This online course is designed to encourage students to do homework between coaching sessions. The course has been structured to teach songwriting in a progressive manner, but ultimately the order of taking modules rests with the student. To maximise your investment, you are encouraged to work on areas that you find challenging between modules. This way we help you meet your objectives much more rapidly. All registered students can seek help via email at any time.
Songwriting is not easy, but is hugely rewarding. There are times when we reach a point in a song where we question ourselves, "Why am I bothering with this junk - it is a bad idea." WRONG! The point of desperation is a mere moment away from enlightenment. Double-down and keep going, you will be glad you did!
Identifying the Emotion
The essence of any song is to convey an emotion. Therefore the very first thing we need to do is to quantify that emotion. Define exactly the feelings the song needs to convey.
So, next we need to scope out the project. We'll create a brief synopsis of the song and flesh-out all the things our heart is telling us to say! In this scope, we define to whom the song is written, the tenses and so on.
We will also analyse existing songs as inspiration for our composition while avoiding plagiarism. As John Lennon once said, Nothing is entirely original," so in this module we'll look at how we can be inspired by others and still be unique. Hookpad has an amazing library of contemporary music that provides us access to the nuts and bolts of great songs!
Using "Word" or similar, we are now going to write down ideas that spring to mind. Don't worry about how disparate these thoughts maybe, just make it a cathartic exercise and get your hidden emotions down on paper. We may gather 25, 50 or even more random lines, the more the better. Within the collection will be some stand-out lines, so we'll highlight these. We'll look at line construction, which words work, those that don't, single-syllable line ends and so on. We'll need to print the amended sheets as they will travel with you - the composer. They will sit on the coffee table while you watch TV, they'll be by your bedside - ready for when you wake up with an inspiring idea!
Creating a Verse
With a filtered list of ideas, we are now going to see which lines blend together and analyse the direction the song is going to take.You will begin to see the value of a structured approach to lyrics - rather than clutching wild ideas out of thin air. We will decide on whether to have a rhyming schema. You may choose not to use alternate rhyme and may prefer to use couplets, aliteration and so on. However, it must be remembered that many good songs are not rhymed, nonetheless, the lines must scan well. It is highly likely we will make changes to the lyric if a good melody eludes us. This is music's way of telling us that the lyric needs improvement!
Depending on personal progress, we may need to brainstorm this vital creative part on a second session.
Introduction to Hookpad.
In this module we are going to familiarise ourselves with the functions of Hookpad. Take a peek at this Hookpad description page
Once we know our way around the software, we will upload our verse and add music. At this stage we decide on the style of the song and adjust the tempo accordingly. Are we going to write in a major key or minor? (We could use "modes" but not at this stage)
We will then add some chord progressions. You may have you own preferences and we can work with them or use Hookpad samples. We will learn the benefits of the pentatonic scale, stable notes and cadence chords in writing nice melodies.
Finding the Melody
In this module we are going to seek out a melody suits your song. Depending on what chord progression we start with, we will explore the options of note placement, note duration, rhythm that the lyric creates and how to incorporate it in the melody. Given this is a new song, we may make several attempts, tweak chords and lyric as we search for that elusive melody that the world is going to fall for!
We simply cannot put a time-frame on how long this part will take, but experience suggests that getting the first couple of lines working is the biggest challenge. Once again, we may need to revisit this module to nail the verse.
Writing a Chorus
Now that we have the verse in place, we need to revisit our earlier notes and look for words and phrases that will make a good chorus. There are many different types of chorus, but all try to crystallise the message of the song in short and concise ways. It would be useful for you to look at choruses of other songs to get an idea of what you want your chorus to sound like.
Unlike the verse, we can write the chorus on the fly once we have the first line or two in place. The first line is crucial, so if you come to this module with a great first line, you are already halfway there! Choruses do need a complementary melody, so it is often better to vary the chord progressions slightly to help create a unique sound. We can use tricks like key changes and varying tempo if needed.
Intro, Bridges, Outros
We have now reached the business end of writing our song. By now, our creation will have a feel to it, so it is time to compose an intro. To start, we will add four empty bars to the beginning of the piece and copy the chords of the first four bars of the song proper. (If you are an instrumentalist, you may choose to use the arpegiated notes of the chords as favoured by pianists and guitarists, but don't let this be a limitation as there are many exciting alternatives) When you have annotated 4 bars, you may choose to extend to 8 bars, but don't go beyond that. Bridges need to be created on the fly to make smooth transitions between verse and chorus. Outros are usually adapted from intros.
Middle 8s, Pre Choruses
Middle 8s and pre choruses are options that are decided towards the end of the process and are strongly lyric driven. These days, pre-choruses are favored over middle 8s, but there is no set rule. Sometimes a nice middle 8 brings a special quality to a song, whereas pre-choruses exist to build excitement. In this module, we'll discuss what is best for our song and create accordingly. It is vital that you the student make the call and understand the reasoning behind it. Another factor to consider is song-length as we need to aim for around 3.37, which we will address in the next module.
Songs usually follow the verse-chorus format, but there is no strict rule. If there is a compelling "hook" in the chorus, then maybe you need to get it out there by reversing the order, rather than wait for the intro and verse to complete. As the name implies, the hook compels the listener to stick with the song, so extended intros are not a good thing unless they have compelling musicianship that essentially becomes a hook. (Baker Street - Gerry Rafferty) We will also revise, intros, outros and bridges to create a smooth passage from beginning to end.
When the final format has been reached, we will transfer our song to a DAW where we can add a few extra instruments to test things.