From salsa, Latin Jazz and every Latin music style from all corners of the Caribbean and Latin Central/South America, LatinSheetMusic.com is a specialty boutique for custom Latin music arrangements and transcriptions made to order for all kinds of bands and orchestras.

From salsa, Latin Jazz and every Latin music style from all corners of the Caribbean and Latin Central/South America, LatinSheetMusic.com is a specialty boutique for custom Latin music arrangements and transcriptions made to order for all kinds of bands and orchestras.

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Bigger Is Better, Or Is It?

When it come to the making of Latin music, a bigger ensemble may be best. Certainly, some of the more memorable recordings from the repertoire of legendary artists like Celia Cruz, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, Tito Puente, Grupo Niche, Oscar D'Leon, Machito and many others prove that point. However, especially when first starting out as a band/orchestra, bigger is not always practical.

The ideal scenario is to have at least a 17-piece orchestra which would include a full percussion section (timbal, conga, bongos, guiro/maracas), piano, bass, full brass section (2 trombones, 2 trumpets, 2 saxophones), plus two violins and multiple vocalists. And while we're at it, we might as well upgrade to a full Big Band orchestra (5 saxes, 4 trombones, 5 trumpets) including additional instruments mentioned above, raising the number of instruments above 25+.

This is all great if you are able to have this kind of orchestra, and most importantly: keep it working. More power to those that have these kinds of resources. But, especially when starting out, it is often best to be practical in terms of instrumentation. Whether you're a quartet or a 17-piece orchestra, the basic goal is the same: to play that Latin music with the highest application of authenticity and swing. The good news is that even if you have a small ensemble, it is amazing the level of musicality you can achieve. Thus, with the right arrangements and effort, you can achieve that goal.

In terms of the instrumentation for a Latin band, there are several options. There is the more traditional sound that would include: flute, violin and a trumpet. A more typical "salsa" contemporary sound would have two trombones and two trumpets. A more simple conventional lineup would include: saxophone and trumpet. Even with a minimal setup that includes either a tenor saxophone (sax players usually double on flute) or a trumpet can sound great.

There are about a dozen combinations. It really comes down to what you like. Listen to some Latin CDs and determine what sound you like the most and go with that. For instance, the great Brazilian tune "Usted Abuso" recorded by Celia Cruz and Willie Colon highlights the harmonic voicing of four trombones. Recordings from the legendary salsa sonero Cheo Feliciano where often complimented be multiple trombones, flugal horn, strings and flute. You can also find more interesting classic salsa arrangements in the music of the late great sonero Hector Lavoe, which also included multiple trombones, trumpet and violins.

By starting out with a practical instrumentation, does not mean that your sound will be of lesser quality than a bigger band. It will certainly allow you room to grow as an ensemble. But, if you take the time to cultivate the right musical arrangements for your band, with ample rehearsal and dedication, you will undoubtedly sound great.


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