How To Teach Song Writing

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Songwriting, like any form of writing, is a creative discipline that involves a combination of raw talent and an understanding of the process. You can't teach talent, but you can take someone who has the raw talent for music and give them the tools they need to write songs that people will enjoy. Learn how you can effectively teach song writing to your students and give them the opportunity to hear something they've written performed on the radio by a skilled performer.

1 Introduce basic music notation

Introduce basic music notation. Music is a language. You can't speak it if you don't understand it. Many of your students might already have an understanding of basic music theory, but this is an essential place to start. Teaching basic music theory will enlighten beginners and simply serve as reinforcement for those who already know something about the subject.

2 Teach basic song structure

Teach basic song structure. There isn't any one structure to song writing. The structure changes depending upon the type of song someone writes. Like the three-act structure of storytelling, though, many songs, especially in the pop and country genres, tend to follow patterns. These patterns, indicated by the letters A, B and C, show verse, chorus and bridge arrangements. You should teach beginning students to listen to songs on the radio and break down the structures to analyze the inner workings of popular songs.

3 Introduce students to writing lyrics

Introduce students to writing lyrics. Show them examples of lyrics that work and discuss why the lyrics work. Have your students write lyrics and apply simple melodies to the lyrics without any other type of musical foundation. The melody is the key to a catchy song.

4 Explain

Explain to your students how to create a musical hook, both with an identifiable musical figure or a repeated vocal line. Think of the bass line for "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen. This bass riff is universally recognized and extremely simple. Encourage students to think in terms of simple effectiveness.

5 Explain mood

Explain mood and how to use specific chordal arrangements to convey feelings of loss, heartache, happiness and anger using chord progressions within keys. This is where your lessons on basic music theory will pay off.

6 Give students real writing exercises

Give students real writing exercises. Come up with subjects and ask students to compose their interpretation of the idea on guitar or piano. Try brainstorming and having your students come up with titles. Group exercises are also fun. Go around the room and ask each of your students to compose a lyric line that follows the one created by the student before. Songwriting is subjective, but a strong foundation in the basic skills will help your students write better.

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.