Jazz Arranging


Authored by Brian Lewis


Course Code: OCWPR-335

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Whether breathing new life into a standard, or making a newly written tune truly unique, the jazz arranger's vision influences every aspect of the listener's experience. Jazz Arranging explores techniques that will allow you to write effective jazz arrangements for all types of instrumental combinations.

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Throughout this music arrangement course, you will learn to write complete arrangements in a variety of formats and styles while addressing the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic challenges faced by every jazz arranger. The course examines the techniques behind writing introductions, harmonizing melodies, working with rhythm sections, creating interludes, developing secondary and tertiary focus, and understanding instrument ranges. Through analysis and discussion of methods used by the finest arrangers in jazz, you will learn how to develop a compelling jazz arrangement and how to bring the arrangement to a successful conclusion. The course provides the foundation for constructing arrangements in any jazz style, including the bop and hard-bop style of Horace Silver, Clifford Brown, and John Coltrane; the classic two-horn frontline with vocalist lineup, as popularized by Cannonball Adderly with Nancy Wilson, Marty Paich, and contemporary artists such as Michael Buble and Harry Connick Jr.; the smooth jazz stylings of Fourplay and Spyro Gyra; and arrangements for a big band jazz ensemble with five saxophones, four trumpets, four trombones, and full rhythm section, in the style pioneered by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Bob Brookmeyer, Maria Schneider, and others.

By the end of this music arrangement course, you will not only have had the experience of writing many complete arrangements, but you will have resources that you can turn to for further inspiration, as well as access to a growing network of colleagues in the field of jazz writing. Course author Brian Lewis has written jazz arrangements for over thirty years, with works commissioned and recorded on a yearly basis since 1990. The course brings together all of his knowledge and experience, with the goal of imparting thorough and practical methods for becoming a versatile and sought-after jazz arranger.

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

  • Apply proven arranging concepts in all the major jazz styles
  • Understand voicing and harmonization techniques and use them to create specific musical moods
  • Write for the characteristics of individual instruments and sections of instruments
  • Analyze the work of the greatest jazz arrangers
  • "Role model" in order to stimulate the writing process
  • Identify the characteristic functions of the rhythm section when constructing grooves and comping patterns
  • Demonstrate how to reshape melodies from lead sheet formats into stylistic, personalized melodic treatments
  • Write complete, original arrangements (seven will be completed during the term)
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Rhythm Section and One Solo Instrument: Smooth Jazz

  • Jazz Arranging: Understanding the Writing (Arranging) Process
  • Focus Levels, Melodic, Rhythmic, and Harmonic Functions
  • Comping Functions
  • Writing for the Drum Set
  • Arrangement Considerations in the Smooth Jazz-Funk Style
  • Front-Line Solo Instrument Characteristics

Lesson 2: Bebop and Hard Bop

  • Bop and Hard Bop
  • Jazz Arrangement Analysis
  • Two-Part Writing Techniques
  • Voicings and Intervals
  • Introductions/Endings

Lesson 3: Solis and Working with Vocalists

  • Historical Perspective
  • Two-Horns and use of Pads
  • Punches and Counter Melodies
  • Vocal Ranges
  • Melodic Manipulation
  • Writing Solis

Lesson 4: Big Band

  • Historical Combinations
  • Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Focus Levels
  • Cross Sectional Possibilities
  • Open- and Close-Position Chord Voicings
  • Spread Voicings
  • Upper Structure Triad Voicings
  • Unison Arrangements

Lesson 5: Writing for Large Jazz Ensemble

  • Choosing the Soloists
  • Solo Feature
  • Combo Within the Big Band
  • Open Solo Sections
  • Background Figures

Lesson 6: Writing for Large Jazz Ensemble (Part 2)

  • The Saxophone Soli
  • Writing the Soli
  • Coupling
  • The Sax Section
  • Endings

Lesson 7: Writing for Three Horns and Rhythm Section

  • History of the Three-Horn Front Line
  • Unison-Octave Splits
  • Independent Lead with Two-Voice Background
  • Three-Part Harmonization
  • The Harmonization Process
  • Highlighting the Melody
  • Cluster Voicing
  • Secondary Focus Beyond the Head

Lesson 8: Three Horns and Rhythm Section; Funk and Fusion

  • Modal Characteristics
  • The Music of The Crusaders
  • The Music of The Brecker Brothers
  • Role Model Composition

Lesson 9: Writing for Five Horns

  • 5-Part Voicings
  • Close Position Double Lead
  • Voicing Guidelines
  • Substitute Double Lead
  • 5-Part Passing Chords
  • Latin Influences: Brazilian
  • Latin Influences: Afro-Cuban

Lesson 10: Final Project: Large Ensemble Arrangement

  • Arrangement Planning
  • Hooks
  • Working With Clients
  • Conceptualizing the Arrangement
  • The Music of Sammy Nestico
  • The Music of Rob McConnell
  • The Music of Thad Jones
  • "Variable" Instrumentation

Lesson 11: Final Project: Large Ensemble Arrangement (Part 2)

  • Building to a Climax
  • The Music of Mark Harris
  • Large Ensemble Arrangement Analysis
  • The Music of Bob Mintzer

Lesson 12: Large Ensemble Arrangement (Part 3)

  • Treating the Recapitulation
  • Score Analysis
  • Color
  • Reharmonization
  • The Music of Bob Brookmeyer
  • The Music of Maria Schneider
  • Conceptualizing the Whole Arrangement


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Arranging: Advanced Horn Writing or equivalent knowledge and experience in basic arranging concepts, such as instrument ranges, chord spelling, voicing, and harmonization is required. You should also know modes and related chord scales. Knowledge of basic reharmonization techniques is helpful, but not required. Recommended experience in a digital audio workstation (DAW) of choice.



  • Students are required to create notation and submit it in PDF format. Options include:
    • Notation software (recommended option), such as Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, MuseScore (free), etc.
    • Handwritten notation captured by a digital camera or a scanner can be used in lieu of notation software.


  • Recommended: Printer, if you would like to print out examples used in the course.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu 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


Brian Lewis

Author & Instructor

Composer, arranger, and trumpet player Brian Lewis is a professor in the Ear Training department at Berklee College of Music. His jazz ensemble compositions/arrangements are regularly performed and recorded by many universities and colleges nationally and internationally. His transcriptions have been published by Keyboard magazine. As a performer, Brian has worked with the Mel Lewis Orchestra, David Clayton-Thomas, Donna Summer, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Phil Woods, Don Menza, the O'Jays, the Spinners, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Paul Anka, and others. He holds a bachelor's degree in music from State University of New York and a master's degree in jazz writing from the University of Miami.


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at advisors@online.berklee.edu.

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