What I’m listening to and why.

I got a phone call from my friend Benny the other night (Benny, who I make videos with on all things songwriting). He was very excited: “Kep! You have got to listen to the new Sam Smith song! It’s in…Phrygian!”

What the hell is Phrygian, and why is this so exciting?

Well, music nerds, Phrygian is a mode, which means it’s a scale that is not your average minor scale or major scale. This particular mode is a minor scale, yes, but it has a crucial note that gives it its own special dark sauce: it has a b2.

For a more in-depth look at Phrygian (and also the wild extra note that makes the Chorus pop), check out this video on the channel:

The b2 note in the scale makes it very dark, and also totally unique among the songs on the charts right now.

In fact, it makes it unique amongst almost all Top 100 songs from the past decade or more.

But why should we care what’s on the charts? Well, I have it on very good advice (John Mayer told me this himself…) that a very good practice as a songwriter is to listen to the Top 10 on any day, without judgments of good and bad, but instead with this question in mind:

Why do millions of people love this?

And secondly: Can I use that thing in my own way (regardless of whether I happen to ‘like’ this particular song? Which, incidentally in this case, I very much do).

The video above gives some tips in the second half about ways you can take the musical concepts that make this song a standout, and apply them to your own song, without ripping it off.

For another example of how to take a cool musical idea you hear in a song, and apply it to your own songwriting, you can check out this video from the archive, on adapting this beautiful neo-soul progression.

And for a more structured and in-depth guide to taking a music idea, and turning into a full song, with step by step tools, techniques, and strategies, check out our brand spanking new Online Mini Course: The Songwriting Process Start to Finish!

Enjoy!

Music Theory Fundamentals–Major, Minor, and Diminished Chords

A little bit of music theory goes a long way – in this video, I explain the difference between the major, minor, and diminished triads, and show you how to find them anywhere on the keyboard.

Ready to take your songwriting further?

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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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.

For exclusive content, free workshops, live Q&A sessions and advanced downloadable material, join us on Patreon!

Upcoming live online workshops.

For once-a-month tips, tools and tidbits on songwriting from Keppie, subscribe to the newsletter here.

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)

Picking the Perfect Chords

As songwriters we often start with a chord progression, using it as a framework to add lyrics, melodies, textures and embellishments. But one question that continually pops up is ‘what chord do I choose next?’

In this video, my musical compadre Ben Romalis looks at the functions and relationships of chords in a diatonic system, to give you more control over the choices you make and more variety as the song develops. He breaks down a simple yet effective process for writing chord progressions that doesn’t feel random, doesn’t feel repetitive and gives you total control over the direction you’d like to take your composition. Finally, he looks at some great substitutions to spice up your song and support your lyrical message.

There is an upcoming 90-minute interactive workshop that explores this topic in more depth. CLICK HERE FOR INFO AND TICKETS.

Get a free PDF download that analyses the relationships and functions of chords within a diatonic system here: