Arranging “Call Me Maybe,” Part 2

In Part One, I described my process for preparing to arrange the pop tune “Call Me Maybe,” and some of the decisions I made in charting out the verse. Now, let’s look at the chorus:

I remember reading in the Songwriter’s Market way back in the 80’s that a successful song needs two hooks, one vocal and one instrumental. In this tune we get both at the same time, each occupying spaces left by the other. The classic riff that drives this section is found in the keys:

Note the directions to switch to arco strings. It helped to know that both arco and pizzicato strings are common patches on keyboards, and often found within close proximity of each other. Asking a keyboardist to use specific patches can sometimes invite trouble, but definitely not here, especially with the rest before the double-bar.

As for the voicings, these pretty much took care of themselves. Listening to the recording, it’s fairly easy to hear the octaves in the right hand. Double the bass line, then fill in the remaining harmony notes in the left hand et voila. Still, I double-checked my results against a couple of online arrangements.

The risk here is having your keyboard player not play the right hand part loudly enough. It needs to dominate the arrangement. However, keyboardists are all too easily buried in a live mix, and often rightfully so: I find that electronic keyboards often have a difficult time finding the zone between too loud and too soft, and the guys I work with tend to err on the side of caution. They understand that guitars and vocals are usually at the center of a rock arrangement. That attitude won’t work here, though; and I place the forte marking hoping for the best.

Here’s the biggest problem spot:

Every second time through the chorus riff, the strings do this rapid descending passage. I saw it notated online as a G major scale in 32nd notes, but wasn’t sure of the accuracy, so I slowed the recording down. Sure enough, it sounds like a string section playing all the notes in a G major scale. Is this a sample, sped up? Perhaps. On the other hand, I noticed in the recording that the strings are slightly out of sync with each other, which is to be expected when they are playing this rapidly in unison. Now how to mimic the passage in the keys?

I faced a couple options: Simplify the passage by reducing the number of notes, or remove one of the octaves. The second option was out — one test, and it proved too thin sounding. So how to simplify? Use a pentatonic scale? Simply mark a long glissando? Neither option sounded good in practice. So I took a chance on the performer. Normally I wouldn’t advocate this when arranging for a working group, but I chose to notate it as closely to the original as I could, and let the keyboardist find his own shortcut. Sometimes if you do this, who knows? You might be surprised at what your performers are capable of.

In part 3, we will take a look at what the rest of the rhythm section is doing during the chorus. I’ll also share how I tried adding horns.

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