Creating Ensembles from a Lead Sheet

Creating Ensembles from a Lead Sheet

by Bob Denney

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Performing with other musicians is a great way to share knowledge as well as acquire new skills and repertoire. The guitar is an instrument which is quite approachable and rewarding for those who learn to create their own arrangements from minimum resources (information). The ability to create an arrangement “on the spot” from a lead sheet is a valuable musical skill that students can begin exploring at a very early stage. With a reasonable grasp (pun intended) of note reading on a few strings, and on a handful (pun intended) of chords, your students can be independently creating their own arrangements.

Let’s use an example found in just about every method book provided by TGW GAMA sponsors. Here we find the first few bars of this well loved hymn in a typical lead sheet format. Here are 8 different parts which could be extracted from this basic information. (Only you imagination and musical taste limits the number of parts you or your students could create).





STEP #1 – SOLO: Have students learn the melody.




STEP #2 – DUET: Have the students learn the chords strumming one chord per measure. Have them play the chords with the melody.




 STEP #3 – TRIO: Add a third part with the roots of the chord being played. A strong bass line helps with tuning and harmony.  




STEP #4 – QUARTET: Have the melody doubled an octave higher. This adds another texture and timbre.



STEP #5 – QUINTET: Now double the original bass line an octave higher. Again, this adds yet another timbre.




 STEP #6 – SEXTET: Add another bass line that alternates the Root and 5th of the chord. More harmony and texture added.




STEP #7 – SEPTET: Add a pima pattern to the mix.




STEP #8 – OCTET: Add a different pima pattern.




 It is important to have all the students learn all the parts! Students will have a better understanding of their personal role in an ensemble if they know all the parts. They learn valuable listening skills for balancing their personal sound within a group. This will also allow for maximum flexibility of the ensemble in case members are missing at performance time. It also means students can form and direct their own groups of varying sizes with confidence.   A basic arrangement of all these parts could consist of repeating the piece 8 times adding a new part each time.

Let the students explore the music and express their musicality by trying different configurations. An application of the understanding of analysis could be demonstrated by assigning different pima patterns or octave choices for different sections within the form structure. If you are in need of opportunities for formal Assessment and Evaluation, it is quite easy to create rubrics for each step of the process.

As a Summative, Exam or Term Project other elements could be added ie: formal notation using pencil and paper or computer software, multi-track recording, formal written melodic and harmonic analysis. Once students have learned the process, they can demonstrate their cumulative skill and knowledge development by applying these principles to a designated piece of music or one of their own choosing. Students will be thrilled and acquire a sense of ownership in their own musical development when they are able to create and present a “full piece” to an audience early in their musical careers.


About the author:

Bob Denney is the former Lead Clinician for Teaching Guitar Workshops Canada. A former professional musician, Bob retired from a successful teaching career with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board where he held the position of Head of Fine Arts and Technology at John McCrae Secondary School. Under Bob’s direction, the JMSS Guitar Ensemble appeared on local and national television broadcasts as well as being awarded by the Canadian Music Educators’ Association. Bob continues to inspire students and empower teachers through innovative pedagogy across Canada.


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