How to complete full pop song music arrangement in 60 minutes

I have heard about professional music arrangers who are capable of completing his arrangement task within 2-5 hours. Most beginners are amazed by the speed and quality of those final products –beautiful music arrangements of simple pop songs. Don’t be surprised, every musician with enough practice can do it too. Here, I will give you some guidelines how I can do it within 60 minutes.

Preparation and skill requirement

In order to be able to complete a full pop song music arrangement in 60 minutes, you must have these abilities and pre-arranged requirement:

1. Familiar with your sequencer software: – I am using Cakewalk Sonar. There are others very powerful DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) such as Cubase, Logic Audio, Protools etc. Just use the one you are familiar with. You must learn the most frequently used short-cut keys. Knowledge about MIDI programming is the basic before you can use the mentioned sequencers.

2. The song is already written completely: You might want to arrange one of your own compositions, or some other songs which are completely written. I won’t touch about song writing here. Before the arrangement works get started, I will at least had the demo ready. The demo can be a roughly recorded version, with or without any instrument accompaniment. The important part is the recorded material can reveal the song melody clearly. If there is no recorded material, a lead sheet will be fine too.

3. Know the basic theory of harmonization and chord progression: If you don’t know about this basic requirement, it will be a nightmare for you to do music arrangement. It’s almost impossible to get the job done. Music arrangement is about harmony, rhythm, and composition.

4. Capable to play keyboard or guitar well: Keyboard is more powerful in music arranging. Guitar would be secondary. If you know both, it is even better!

Start working!

If you already possess the above requirements, congratulations! You are qualified to complete a music arrangement within 60 minutes if you follow my tips. Yes! It can be done for a normal pop, radio friendly song which is 3 to 4 minutes long. When you are facing tight deadline, this tips will be helpful to you. Here is how I do it:

1. Open a customized template file (1 minutes) – I have a few templates saved with the regular settings I use. When I open the template files, Sonar loads all the MIDI tracks, the plug-in effects, plug-in instruments, and also the window views I preferred. All the regularly used sound patches are loaded together too. For a normal pop song, the frequently used patches are acoustic drum, bass, piano, guitar, strings and some other solo instruments. You must get these templates ready. It will save you a lot of time.

2. Set the tempo and record the melody line (8 minutes) – I tap the tempo and find the most suitable speed for the song. Then I will record the melody guide track by referring to the recorded demo or lead sheet. I will do it phrase by phrase — listen and memorize a phrase, and then recorded it in Sonar by playing the phrase at my keyboard. If you have perfect pitch and relative pitch ability, this part will be a piece of cake for your. I normally use flute as the melody guide because the sound is sustainable. Play the audio file to listen to an example of melody guide:

Melody line

full pop music arrangement sample-melody.mp3

Music arrangement melody score.jpg

3. Lay down the chord progression and the sequence of the song (14 minutes) – this is the most time consuming step. Here I will finalized the chords I use for each bar and beats. I will write it down, by drawing the chord at the melody score. I do it using the “staff view” in Sonar. It is also necessary to determine the structure of the songs: intro–> verse –> chorus –> interlude –> verse2 –> chorus2 –> bridge –> chorus 3 –> outro. This is the normal structure of a pop song. Use cut and paste function to save time.

4. Choose the appropriate music instrument patch (3 minutes): Sometimes the template patches might not be perfectly suitable. It is important to finalize the patches I use in the song. I might change the drum kits, or some solo instruments.

5. Build the foundation – drum, percussion, bass (9 minutes): The rhythm section is the foundation of a song arrangement. I lay down the drum track using “piano roll view”. You can also use drum loop to save time. Most of the time, I start programming the final chorus part, which is normally the fullest part or the climax of the song. Then I copy the drum track and paste it at the verse. Reduce some layers of drum hits and it is done. After laying down the percussion, I will play the bass line by referring to the chords written in melody track.

How to Arrange Music in 50 minutes of less!

Drum full pop music arrangement sample-drum.mp3

Bass added full pop music arrangement sample-bass.mp3

Music arrangement melody score with bass line.jpg

6. Build the harmony – piano, guitar etc (7 minutes): I normally use piano more than guitar. I am very good at playing the piano. Normally it is only 1 or 2 takes to complete the piano tracks. After laying down the piano track, the song is almost done!

Piano added full pop music arrangement sample-piano.mp3


Music arrangement melody score with piano score.jpg

7. Fill in the solo instrument (5 minutes): I will fill in the empty part – where the vocal won’t be present with some solo instrument. I use some synthesizer leads, or other acoustic solo instrument like saxophone, violin etc.

Flute added full-pop-music-arrangement-sample-flute.mp3

8. Add the sustaining patch – pad, strings (5 minutes): I always lay down the strings or pads only after I completed all the above. By adding sustaining sound patch, it will increase the warmth of the song. It will make the song sounds soothing, rich, and full.

Pad added [audio:full-pop-music-arrangement-sample-pad.mp3]


Music arrangement melody score with pad.jpg


9. Listen for the final adjustment (5 minutes): Find and modify out-of-tune notes, and fine tune some parts that are necessary.

10. Export to a wave file (3 minutes): I use 100% software plug-in nowadays, so that I don’t need to mix down the outboard gear by recording them into Sonar. It really saves me a lot of time waiting for the recording to complete. Exporting a wave file from Sonar takes a few minutes only.

Full arrangement


This is how I complete a full pop song music arrangement in 60 minutes. I used to do this when I got a lot of projects on hand and the due dates are near. However, in order to deliver a great job, 60 minutes is never enough. If you can do it less than 60 minutes, please let me know in the comment.

ONLINE COURSE: How to Complete Full Pop Song Music Arrangement in 60 minutes or less! CLICK HERE!

If you want to learn more about music arrangement,you should get this book:


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About The Author


Online Musician, Pianist, Song-writer, Vocalist, Music Arranger


  • Chester Tan

    Reply Reply May 29, 2007

    Wow, excellent guide! Thanks for sharing!

  • KCLau

    Reply Reply May 29, 2007

    Hi Chester,
    I am glad that you like it.

  • encyclo man

    Reply Reply September 15, 2007

    Very interesting tutorial. Bookmarked!

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply September 15, 2007

      Hi Encyclo Man, I am glad that this is useful to you. See you around.

  • johnnytlong

    Reply Reply October 4, 2007

    Are you KCLau from Penang, Malaysia?

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply October 4, 2007

      Yes it is me. You almost became my client last time. How are you doing?

  • Elaine

    Reply Reply December 10, 2007

    Dear Sir,

    I have composed a few songs and I would like to record them with the live band. My songs will be played with Traditional musical intruments.
    can you advise me as follows:

    1. How to organise or rather the method of music arrangements?
    2. How much the studio will costs?
    3. Do you have any centre in Subang Jaya?

    Thanks and looking forward to hear from you soon.


  • gunnar ingi

    Reply Reply August 28, 2008

    hi hi which book do you recommed my to buy for music arrangements ?

  • Max

    Reply Reply October 21, 2008

    Hi there,

    During my wedding day, i received a gift from a friend. It was a song that he wrote by himself and play it with piano (kind of like a demo version).

    I am totally helpless of arrange a song into a real one (with music background).

    I am hoping that if there is anyone here, kind enough to help make this dream come true, would be much appreciated.

    Please email me and let me know!!! Thanks

  • Max

    Reply Reply October 21, 2008

    Hi there,

    During my wedding day, i received a gift from a friend. It was a song that he wrote by himself and play it with piano (kind of like a demo version).

    I am totally helpless of arrange a song into a real one (with music background).

    I am hoping that if there is anyone here, kind enough to help make this dream come true, would be much appreciated.

    Please email me and let me know!!! Thanks

  • aadi

    Reply Reply December 9, 2008

    nice work
    but i want to arrange music for semi-classical music
    plz help me n send me information…

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply January 3, 2009

      Hi Aadi,

      I don’t have any expertise in semi-classical music arrangement.
      My just barely pass the music theory exam.

  • Lou

    Reply Reply February 1, 2009

    hi KCLau, are you serious? You say that you have no expertise in semi-classical and that you barely passed the theory exam,but your piano style seems classical to me….am I missing something?

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply February 2, 2009


      We may have different perception about “classical”. I always have problem learning to play difficult pieces of classical music.
      I am more into improvisation – pop and a little bit of jazz.

  • hanna

    Reply Reply July 8, 2009


    im classically trained and i really composed a lot of pop songs….
    with wonderful lyrics and melodies.
    but i just typed all the notes , melodic progressions out..
    and recorded it with just a piano and my voice
    cna u arrange some of my music for me?
    if u arrange 2 pieces..its just 2 hours for u…
    ^_^ tanks!
    feel free to contact me

  • free animations

    Reply Reply July 24, 2009

    Hi, this is a really good and concise guide. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sanjeev

    Reply Reply September 11, 2009

    I am new to music arrangement. Please give me some basic tips on chords and harmony.
    Is the harmony chords set per bar or random as per tune.Which is the note to be taken the first note in the bar, the last note in the bar or the most prominent note in the bar.
    Kindly advise.Request to send on my email id

  • Mike Robinson

    Reply Reply December 25, 2009

    I just wanted to drop by and tell you that this was an extremely informative post. I did notice that “the name of the book on music-arrangement” that you referred-to in the post is no longer present. I would very much like to know what the name of that book is.

    It would be helpful if you also posted links to suggested sources of information about the harmonization and music theory. (I happen to be fairly familiar with that, having spent a lot of time running around the ol’ Circle of Fifths, but targeted links would still be helpful to many.

    It’s extremely helpful that you posted both the screen-shots of the score in progress, and the corresponding sound clips.

    Once again, thank you for a well thought out Internet resource.

  • Peter Almosdi

    Reply Reply January 31, 2010

    I think the snare drum sounds very annoying. And the whole thing is very plain and uninteresting. Colorless.
    But still, with the lack of energy sent, it’s really good! And good tutorial.

  • Heather

    Reply Reply April 12, 2010

    This is really a cool site! I’ve searched many articles to help me with music arranging, but this lays it out in a very simple, easy-to-follow format. Even though I’m a very accomplished musician myself (35 years now playing the piano) – and even with my background of attending a very prestigious music school – somehow the idea of music arranging and sequencing has always overwhelmed me to the point that I never actually get started – I just kind of shut down. Thank you so, SO much for your tips. Maybe I can finally get started on arranging the catalog of songs I’ve written over the years! (P.S. — Enjoyed your piano playing – nice touch on those keys!)

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply April 15, 2010

      HI Heather,

      Thanks for your compliment. Wish you all the best in making music!

  • Lon

    Reply Reply June 29, 2010

    This tutorial is, quite literally, a miracle. This is my first time doing a complete arrangement of a song, and the tutorial was really, really helpful, the way it goes step by step and provides examples. Thanks a LOT for this amazing resource!

    Oh…and hope you don’t mind if I borrow some of your techniques, especially your bass and drums!

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply July 23, 2010

      I am glad that this tutorial had helped you in some ways. Thanks for the kind words.

  • ARash

    Reply Reply December 1, 2010

    Thanks a lot Dear Friend ,
    I always thought that it ‘s a very difficult job o arrange pop music and you must be a academic educated expert to do that , but i’d like to know
    how much knowlegde of harmony I should have to complete a acceptable arranegment of my own written pop songs ? , do you mean a deep study in classical harmony , that takes a lot of time to learn ?
    by the way I found three very good books titled , ” music theory ” , “composition” and “harmony for computer musicians “, hope these can be helpful for other friends here ,

  • michael

    Reply Reply September 6, 2011

    Are you serious?

    That really ain’t what pop music is about here in the uk my friend.

    Keep up the work though.


  • Rina

    Reply Reply September 15, 2011

    Excellent tutorial, thank you very much!

    As a performing singer, I’ve worked with quite a few studio musicians/engineers who could record a song on a computer in one to two hours. Their record was, indeed, 60 minutes. Those guys would just tap near-perfect instrument parts into the keyboard as they went, without even stopping to think. Your tutorial makes it so very clear. I love the advice about writing the fullest drum bit first and then reduce.

    Thank you very much! I’m saving your article for future reference!

  • eric lin

    Reply Reply September 20, 2011

    KC Lau:
    You did a good job, thanks, in the process of arrange ???????, step 1 to 4 is not difficult, but step 5 is too hard for me, I play guitar, just little bit piano, and you play at real time,that’s impossible for me, Is any other way can make it?, Can we use Band in a box first , then export to Sonar, chose the tracks we want, (like drum, and piano..) then add some tracks we create.
    Is there any good source of music style we can use? for rhythm part,
    Is there any good book teach about Music midi arrange?


  • Giorgio

    Reply Reply January 23, 2015

    Great guide, thank you. Could you refresh the audio files?

  • Naveen

    Reply Reply May 17, 2016

    Hi KC….
    Its really a wonderful article… Thanks for helping out people to be organised and brightening the idea of arrangement.

  • WC

    Reply Reply July 26, 2016

    HI KC,

    Thanks for typing this article. It’s a really good guide to refer to whenever I’m lost at trying to make demos. It is posssible for your to refresh the audio files? I hope you still visit this site though your original post is more than 9 years ago. 🙁

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