Mastering the Elements of Lyric Writing

Studying and understanding the tools that go into making a song can help anyone learn how to write a song more effectively. I hope these conversations give you ideas for your own songs and songwriting.

We were lucky enough to have a long conversation with Berklee Professor Pat Pattison. But was my teacher and mentor at Berklee, and eventually my colleague and friend. Studying Pat’s material transformed my songwriting practice – it gave me a tools and techniques to draw on to develop ideas into full songs, to understand the relationship of sections, and most importantly, to understand how structure can amplify meaning.

In this video series, Pat takes us through the elements of lyric writing – and demonstrates how making decisions about the structure and placement of lyrics can amplify the meaning and emotions we are trying to convey. Motion creates emotion.

Enjoy!

How to Write Great Bridges

Three chord strategies for creating satisfying contrast and variation in the bridge section of your songs. We first start by defining what a bridge is – then look at 3 chord-based (or harmonic) approaches, in increasing levels of harmonic complexity, for creating a sense of contrast, variation, and movement in the bridge section of your songs. We look at songs by The Beatles and Bruno Major that put the concepts into context.

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4 Reasons Why You Must Finish Your Songs

One of the biggest challenges for any songwriter is the mountain of half-finished songs on their desk – but we need to learn how to finish because when we do, we develop habits that will elevate our songwriting to the next level. In this video, we look at 4 reasons you MUST learn to finish and how to start doing it right away.

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Major 7 Vs. Dominant 7

In this video, we examine the differences between Major 7 vs Dominant 7 chords – specifically focusing on how they are constructed, how they are labelled, how they differ in sound and how you can utilise both with great effect in your songwriting process.

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Starting with loops is one of the most enjoyable and effective ways to spark new ideas and breathe life into your songwriting process. In this video, we write a whole song from scratch using loops as inspiration – featuring the sample-based instrument ‘Chromatic’ from LANDR.

Save 30% now with this coupon: GETLANDRWRITESONGS30OFF

LANDR Studio includes monthly LANDR Mastering and Samples credits, access to other plugins, unlimited music distribution and more.

Little note! When you use this coupon, it helps us sustain our channel and blog – we get a small percentage of the revenue from people who sign up with it. With that said, we only accept sponsorships like this from companies we believe serve our audience, and give you access to things that are in line with your interests. Thanks for your support 🙂 We hope you find Chromatic as delightful and inspiring as we did!

“Rules” in Songwriting

I recently had Australian songwriter Michael Paynter in to guest teach a class, and he was expertly giving some feedback to a student’s song project. He dropped a bit of a knowledge bomb—a shorthand ‘rule’: The Rule of 3’s.

The rule goes like this: in any production, the ear of a listener can really only pay attention to 3 separate elements. Any more than that, and it becomes distracting. The ear doesn’t know what to listen to, so it disengages.

How this translates in practice is to limit the amount of ‘special,’ or attention-pulling things going on at any one time to 3. The other elements should be consistent, and not ostentatious. For example, you might have a guitar riff, some important lyrics/vocal, and a cool bass line. If those 3 things are all happening at once, the drums should take a back seat. Keep an even, unornamented groove holding down the basic beat. Same for the keys, or any other elements you have going on.

The ear can travel around 3 interesting elements without losing its grasp on the gestalt of the song—the overall picture and sonic scape. But if everything sparkles, nothing shines.

It reminds me of another ‘rule’ in songwriting, which is actually the Rule of 2’s:

If you are going to repeat something exactly twice, the ear will generally need some variation next, in order to return to the repeating part. Twice is nice—three is too much.

You can listen to neuroscientist Daniel Levitan (author of ‘This is Your Brain on Music’) talk to songwriter Scarlet Keys about this on her wonderful podcast, ‘What’s In a Song’.

All of which raises an interesting question: are there rules in songwriting?

Here are my brief thoughts: Not really. There are, however, observable effects, and it is at our own peril to ignore them. Sometimes ignoring them is important. Each song is different—there might be a very compelling reason why repeating something over and over exactly, more than twice, is going to feel really good. There might be a particular arrangement of elements in a production where lots of parts are each special and quirky, and yet somehow the combination just works. But it’s useful to have a few guiding principles to then bounce against when needed.

Songwriting Group Info and Registration

The idea to offer access to a songwriting group to others comes directly from my own experience in my songwriting group, which I have talked about here on the YouTube Channel. My own songwriting group is the primary reason I wrote more than 20 songs last year, and have written almost 10 songs this year (we’re in May 2022 right now!).

The songwriting group isn’t a class. No one is the teacher. It’s a community space to give you the structure and accountability to write regularly, and receive some feedback from your peers.

The group will run for 8 weeks, and is fully online (by email). Songwriting Groups in 2022 will run:

  • May 16 – July 10
  • July 18 – Sept 11
  • Sept 19 – Nov 13

Here’s how it works:

  1. I will send the group a songwriting prompt and a due date (due SUNDAY night every two weeks).
  2. You write a song, with or without the prompt by the due date.
  3. You send a recording and lyrics of the song (worktape or production) as a reply-all to the prompt email.
  4. You all listen to each other’s songs, and can send feedback and compliments (or not!) only to the person (not as a reply-all).
  5. The group doesn’t meet live; it’s all by email (old school!).

The “rules” of the group are:

  1. Submit by the due date.
  2. If you miss a week, you get 1 free pass if you email me beforehand. If you miss more than one, you’ll be put on the waitlist for the next round, if you’re keen to rejoin some other time. (The group requires regular, on-time participation.)

The aim is to write something every two weeks. Sometimes it will be something you love. Sometimes it won’t. Both are excellent. The goal is regular songwriting, in a community, and all that comes with it.

Registration:

The 8-week session is $40AUD (I’m charging a nominal fee to cover the cost of logistics and communications). If you’re keen to join, please go ahead and send the registration fee here:

Once that has come through, I’ll confirm your registration on my end, and away we go 🙂

Please feel free to email me if you have any questions: keppie@howtowritesongs.org


One final note on my role: my role is to host the group, to facilitate and coordinate. I won’t be participating or providing feedback. The function of this community is to produce work, and learn from your own work, listening to others, providing your own feedback, and asking questions of others. I felt it important to be clear about my role to avoid any confusion 🙂

The Best Songwriting Books, Websites, and Channels

I’m compiling here a list of my favourite books, websites, blogs, and other resources for those pursuing study, growth, upskilling, and knowledge in songwriting. This list might change over time, but represents a curated list of some of the most useful content that I have collected over the past 15 years, songwriting, and teaching songwriting. Enjoy! Let me know if there are others that you would recommend as well!

BOOKS

The “Must-Haves”

Writing Better Lyrics, Pat Pattison

Songwriting Without Boundaries, Pat Pattison

Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure, Pat Pattison

Harmony, Jimmy Kachulis (the best place to start with chords and chord theory)

Great Songwriting Techniques, Jack Perricone (a totally comprehensive book encompassing lyric-writing, melody, chords, song form, and more. Really amazing).

The “Must-Have-Nexts”

The Craft of Songwriting, Scarlet Keys

Songwriters on Songwriting, Paul Zollo

Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film and TV, Robin Frederick

The Songwriter’s Idea Book, Sheila Davis

Books on Creativity and Creative Process (that have changed my life…)

Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon

Keep Going, Austin Kleon

Show Your Work, Austin Kleon

Art and Fear, Bayles and Orland

Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

[Note: By buying any of these through the links here, you’ll be supporting my work and website, since I earn a small commission through these links. With that said, I never promote something I haven’t tried and loved myself!]

Websites

Top40Theory.com (top notch pop-music based music theory articles)

RobinFrederick.com (Robin does great analyses of contemporary songs, with prompts to engage the concepts in your own songwriting immediately).

YouTube Channels

How To Write Songs (of course…!)

Adam Neely (music theory and more)

Rick Beato (also very music theory and composition oriented)

Jack Lizzio (music theory with more of a songwriter/guitar-player angle)

Holistic Songwriting (geared towards commercial songwriting techniques)

Creating the Perfect Pre-Chorus – Part 1

The pre-chorus is NOT just the bit before the chorus – it is the bit before the chorus that creates TENSION! Building up and releasing this tension is one of the most effective ways of writing big, beautiful and impactful CHORUSES! In this video, Part 1 of a 3-part series, we examine how to use chord choices to build tension in your Pre-Chorus before releasing that tension in a satisfying and powerful way. We focus on how to avoid the ‘tonic’ and and leverage the ‘gold coin magic trick’- as well as diving into some famous examples from Beyoncé and Adele.