Arranging for Songwriters: Instrumentation and Production in Songwriting

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Authored by Sarah Brindell, Bonnie Hayes


Course Code: OSONG-250

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

Level 2

Level 2

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


In this course, you’ll learn new tools to bring your songs to listeners in their most effective and emotional forms, whether in a live setting, recorded song demos, or in produced masters. You’ll broaden your understanding of instrumentation, keeping in mind the idea of prosody, in which all parts of a song work together to create an emotionally resonant whole. You’ll learn to consider which instruments best express the emotion and mood of the song, how groove and dynamics can support that emotion, and how to define the instrumental parts to emphasize the vocal and support lyric narrative. You’ll find new ways to engage listeners’ attention, by always having a musical conversation within the arrangement. You’ll also look at the effects of market and genre on arrangement choices, including ways to bridge the gap between preserving your artistic identity and engaging your listeners.

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During this course, you will create arrangements and productions of complete and partial songs, drawing from works you’ve previously written or works written for the course. You’ll learn to listen not only to the song, but to the sound. And you’ll create recordings and arrangements that work considering both the layout of their sections and the treatment of frequency range and volume. You’ll use density and intensity to increase dynamics and momentum.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Define and extend the concept of prosody from your songwriting to arranging and production
  • Communicate artistic ideas to musicians and engineers
  • Modify the order and length of song sections following a reasonable criterion
  • Select suitable tempos and keys for your music
  • Identify appropriate range and function of instruments
  • Adapt accompaniment parts to various contexts
  • Determine the relationship between instrumental palette and genre
  • Produce a song within a specific genre, and/or combine genres
  • Identify types of accompaniment functions as they support a lead vocal
  • Use density and intensity to create dynamic range and momentum
  • Use instruments in terms of function
  • Capture the best vocal performance
  • Create a vocal arrangement that will make your song stand out
  • Create arrangements that emphasize vocal performance
  • Collaborate effectively with other writers and musicians
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: New Ways of Listening

  • Prosody in Instrumentation and Production
  • Horizontal Arrangement
  • Vertical Arrangement
  • DAW vs. Live Band
  • Assignment 1: Visual Representation of Horizontal Arrangement

Lesson 2: Laying the Foundation: Reference Basic Tracks

  • Basics Basics
  • Choosing the Tempo
  • Checking the Key
  • Writing Main Rhythm Parts
  • Planning the Journey
  • Assignment 2: Basic Vocal and Rhythm Instrument Recording

Lesson 3: Technique 101

  • Part Functions
  • Rhythmic Doubling
  • Harmonic/Melodic Doubling
  • Counterpoint in Instrumentation
  • Musical Conversation
  • Assignment 3: Examples of Doubling and Musical Conversation

Lesson 4: Rhythm Section: Drums and Bass

  • Finding the Time Feel
  • Drumbeat Basics
  • Bass Basics
  • Bass Line Paradigms
  • Drums and Bass in Arrangement
  • Hand Percussion and Other Rhythm Elements
  • Assignment 4: Recording Drums and Bass

Lesson 5: Mid-Range Overview: Guitars and Keys

  • ADSR
  • Instrumental Hook
  • Guitars Overview
  • Keys Overview
  • Assignment 5: Creating Guitar and Keys Tracks

Lesson 6: Vocals

  • Lead Vocal Performance
  • Musical Elements of Background Vocals
  • Background Vocal Styles
  • DAW Tools
  • Top-Line Writing
  • Assignment 6: Recording Vocals

Lesson 7: Sectional Contrast

  • Writing Songs with Sectional Contrast
  • Spotlight on the Refrain
  • Density, Intensity, and Frequency
  • Development Section Options
  • Assignment 7: Horizontal Layout with Development Section

Lesson 8: Deeper into the Groove

  • Drums in the Section
  • Bass Styles
  • Guitars and Keys Together
  • Other Conversations
  • Assignment 8: Vertical Arrangement

Lesson 9: The Sweet Stuff: Strings and Horns

  • Functions Redux
  • String Instruments
  • The Sweetest Strings
  • Horn Instruments
  • Strings and Horns: Genre
  • Assignment 9: Adding Strings and Horns

Lesson 10: Your Artistic Niche

  • Five Dominant Genre Paradigms
  • Artistic Identity
  • In or out of the Box
  • Assignment 10: Remixing/Rearranging in a Different Genre

Lesson 11: Artistic Identity vs. Market Identity: Bridging the Gap

  • Keeping Your Artistic Integrity
  • Finding Your Audience
  • Genre Bending and Blending
  • Assignment 11: Final Project (Rough Draft)

Lesson 12: The Revision Process

  • Constructive Listening
  • The Right Mix: Subtractive Arranging
  • The Right Mix: Additive Arranging
  • The A/B Approach
  • Assignment 12: Final Project (Final Draft)


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills


  • No textbooks required


  • Students are required to produce multitrack recordings of their songs, including vocals and instrumental accompaniment (live instruments and/or MIDI sequencing).



  • Audio interface
  • XLR microphone and cable
  • Closed back, over-ear studio headphones such as Sony MDR-7506 or better
  • Recommended: Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, and necessary cables


  • Microphone stand
  • Pop filter

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Sarah Brindell

Author & Instructor

Sarah Brindell is a songwriter, arranger, producer, musician, and Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music. With touring credits around the world, she has shared the stage and recorded with many renowned artists including Norah Jones, Carole King, and Raul Midon. Her original songs can be heard on many television shows including MTV’s Made. She was a finalist in the Song of the Year contest as part of VH-1’s Save the Music Foundation, as well as the Billboard World Song Contest. A Summa Cum Laude graduate from Boston University, she holds a Master's degree in Music Education, and teaches courses in songwriting, harmony, ear training, arranging, and stage performance. She conducts clinics nationwide and internationally, and continually helps thousands of students to reach their full potential as professional musicians and songwriters.

Bonnie Hayes

Author & Instructor

Bonnie Hayes has more than 35 years of experience as an educator, songwriter, producer, performer, and recording artist. During her career, she has been signed to five record deals and five writing deals, and toured as a side musician with Billy Idol and Cris Williamson. She has written songs for Bonnie Raitt, Cher, Bette Midler, David Crosby, Robert Cray, Adam Ant, and Booker T. & the MG’s, and produced more than 40 records. She designed and implemented the youth program for the Blue Bear School of Music in San Francisco, and has taught piano, guitar, theory, songwriting, and composition to thousands of students at institutions throughout the US.

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Arranging for Songwriters: Instrumentation and Production in Songwriting can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Majors


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