Music arranging on portable arranger keyboards

4 Steps to Learning How to Play Any Song on the Piano

1. Determining the melody - Melodies determine what chords will be played. If you can use your ear to figure out what notes are being played in the melody, you are 1/4 on your way to learning a song! More resources on learning how to determine melodies

2.Harmonizing the melody - Once you have figured out the melody (using some of my techniques on the resource page), it is time to harmonize it. This is simply choosing various chords to accompany the melody. There are several techniques and tricks to doing this. More resources on learning how to harmonize melodies

3. Altering Chords - This is the best part! Now that you have strategically figured out the melody to a song and have harmonized it, altering your chords to produce certain sounds is the next step. If you were playing gospel music, you would alter your chords differently than if you were playing classical or country music. More resources on altering chords

4. Listening - After you have determined the melody, harmonized the melody, and altered some of your chords, there are various techniques you can use to make sure that your song sounds right. More resources on listening techniques

I personally recommend "The Secrets to Playing Piano By Ear" 300-pg Course and through my relationship with Jermaine (the author of this course), I've been able to get him to throw in a few bonus items (3 additional piano software programs). He has taught literally thousands of musicians how to play the piano by ear. If you understood just half of what he discussed above, you'll definitely benefit from his 300-pg course. Click here to learn the secrets to playing absolutely any song on the piano in virtually minutes! I highly recommend it.

Music arranging on portable keyboards can be a bit mysterious and in many cases people are not quite sure how to use all the bells and whistles on their arranger keyboards.

Perhaps this is why out of the tens of thousands of these versatile keyboards, many often end up under the bed or in a closet.

This lesson will hopefully give you the basics of using the features common to most of these keyboards and allow you to make your songs sound more interesting and professionally arranged.

I do music arranging on my new Korg PA3x and use the keyboard to create a full band sound along with a live drummer.

We play the arrangements at gigs with the drummer adding flair and nuance to the drum tracks. The live drummer also adds the visual effect of a real band to the average listener.

I have arrangements of over 50 popular songs since I got the keyboard and a good many of them use just the features found on most arranger keyboards.

For the sake of this tutorial I will be arranging an iconic pop Jimmy Buffet tune, Margaritaville. It has a common chord progression and song form. (verse, Chorus, Verse, solo, verse ).

Music arranging basics

note: There is a lot more to arranging music than pressing a few buttons on a keyboard. If you want a great article on the subject of arranging check out this link. 

Making Arrangements — A Rough Guide To Song Construction & Arrangement, Part 1

1. Find an appropriate style to fit your song.

Arranger keyboards generally have dozens of music styles grouped into categories such as Rock, Jazz, Country, Pop, Ballad, etc. You will want to hunt around and explore these styles to find the one that fits.

Many times just listening to a particular style will trigger your brain to say "That sort of sounds like....." and you can register that style as a possible one to use for that song.

On most arranger keyboards the style will hopefully have two or more variations  of the style, an Intro:,a couple of fill ins, and an ending as basic building blocks of your arrangement. 

2. Decide on an Introduction.

If you listen to the introduction supplied by your particular brand of keyboard you may or may not find it usable.

If the song you are arranging has some iconic intro such as Van Halens "Jump", you may want to play or sequence your own intro depending on the capabilities of you keyboard.

If you decide to use the factory intro, simply press the intro button before playing your first chord and the keyboard will do the rest.

3. Get ready to play!

For the sake of this tutorial I am assuming a simple song form (verse, chorus, verse etc. and I assume you already know the chord progression for your song!

4. Using variations in your song.

Most  arranging keyboards will have at least two variations of a particular style. Some keyboards have as many as 4 variations. They always go from simple patterns for the first verse and more complex patterns for choruses and subsequent verses.

These variation tend to build the arrangement musically and emotionally with more complex variations as the song progresses.

This means however for a smooth performance you are going to have to get used to hitting a few buttons with fairly accurate timing. For example you may want to hit the variation 2 button a beat or two prior to the chorus or second verse.

5. Add Fill-ins. 

Almost all music arranging keyboards will have at least one or more fill-in buttons as well. A fill-in is a short one measure pattern that changes the drum pattern and other musical parts to lead smoothly from one section of a song to another.

Because fill-ins generally happen just before the variation change, many keyboards allow you to link the fill-in to the variation button so you only have to worry about one touch.

6. The ending.

If your keyboard has an intro button it most likely has an ending button as well. Sometimes its the same button on less fancy keyboards. Pretty simple, when you get to the end of the song simply hit the ending button and let the keyboard do its work.


Its really not that hard to spice up your sound using the features on most portable music arranging keyboards. With a little practice and a decent sound system you can sound like a large band.

In the video below I will show you how I go about using the Korg PA3x I recently acquired to create simple song arrangements.

Contact me

If you have any questions, suggestions, or ideas for future lessons feel free to Contact Me.

Best Home Study for "Ear Players"

After checking out dozens of home study courses that teach you to play by ear and focus on chord progressions I am convinced that the folks at Hear and Play have the best, most well rounded program available for just about all styles of music from Gospel to Jazz. Read my review or visit Hear and Play for more information.

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