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Quality Pop Arrangements

My name is Brooke and I am in my second year of teaching middle school choir.  The school is in an urban community that has a fairly large population.  My eighth grade choir is a very talented group that consists of 11 boys and around 30 girls who are really enthusiastic about singing.  
Many of my students have taken an interest in groups such as Penatonix, the movie Pitch Perfect, and even the show The Sing-Off.  Almost every class we have together I have a student come up and ask me if I have seen the new Penatonix video on youtube.  Seeing that they have such an interest in this kind of music, I would love to surprise them at the beginning of next semester by giving them an upbeat accapella Pop song.  Although there are many arrangements of Pop songs, I am searching for high quality arrangements that can educate my eighth grade students and will allow me to challenge them with rhythm and harmony.  Their enthusiasm for accapella music is so great that I have to take advantage of this opportunity.  
All in all, I would really like some help finding a pop song for eighth graders that is upbeat, in 3 part, accapella, and of good quality.  All of your responses are greatly appreciated! 
Replies (10): Threaded | Chronological
on December 5, 2013 4:10am
I also teach middle school choir and have had success with an a cappella arrangement of "Seasons of Love" (arr. Sharon & Raugh -- available through JW Pepper.)  It is in 5 parts, but most parts stay rather limited and repetitious in what they do -- making it accessible for young choirs.  Definitely worth checking out!
Kelly Truax
Prairie Point 7-9
Cedar Rapids, IA
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 5, 2013 4:34pm
For contemporary a cappella stuff, you should look for

Ray yl Chu
Taiwan Choral Music Center, TCMC

on December 6, 2013 6:01am
Deke Sharon is yer man...
on December 6, 2013 7:21am
Do a Google search for the "Just Voices" series by Jonathan Wikeley.  I've never used it, but thought about checking out his stuff for our spring concert also.  Based on what I've read, his arrangements are exactly that: 3-part, a cappella, and written with the thought that it is the singer's first time performing without accompaniment. 
on December 6, 2013 7:55am
I have arranged a high quantity of various pop music for ensembles of different sizes and calibres; if I have anything in my collection I'll let you know. Have any of your boys' voices changed?
-Jerron Jorgensen
on December 6, 2013 12:15pm
Pop a cappella is tough in middle school, and tough in 3-parts.  I use lots of Deke Sharon arrangements with my high school groups, but I think some of them would be tough with 8th graders.  I enjoy writing arrangements for my groups (takes me 3-7 hours, depending on the tune, 2 sittings usually) but always feel crunched for time to get them done.  When I write my own arrangements, I can really tailor them to the group I have, which I find hugely important.  I'm especially interested in getting soloists in a good key.  If we are talking pop music they probably need to use more of a belt/chest voice quality, which young singers can only do in really specific parts of their voice.  I also am concerned about getting a rhythmic bass line happening that can stand alone on it's own, and putting it in a really good key for the basses (a struggle in my all female group, and I would think in middle school groups, too).  With only three parts, you are probably looking at the other two parts doing some rhythmic figure that complements the bass part.
Some other tricks to create interest: I frequently write descant sort of lines even if they weren't in the original.  Singers just sound good doing this, and I get bored of monotonous "vocal chording" that imitates an acoustic guitar, etc.  I try really hard to get words in all the parts, either as elongated "pads" behind the soloist (the interplay of the same words in different rhythms creates interest, and is better than "ooo...") or find sort of anthem-ic choruses that work well with the whole group.  I just did 'RadioActive" for my high school group, but none of my male soloists can hit the high Bb on the record.  By making it a homophonic texture through the chorus, there's some variety in the arrangement, and everyone gets words instead of "do's" and "bah's".
I feel like there's always a few limiting factors getting music for pop a cappella groups:
1. what commercially available arrangements are there (not a lot, except for Deke Sharon's stuff)
2. Do we have a soloist who is vocally and personality-wise a good fit for the song
3. do I have time to arrange it?
My students also bring in Pentatonix arrangments (we're working on adapting "Run to Me" right now), but I point out to them that that group is often showcasing the virtuosic aspects of their indivudal voices.  In my program, we don't have basses that can sing that low or tenor soloists that can sing that high.  We're also a 3-4 on a part group, and they are one-on-a-part, which is an important difference.
Some specific things I've done that were succesful: Free Fallin' by Tom Petty in SSAB, Preacher Man with 3-part women backround parts, People Get Ready with 3-part simple ostinato-type parts, Rollin in the Deep 3-part women's group, Deke Sharon's "Hey Jude" is published in SSA, "Let it Be" arr. Mark Brymer.
Good luck!  It sounds like you have enthusiastic singers!
Dave Piper
Applauded by an audience of 1
on December 6, 2013 4:51pm
Wow David, great ideas!!  VERY helpful.  I would love to go to a pop arranging workshop or session led by you.
Also I'm assuming you know that Pentatonix put their song "Run to You" - the sheet music - on their website?  I'm sure you mean adapting from that to fit your group.  If not, that is there for you.  :)
on December 7, 2013 4:53am
Thanks, Sara.  It's funny, my student transcribed the whole "Run to You", mostly accurately.  I did a quick google search, pointed it out to him, and he was shocked it was already available!  It was awesome ear training for him.
on December 6, 2013 4:55pm
Brooke, good on you for listening to your students and trying to incorporate their ideas.  That's so important, and something more middle school teachers should do.  Pop has an important role in teaching vocal music.
What I usually do is go over to and put on all the filters I want ideally - they have a filter for acappella!  You can then search for 3-part, but go back to designate for SAB, because on Pepper they're different.
Don't be afraid to rewrite a male part if it's out of their range.  (Sometimes arrangers treat SAB means SAT, and not all boys are tenors!! Plus - would they want to sing between a B and a D for almost an entire piece!?  I mean come on).
Also, Pentatonix just put the sheet music for their song Run to You on their website.  It might be a good teaching tool to play the song and follow the score on a projector - to show how advanced they are and how challenging their arrangements!  Point out cluster chords, etc.
Good luck :)
on March 3, 2014 11:39pm
It is great that your group has taken such an interest in acappella music and I am so glad to hear that you have decided to seek out quality arrangements rather then just simple and cheap "fluff music"
I have done quite a bit of arranging for Mixed and Gender Specific groups and I would be more then happy to try to work out something for your group =)
Feel free to email me at adamgilbertproductions(a) and we can discuss more specifics.
I look forward to hearing from you, have a great day!
-Adam Gilbert
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