For aspiring composer and arrangers, regardless of genre, one of the best things you can do is to challenge yourself.
This is something that I do regularly in my composition time. What do I mean by "challenge yourself?" Well, I sit down and ask myself what I can't do yet. In other words, I've composed these types of tunes, I've become familiar with x amount of techniques, I've studied these instruments, but with the infinite scheme of stuff out there, there's always more.
For example, say you've become skilled at arranging big band versions of jazz standards. That's a great skill-- but perhaps you've never written any through-composed modern jazz. Maybe you decide that's your next project, so you dive right in.
Maybe you've written your fair share of lead sheets-- melodies and chord progressions but no real orchestration, but you've never written for rhythm section and 3 horns. Maybe that's the next project on the agenda.
Maybe its a type of music you'd like to be able to write, but you don't know where to start. Case in point: a couple of years ago, I decided I wanted to start writing "video game" and "film music." I'd had no real training or experience writing in that world. But, I decided that the best way to learn was to try it, to imitate stuff that was already out there. So I got Logic and started producing MIDI compositions that could fit into a video game.
Was I immediately great at it? Definitely not. Do I go back and listen to my first attempts and find all sorts of goofy things that I'd change? Definitely yes. The point is that my decision to learn led to the work that I needed to put in to get better at it.
While it's easy to do what we know, challenge yourself to do what you don't know yet. Listen to recordings, study scores, transcribe pieces, and most importantly, put SOMETHING on the page. Don't be afraid of things you don't know yet. Just study it in whatever way works for you.
Be curious, and strike out on the engaging and rewarding journey that is learning new things. That's how you get to the next level.
is a saxophonist/composer residing in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.