O Christmas Tree: Voiced for 4 Horns

I always liked the 4 horn setup of trumpet, alto, tenor and trombone. Because there are four voices (as opposed to only three in a traditional combo), it is much easier to make each voicing sound nice and full. The extra instrument really makes a difference when dealing with more complex dominant chords.

This lesson shows how I took the O Christmas Tree leadsheet and voiced it out for 4 horn players. This is obviously not a complete chart, but hopefully you’ll get a good idea of how to take a tune that has been reharmonized and voice it out for a small group of horn players.

Feel free to take what I’ve written as a guide for your on combo arrangement. You’ll need an intro, and maybe an ensemble section, and solos and backgrounds of course. Be sure to download the condensed “score” to print before you watch the lesson. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.

Some Key Points:

  • Choose a key that is comfortable for players, especially lead player
  • Voice leading is of paramount importance at all times
  • Bass notes should reflect what is happening in horns
  • Repeating sections of AABA form need alternate voicings, chords, etc.

12 Replies to “O Christmas Tree: Voiced for 4 Horns”

  1. Laurent Rinaldi

    thank you so much Jim
    lots of very good info in there

    i have more & more trouble hearing you when you speak in the video
    is it just me?

  2. Jim Martin

    Laurent, I”ll boost my voice next time more. The problem is that the playback from my computer is louder than the microphone, so I have to make adjustments “in the mix” so to speak. I’ll mess around with my sound card settings and see if I can get them more uniform. It plays back fine on my computer though.

  3. David Michaels

    Thanks, Jim. A lot of info here again as usual. Your 20 minute lessons usually provide plenty of hours of keyboard work, no exception here. Being able to hear how you think through a good sounding chart is really helpful, especially how you get around “tight spots” with voice leading. One just can’t get that from a text. Good comment on the bass part, many suggested lines are pretty generic and serve as guides; many times there’s just a chord symbol and/or possible rhythmic suggestion. Of course, “Play as Written” is always respected.

  4. Murray Swain

    Brilliant, Jim; thank you!

    Can you help me find an mp3 of “Afinidad”? I seem to recall that I did not download that audio some months ago, even though I got all the print scores. (Was that your material, or am I getting confused in my old age with some other website?)

    By the way, you have really got me keen to master tri-tone substitutions!

    Murray Swain

  5. Laurent Rinaldi

    Thanks Jim
    in fact, the music comes out fine of my computer speakers, it’s only when you speak that i can hardly hear you

  6. Rick Hirsch


    Your mentioning of making sure to write in good-sounding ranges is huge (at about 3 min. point in vid). It’s something I try to be aware of every time I write, whether I’m scoring for a 4 horn combo, a marching band, a big band, flute choir, whatever.

    Having played a few of your charts over the years (Dear Old Stockholm, Count Is In, Sailing…), I have a hunch it’s close to the front of your mind a lot, too.

    Specifically, I try attempt to consider tone color, intensity, and projection of a given instrument in a specific part of its range. Are you doing the same? Do you have additional considerations?

    ~ Rick

    State College, PA

  7. Jim Martin

    Rick: you are exactly right, I am constantly aware of where the instruments are lying in their ranges for what is needed in any chart at any specific point in the chart. That is one of the hardest things to teach I think too. Ranges have alot to do with how intensities work at climactic points (or non-climactic points) as well. For example, it would not work to have a “shout” section in a big band with lead trumpet playing in the lower part of the staff. Or having flute double a line with muted tpt in unison in the staff. So you are spot on with your observation. I’ll try to cover things like that in future lessons as well. Thanks for commenting.

  8. Rick Hirsch

    Thanks for your reply, Jim.

    Question: How have you gone about learning what types of lines & intervals lay well on different instruments?

    So, as a saxophonist, I have full confidence in the sax lines I write: “If I can play ’em, then *they* can play ’em.” On the other hand, even after 15-20 years of writing for good jazz ensembles, I still find myself writing brass lines that aren’t always idiomatic to the instruments.

    Your thoughts?

    ~ Rick

  9. Jim Martin

    Rick: I know what you mean regarding instruments that you don’t play. I think it just comes down to listening intently to every chart you hear and make a mental note of what registers the instruments are playing in at any given time, and how each section (of the chart) fits together as a whole.

    I heard that John Williams once said that he hates to go to someone’s house for dinner when there is music playing in the background, because he is listening as a composer/arranger and can’t enjoy himself at all because of that. I can totally understand what he is saying. I find my self “transcribing” stuff in my head as I listen to almost any kind of music any more. And I always have the latest arrangement that I’m working on going through my head. It drives me crazy sometimes but I guess over all these years my inner ear has improved alot.

    One of the best things you can do to help your arranging skills is by transcribing charts too. Transcribe lead lines, bass lines, form, etc. then fill in the details. You’ll never get it exactly right every time, but the more you do it, the closer you’ll get. Hope that helps.

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