Staying Fresh & Evolving as an Artist – Strings By Mail – Blog

Staying Fresh & Evolving as an Artist


The Strings By Mail Blog is happy to share these brief thoughts about arranging, which may keep one evolving as an artist, written by the well established Classical Guitarist Mariette Stephenson, and to offer her fine guitar quartet arrangement of Motzart’s Overture to the Marriage of Figaro

University of Toronto Guitar Ensemble and Duo Calixa

University of Toronto Guitar Ensemble (under Dr. Jeffrey McFadden). This ensemble has performed my arrangement of Mozart’s “Overture to the Marriage of Figaro” (photo on the left). Duo Calixa (my flute and guitar duo) has performed arrangements I’ve done for flute and guitar. (photo on the right)


I discovered the pleasure of arranging music at school, and since the guitar is rarely taught in composition or orchestration courses I later found it was up to me to arrange my part for ensembles I performed in, if we wanted to play music that didn’t originally include guitar.

If you are interested in creating your own arrangements, there are a few requirements:

– You need to have a good working knowledge of the guitar.

– You need to have a solid understanding of music theory/harmony and a background in orchestration.


Not all instruments are in concert key like the guitar, so orchestration is a must if you want to arrange music originally composed for a transposing instrument like the clarinet. I also believe that it’s imperative for arrangers to have a good command of music theory in order to understand what the composer has written; therefore ensuring your creation will remain true to the composer’s style and vision.

If you’re new to arranging for guitar, I recommend beginning with solo music for instruments that share similar ranges and technical requirements as the guitar, such as other string instruments.  Arranging a solo piece originally for cello or violin will work well and still offer some challenges (Should you transpose the music?  Fill out implied chords? Or not?).  It also serves as a marvelous platform for discovering performance practices for different musical eras (e.g. whether or not to add ornamentation in Baroque music and when).

What if you would like to arrange music but need additional theory studies?  A good starting place is contacting your state’s registered music teacher association for instructors in your area.  Also, if you live near a college with a music faculty, they can recommend graduates who teach locally.

Arranging music is a worthwhile exercise – not only is it fun, it really pushes you to expand your musical knowledge and to grow as a musician.


Mariette Stephenson is a Canadian classical guitarist who has performed in numerous recitals as a soloist and chamber musician. She has premiered works by Canadian composers William Beauvais and Patrick Power, and Brazilian composer Jonatas Batista-Neto. Performances include recitals for the Guitar Society of Brantford, Guitar Society of Toronto and the Organix Festival.

Chamber music collaborations include performances with soprano Brooke Dufton, Stephanie Pesant (flute), Bonchiku Hoshi (shakuhachi), Tom Fitches (organ) and a performance under the baton of Gordon Mansell of ‘The Prayer Cycle’, a work for guitar, choir and orchestra. As well, Mariette is currently a member of Duo Calixa with flutist Kelly Williamson, which will release a recording of South American flute and guitar music in 2014.

Mariette Stephenson studied with Dr. Jeffrey McFadden, having received her B.Mus from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and her ARCT from the Royal Conservatory of Music. She also earned a Masters of Music (performance) from the University of Toronto. She is the recipient of the Eli Kassner Guitar Scholarship, a University of Toronto Fellowship, a Bernice Adams Memorial Bursary, and an Arts Award in 2006 from the City of Cambridge, Ontario.

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