Arranging (MUSC171)

Andrew A. Cashner, PhD

Spring 2023, University of Rochester, Satz Dept. of Music

Course Information


Arranging is a key skill in any practicing musician’s toolbox. Whether you are reworking an existing song for an a capella or theater group, producing a recording of an original song, or adapting music to fit the practical needs of an amateur ensemble, this class can help you craft effective and appealing arrangements. Students will develop and workshop their own projects with the class while we learn from examples by today’s pop and Broadway arrangers, as well as past masters of arrangement including Bach, Mozart, and Liszt. With an emphasis on simple solutions that work for performers of varying skill levels, the course will show you how to bring out the best in the source music while presenting the performing ensemble in its best light. The course will build fundamental skills through a series of progressive assignments, while discussions will help arrangers develop a critical perspective on issues of intellectual property, racism and representation, and intercultural challenges. (4 credits)

Prequisite: Basic ability to read music and to sing or play an instrument.

Meeting Times

Resources and Materials

Required Materials

Learning Goals


Weekly homework

The course is designed to prepare you to do the assignments listed below by working up through a series of weekly homework assignments. Some of these assignments overlap with the ones below so that by the time you have done the homework, you will have completed the other assignment as well. Homework assignments are listed in the course schedule, and are always due at the start of class on the first class session of each week (normally Tuesday).

Homework assignments are graded as either “Good Enough,” “Incomplete,” or “Zero”:

Pop song arrangement

Starting from an existing lead sheet, arrange a popular song of your choice for amateur SAB chorus with piano accompaniment and one obbligato instrument of your choice. The arrangement should achieve two main goals: (1) it should present the song in a way that is recognizable but also creative, and (2) it should highlight the ensemble and present them at their best. Include a short (c. 500 word) introduction giving a brief history and background of the song and explaining your goals in arranging it this way.

Piano reduction

Given a source piece for orchestra, arrange the music for piano solo. Capture the main melodic and rhythmic ideas, and convey something of the texture and color of the original, in an idiomatic piano part playable by a professional (your professor). You should not consult any existing piano reductions or other arrangements. You should not consult any existing piano reductions or other arrangements. Include notations of the main instruments being played in the original (e.g., “Vn. solo” or “Bass cl.” or “Strings”). Turn in a PDF and a Dorico file.

Polyphonic arrangement

Given a source piece for multiple voices (i.e., a polyphonic piece), arrange the music for an ensemble of transposing instruments (details TBD).

Presentation on arranging ethics

Give a brief presentation in class and lead a discussion on a controversial case study that deals with either issues of intellectual property or racism and cultural appropriation, or both. Include a multimedia element including audio examples. Turn in your outline or script, including a bibliography of at least three items that are not Wikipedia, including full information for each item (title, author, date, where published and/or URL).

Analysis paper

Write a detailed analysis of an arrangement (selected from a given list) and its relationship to earlier versions.

Musicianship exam

In an in-class exam, demonstrate competence in the fundamental skills needed for arranging:


Every assignment will be graded using a rubric on Blackboard that will explain the goals and the criteria for grading. These rubrics will be available in advance so you can understand how you will be evaluated and can assess your own work before you turn it in.

40% Weekly homework
15% Pop song arrangement
10% Piano reduction
10% Polyphonic arrangement
10% Ethics presentation
10% Analysis paper
5% Musicianship exam

Please note: There will be no final exam in this course.

Grade Scale

Percent Letter
93–100 A
90–92 A-
87–89 B+
83–86 B
80–82 B-
77–79 C+
73–46 C
70–72 C-
67–69 D+
63–66 D
60–62 D-
0–59 E


Attendance, Participation, Teaching Modality

Due Dates and Late Assignments

Academic Honesty

Disability Accommodations

If you need a disability accommodation, please contact the Disability Office and they will let me now how to accommodate you without specifying the nature of your disability.

Anti-Oppressive Goals

This course advocates an active anti-oppressive, anti-racist position that seeks to use the study of music to undo social structures that oppress people and instead to build a just society where all people are respected and celebrated for their intrinsic and inestimable value. There has never been a values-neutral course, and indeed throughout their history, American music departments and schools of music have not only fostered a Eurocentric curriculum, but have actively supported a program of white supremacy. In choices of what to cover and how, what music to promote and what to ignore, and in decisions about hiring, promotion, and institutional investments, universities have consistently and systematically discriminated against women, people of color, and sexual/gender minorities. We have inherited social structures that actively oppress people, and if we do not oppose those structures then we will be perpetuating them. Declaring ourselves “non-racist” or ignoring the problem only makes it worse. If, on the other hand, we take an anti-racist approach and actively oppose racist and oppressive structures, then we can work to make positive change.

This course is designed give you the knowledge and tools needed to think critically about the ways that people have used music to oppress others, and to open up a space for imagining different ways of being that will enable us to build a just society. The selection of music and readings intentionally favors contributions of women and people of color, and the course is meant to spotlight social problems rather than avoid them. I do not expect us all to agree about anything except the innate worth of every human being. I do expect every student to engage with each other, with me, and with the authors and creators we study in this course in a respectful, honest, and kind manner as we work together in pursuit of greater understanding and seek out ways to make things better.

Creating a Supportive Classroom Community

I need your help in creative a supportive community in our classroom. I want to build a space in which students feel safe enough to take the risks necessary to engage with new ideas and develop new skills. We must be careful to avoid any kind of bullying or harrassment; and we must cultivate respect, humility, and kindness. No point of view is out of bounds for discussion, as long as we can find a respectful and sensitive way to talk about it.

I will give you opportunities for feedback throughout the course and I would ask, please let me know if there is anything I can do (or anything I need to change) in order to accomplish these goals. Please be reflective about your own contributions to the classroom environment as well.