Mutual Mentoring Scheme for Arrangers

Aim: To help barbershop arrangers develop our skills through dialogue with our peers

Who is the scheme for?: The scheme is intended for people at ‘improvers’ level and up, i.e. people who are beyond the basic stage and have at least a couple of arrangements to their name already up to well-established, experienced arrangers.

Rationale: All arrangers value receiving feedback on their work, whatever level they are working at. And one of the best ways to learn about arranging is to study the work of other people. So, for both logistical and educational reasons, the scheme will work on the basis of mutual mentoring, giving everyone involved both the opportunity to receive feedback and to analyse the work of others.

How it will work: The scheme will work on a yearly cycle starting each autumn. Participants will sign up for a year at a time to be paired up with another arranger for mutual feedback on their work. At the end of that year, you can either withdraw, or sign up to be paired with a new partner; new participants will also be welcome at this point in the cycle.

What you can expect:

  • Feedback on your work on at least three occasions during the year (whether on the same arrangement or different ones is your choice)
  • Response to your work within six weeks

This is therefore also the level of obligation you are committing to by participating. You are welcome to offer more if you like, but should feel no pressure to do so unless you want to! If you don’t fulfil these minimum feedback obligations, you won’t be included in the scheme the following year.

Deadlines for participation in the 2011-12 cycle tba.

How to apply: Please email me giving a brief (50-100 words) outline of your experience level – how long you’ve been arranging/how many arrangements you’ve done/how many are being performed. This will help with the pairing – the aim will be to find you a partner who’s not at exactly the same stage as you, but not too far away either, since you need both common ground and difference to have the most fruitful dialogue.

Once you are paired up, agree between you the logistics for communication – email or traditional post, notation software files or pdfs etc. It is helpful to include a means to hear the arrangement (e.g. midi file) as well as a means to see it. You may also wish to agree timescales for exchange of work, or you may prefer to keep it open – feel free to manage the conversation in the way that suits you both best.

Guidelines on giving feedback:

Some participants may feel underconfident in offering feedback at first, especially if they are the less experienced arranger in their partnership. These guidelines are offered as a starting point for those who haven’t done this before – please be reassured that anyone who has spent time and effort developing their own arrangements is someone who has given careful and musical thought to their craft and therefore has a unique perspective to offer!

  • Annotating hard copy is usually the best way to pinpoint details, especially for technical matters like voicing or chord content.
  • A written summary of 3-6 key points helps both the arranger and the mentor identify the key strengths and weaknesses of the arrangement.
  • Whatever level each member of the pair is at, always comment on both things that work well and things that can be improved.
  • Likewise, always comment on both technical and artistic issues.
  • If there is a recurrent issue, don’t feel you have to correct every time it happens – just point out a couple of instances to help the arranger understand the problem and let them know that that it recurs elsewhere. They will learn more by finding and sorting the others than by you pointing them all out.
  • If you have a hunch about something that you suspect needs a comment, but can’t quite work out what your point is, a good strategy is to ask questions about it (what’s going on in bar 35? I felt it bumped a bit, but I’m not sure why? Is it the shape of the tenor line?…). This will help you understand your intuitive responses as well as giving the arranger useful things to think about.
  • If the arranger has asked any specific questions, make sure you address them. Even if you don’t know the answers, let them know you’ve thought about it!