Music Arrangement Basics: Level of Activity

In this six week series on arranging, we aim to help break down arrangement to six simple elements that we hope you can apply to your productions. These blogposts are meant to be short, simple and easy to digest with an average reading time of 5 minutes or less for the average producer who has not had any formal music education.

Here are the topics that we are going to cover over the next 6 weeks:

  1. Pitch
  2. Rhythm
  3. Dynamics
  4. Timbre
  5. Articulation
  6. Level of Activity

Level of Activity

  1. What is activity in music?percussion
    • We would like to assign different sounds / instruments a certain level of activity in a music arrangement.
    • We categorize activity levels into three types: low, medium, and high.
    • Levels of activity are essentially the rhythm that an instrument is playing.
    • Think of activity as a big picture – ask yourself, what pulls your ear into your arrangement? The thing that sticks out the most, most likely has the highest level of activity.
  2. Activity & Music Arrangementpexels-photo-63703-large
    • Instruments like pads have a low level of activity. There isn’t much “movement” to attract attention and is meant more of a foundation.
    • However, certain synth lines or arpeggiated synths have high level of activity that often than not attract the listener’s attention.
    • Level of activity and tone also go together. If you have a lead line that has a lot of movement, but has a dark tone in the mix, it is just going to create a lot of unnecessary confusion in your arrangement.
  3. Practical Applications
    • When starting out an arrangement, think of your musical form and which instrument or part should take the highest level of activity.
    • Should that be the melody? hook? a cool synth part?
    • Bring instruments / parts forward or backward by giving them different levels of activity. Control what you want your listener to hear.

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