[VGM Theory] Writing Deliberately Easy – The Pokémon Sun and Moon Easy Collection.

Turns out, writing easy arrangements was a lot harder than writing normal arrangements. Because there was a need to get down to the fundamentals, and that needed theory. Go theory.


25 Minutes of Pokémon Sun and Moon Arrangements, with an interactive jukebox feature. ^^ Made for studying, or for general background music.


How a Bunch of Cute Pokémon Tunes Changed Everything.

01-welcome-to-alola-thumbnail

The Pokémon Sun and Moon Easy Collection was a turning point for my arranging philosophy. The idea was simple – write deliberately easy arrangements. And it sounded manageable. I mean, easy arrangements meant lesser parts to transcribe, so that should have made my job easier.

Well, not really. In all phases of this project, I found myself challenging my theoretical knowledge and creativity. Writing easy arrangements, as it turned out, was more mentally taxing than normal arrangements.

Yet I’m glad that I took the step in that direction. After completing the collection I realised that I wanted to write music in that direction – playability-focused, low-commitment, yet sonically pleasing works. The ones that sounded good off the bat, and didn’t require hours of practice to execute.

The nitty-gritties of that – my arranging method – was refined over the course of this collection. I’ll be sharing a little of how it came to be in this article.


There Was A Hypothesis. Literally.

“…building up from fundamental roles,
rather than taking away from a complete work.”

The idea came to me when I was on some coastal patrol operation. I’d heard a bunch of Sun and Moon tracks, and I was convinced that they would eventually come together to form the greatest OST of the year. So I started my first few arrangements based on Pokeli’s game rips.

I realised the potential for “Welcome to Alola” (officially to be known as “Alola Region Theme”) and “Hau’oli City (Day)” to be reduced into very simple, melody-plus-accompaniment-based scores. “Welcome to Alola” was a waltz at its core, and “Hau’oli City (Day)” was mostly built using swung guitar strumming as accompaniment. So there was definitely a way to reduce parts until the product was as easy as possible.

I made the differentiation between “deliberately easy” arrangements and “dumbed down” arrangements. Previously I had done simplifications of a bunch of my arrangements – Route 210 being the most prominent example. But back then I was doing nothing more than cutting notes from a messy, convoluted, difficult score. So those were “dumbed down” arrangements.

Somehow, I came up with a hypothesis – that “deliberately easy” arrangements involved constructing based on fundamental roles, rather than reducing a complete work.


To Write Based on Roles.

I was kinda right. The idea was there, and the details emerged along the way.
One philosophy I guessed correctly, though, was the need to write based on roles rather than parts. So instead of saying,

“The melody is played in the synthesiser. Along with that,
the bass plays this, and the guitar strums this rhythm to it,”

I’d say,

“The melody is played in the synthesiser, and bass and guitar
form the rhythm section that accompanies it.”

Then I’d transcribe the melody and the general rhythm of the rhythm section, and I’d fill chords and motifs after that. In a general sense, that was the whole arranging process in a nutshell.


Well, The Process Is Actually Quite Nerdy.

Here’s a brief rundown of what I did for every arrangement:

~
Step One: Structure.

There was no way to understand a piece better than good ol’ structural analysis. Roles tended to change with changes in sections, as with most other melody-based works. So it was especially useful to know what was playing when, and when it changed.
01-structure
~
Step Two: Transcribe Melody and Harmony.

Until a software that extracts MIDI files out of audio files is developed (which is theoretically almost impossible), a skill that all VGM arrangers need to have is transcription. Turns out there was no running from the most boring part of the job.

I found it useful, however, to notate the chords along with the melody. This helped skip a bunch of steps later in the process, and now the simultaneous notation of melody and harmony has become a habit of mine.
02-melody-harmony
~
Step Three: Transcribe Rhythm.

This is where it got ultra-nerdy. I transcribed the general rhythmic pattern of each bar or section. This included significant drum parts which gave the track rhythmic drive.

In order to capture the rhythmic drive of the original track, the arrangement had to have all the accents of the original.

03-rhythm

Here’s the catch – anything can produce an accent. The kick and snare, the soft string pad of “Paniola Ranch”, or even the aggressive slap bass of “Battle! (Gladion)”. But notating the accents wasn’t the end of it.

To make things harder, there were high and low accents – the kick produces a low accent which could be reproduced as a low octave, and the snare produces a mid-range accent that could be reproduced as a half-chord in the octave below middle C. I could probably do a video tutorial series on how to do this at some point, and it’d be about four videos long.

Oh, and then there were the rhythmic elaborators, which deserve another video series in themselves.

Needless to say, transcribing the rhythm can be considered a separate discipline to transcribing a single part, and this post can’t possibly communicate all the details about it.

Well, that escalated quickly.

~

Step Four: Fill Harmony.

With the high and low accents and all the rhythmic stuff figured out, filling the chords was kinda easy. It took some four-part harmony to work out at its hardest.

But the challenge here was writing an accompaniment that was easily playable. This was especially tough in the “Gladion” – the rhythm itself was challenging, so I had to round quite a few corners.

~

Step Five: Motifs and Harmonisation.

Basically beefing up parts to strengthen the link with the original track and allow for better flow, respectively. This was nothing different from most other projects, except I had to cut quite a lot of these elements for technical concerns.

~

Case in point, the whole process was theory-heavy and pretty tough on the mind.


Holy Crud, What?

So, that was probably quite a mouthful for you to swallow. :p

In due time, after further refining this model, I’ll probably start work on Youtube tutorials that give an in-depth guide to the concepts of transcribing rhythm and filling harmonies, among others.

The key takeaway is that writing deliberately easy scores…is hard. It requires a different approach from the standard transcribe-and-fill method, and it requires a fair bit of theory.

Don’t be disheartened if you’d like to try some easy arranging yourself, though – there’s no harm done in trying! 🙂 And if you get stuck, I’ll have tutorials for you coming up some time at the end of the year ^^

Take care and much cheers!

~ Darren

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