Excellent Example of Using Span, Weight, and Density Effectively

I stumbled across a chart of Mike Tomaro’s recently and immediately noticed his high level of skill in manipulating span, weight, and density. One reason why Mike is one of my favorite writers, his stuff always sound hip and fresh.

I thought I would do a quick tutorial on just 8 measures of Mike’s chart on Have You Met Miss Jones mainly to point out his skill in balancing a big band sound with the nimbleness of a small group.

This chart is for 6 horns, a “little big band” basically, but to get the most out of instrumentation like this, the arranger has to think in both the big band and small group camps. The ensemble is big enough to have more “power” than a jazz combo, yet it will never reach the level of intensity of a full big band.

So as an arranger, you have to balance the best elements of both ensemble sizes, and Mike does that superbly in this chart.

Main points to take from this are…

1) Keep trumpet range within the staff or just above the staff. Trumpet will get out of whack if you approach the range you would with a full big band.

2) Never be afraid to use plenty of unison and two-part lines within the horns. As you will see (and hear) in the videos, Mike moves from 6 part harmony, to unison, to two part counterpoint, then back again – all within the space of a measure or two.

3) Avoid trying to “over-harmonize” moving lines. Oftentimes arrangers get way too caught up in trying to vertically harmonize every instrument, when a simple unison line will do fine.

A quick review of Span, Weight, and Density again for those that are not familiar with the terms.

Span: the distance between the top voice of the ensemble and the bottom one. (Mike keeps the span within 2 octaves, and oftentimes within an octave)

Weight: The number of players on one specific note (i.e. notice how Mike works his ascending and descending lines so that everyone ends up on the same Middle C on the “and” of four.)

Density: The number of chord tones used in the voicing. (Mike moves between 6-note voicings and unison effortlessly. The ear can never get bored!)

Lastly, when you analyze a chart and study it, always take some time to analyze how the arranger is using span, weight, and density to make the chart sound the way it does.

Below is my two cents of a video, and below that is the Hal Leonard Youtube video of the entire chart, minus solos. Purchase this chart at Hal Leonard site here, purchase Mike’s jazz arranging book here.

5 Replies to “Excellent Example of Using Span, Weight, and Density Effectively”

  1. Hernan Biancardi

    Wow what an effective use of the horns !

    Every time I find such well-developed arrangements I can not avoid the anxiety of wondering when I will reach that level!

  2. Jim Martin

    Hernan, keep in mind that Mike has probably done well over 1000 charts in his lifetime. He was in the service bands for many, many years and got his stuff played the minute he was done copying the parts. He is very talented, but there are no easy shortcuts to getting REALLY good at anything. Just keep writing and getting it played by good players.

  3. Ryan Janus

    Good stuff, Jim! Hanks for the links and thanks for the free mini-lesson. Do you still play with the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra? I have some original charts and arrangements I might want to give you all of you’re interested.

  4. Jim Martin

    No, I haven’t played with the band for a number of years. Probably best to contact Bob Nixon or at their website at grjo.com

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