characteristics of Afro-Cuban Rhythms
  • Typical Afro-Cuban Rhythms
  • Latin Instruments
  • About the Clave
  • Afro-Cuban 6/8
  • Building the Afro-Cuban 6/8 Groove
  • Putting It All Together: The Afro-Cuban 6/8 Groove
  • Building the Cha-Cha-Cha: Intro
  • Building the Cha-Cha-Cha: Timbale
  • Building the Cha-Cha-Cha: Guiro
  • Putting It All Together: The Cha-Cha-Cha
  • Buena Vista Social Club, Page 1
  • Afro-Cuban Hybrid Examples
  • Discussion 5.1: Analyze Cha-Cha-Cha
  • Assignment 5: Write Your Grooves

Lesson 6: Afro-Cuban, Part 2

  • What Is Mambo?
  • Style Characteristics of Mambo
  • Mambo Basic: Conga, Timbale (Cascara), Guiro, Bongo Bell
  • Putting It All Together: Mambo Basic Tumbao
  • Mambo: A Traditional Groove
  • Mambo: Latin Jazz Mambo
  • The Palladium Era
  • Hybrid Styles: Listening Examples
  • Hybrid Styles: Corazón Espinado
  • Hybrid Styles: Represent
  • Hybrid Styles: Real Emotions
  • Hybrid Styles: Mambo Mixed
  • Hybrid Styles: Have You Met Miss Jones?
  • Hybrid Styles: Trippin'
  • Discussion 6.1: Analyze Hybrid Examples
  • Quiz: Listening Quiz for Lessons 5 and 6
  • Assignment 6: Write Your Grooves
  • Extra Credit, Option 1: Test
  • Extra Credit, Option 2: Rewrite Melody

Lesson 7: Soul

  • Style Characteristics of Soul
  • Soul Music Studios and Links
  • Listening Analysis: Dan Penn, "Dark End of the Street"
  • Listening Analysis: Dan Penn, "Memphis Women and Chicken"
  • Listening Analysis: Dan Penn, "Cry Like a Man"
  • Listening Analysis: Aretha Franklin, "Respect"
  • Listening Analysis: "In the Midnight Hour" and "Soul Man"
  • Listening Analysis: Booker T. & The M.G.'s, "Green Onions"
  • Listening Analysis: Booker T. & The M.G.'s, "Hip Hug-Her"
  • Listening Analysis: "What'd I Say" and "You're a Sweet Man"
  • Discussion 7.1: How Would You Analyze the Soul Examples?
  • Discussion 7.2: Political and Historical Events That Influenced Soul Music
  • Assignment 7: Write Your Grooves

Lesson 8: Motown

  • Style Characteristics of Motown
  • Northern Soul: The Motown Record Company
  • Listening Analysis: The Temptations, "My Girl"
  • Listening Analysis: Four Tops, "Standing in the Shadows of Love"
  • Listening Analysis: The Supremes, "Where Did Our Love Go?"
  • Listening Analysis: More Motown Sounds
  • Listening Analysis: More Motown Sounds, Page 2
  • Discussion 8.1: How Would You Analyze the Motown Examples?
  • Discussion 8.2: Comparing Motown and Stax and Muscle Shoals Soul
  • Quiz: Soul and Motown Listening
  • Assignment 8: Write Your Grooves

Lesson 9: James Brown

  • Style Characteristics of James Brown Funk
  • Listening Analysis: "Please, Please, Please"
  • Listening Analysis: "Out of Sight"
  • Listening Analysis: "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag"
  • Listening Analysis: "Cold Sweat"
  • Listening Analysis: "Turn It Loose" and "Sex Machine"
  • Listening Analysis: "The Payback"
  • Discussion 9.1: How Would You Analyze the Funk Examples?
  • Discussion 9.2: Civil Rights Movement and Funk
  • Assignment 9: Write Your Grooves

Lesson 10: 70's and 80's Funk

  • Style Characteristics of '70s and '80s Funk
  • Listening Analysis: The Commodores, "Brick House"
  • Listening Analysis: The Meters, "Cissy Strut"
  • Listening Analysis: Jean Knight "Mr. Big Stuff"
  • Listening Analysis: Ohio Players, "Fire"
  • Listening Analysis: The Meters, "People Say"
  • Listening Analysis: Tower of Power, "What Is Hip"
  • Listening Analysis: Tower of Power, "Soul Vaccination"
  • Listening Analysis: Tower of Power, "Down to the Nightclub"
  • Listening Analysis: Tower of Power, "Oakland Stroke"
  • Listening Analysis: Tower of Power, "Squib Cakes"
  • Listening Analysis: Rick James, "Super Freak"
  • Listening Analysis: P-Funk
  • Listening Analysis: Chic, "Good Times"
  • Listening Analysis: Michael Jackson
  • Discussion 10.1: Comparing the Funk Examples
  • Quiz: Funk Music Listening
  • Assignment 10: Write Your Grooves

Lesson 11: Hip-Hop and Related Styles

  • Style Characteristics of Hip-Hop
  • Listening Analysis: Hip-Hop
  • Listening Analysis: "I Wanna Be Down" (Remix)
  • Listening Analysis: Adina Howard, "Freak Like Me"
  • Listening Analysis: En Vogue, "My Lovin"
  • Listening Analysis: Groove Collective, "Rentstrike"
  • Listening Analysis: Hip-Hop Sequence
  • Listening Analysis: Contemporary Hip-Hop Examples
  • Listening Analysis: Jazz-Related Hip-Hop
  • Discussion 11.1: How Would You Analyze the Hip-Hop Examples?
  • Discussion 11.2: Trends and Style Names
  • Assignment 11: Write Your Grooves

Lesson 12: Your Final Mix

  • Final Project: Overview
  • Final Project: Grading Criteria
  • Final Project: Submit Your Idea
  • Final Project: Proposal 16 Bars Notated
  • Final Project Submission
  • Course Wrap Up

Dan Moretti

Author & Instructor

Dan Moretti is a Professor in the Contemporary Writing and Production department at Berklee College of Music. He was awarded the 2006 Curriculum Development Award for the on-campus version of The Arranging Contemporary Styles course. Dan is a saxophonist and flutist, composer, producer, and audio engineer. He has produced and recorded seventeen world releases as a leader. His last five CDs have been in the top 40 charts in the States. He is a MaColl-Johnson Fellow which was was awarded in 2010 for “The Journey” a recording of his original music that he produced with an Italian orchestra, The Piccola Orchestra La Viola. Dan has toured throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and Africa, presenting educational seminars and performing as a leader and a sideman. In 2015 he toured again with legendary Multi-Grammy winner, producer, guitarist Nile Rodgers (Daft-Punk, David Bowie, Madonna, Duran Duran etc). His influences, ranging from jazz and classical to funk and Latin jazz, come from his experience performing and recording with artists across the musical spectrum like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, The Temptations, Mike Stern, Dave Samuels, Dave Liebman, Marvin Stamm, and The Crusaders to name a few.


Completion of Arranging 1: Rhythm Section or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. Recommended experience in a DAW of choice.

Required Textbook

Essential Grooves for Writing, Performing and Producing Contemporary Music By Dan Moretti, Matthew Nicholl, and Oscar Stagnaro. Sher Music

Software Requirements

Tutti Music Player

The Tutti collection of 23 interactive grooves features content representing many of the most important genres in contemporary music performed by an all-star line up. The Tutti Music Player will enable you to dissect, analyze and play-along with the grooves in exciting new ways.

Most assignments will require you to write, score, and record short four to eighth bar grooves in different styles. For each assignment, you will submit both the score and a recording of your groove. Your score must either be created using Finale or Sibelius, or hand-written and then scanned and pasted into a word processing file, which must then be saved as either a PDF (Adobe Acrobat Reader) or RTF (Rich Text Format, word processing) file. For your recording, you must supply an MP3 file, whether you choose to record your band playing or sequence the groove using music production software.

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

  • 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)


Got a question? Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.

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    12 weeks
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