Introduction to Songwriting: A Beginner's Guide to Writing Songs on the Piano | April Keez | Skillshare

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Introduction to Songwriting: A Beginner's Guide to Writing Songs on the Piano

teacher avatar April Keez, Singer-Songwriter and Music Teacher

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

12 Lessons (53m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Project Overview

    • 3. What to Write About

    • 4. Song Structure

    • 5. Zooming Out

    • 6. Outlining

    • 7. Writing Your Lyrics

    • 8. Understanding the Piano

    • 9. Chords

    • 10. Melody Writing

    • 11. Finishing Touches

    • 12. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

There is no perfect way to write a song and there is certainly no “right way” to do it. Everyone has a different favorite song, favorite artist, and favorite genre, so there are unlimited possibilities! In this class, I’m not going to tell you how you have to write a song, but instead, I’m going to show you techniques and useful tips that will make the process much easier and will take away a lot of the guesswork.

Whether you're brand new to songwriting or just need a refresher, this class will give you the tools to feel confident and excited about your songs!


Song Structure & Outlining. If you've ever felt intimidated by the writing process or if you tend to write half a song before getting stuck and giving up, outlining is a great way to get started! We'll walk through the most popular song structures and break the songwriting process down into manageable pieces. You'll learn to plan your songs out ahead of time, giving them more clarity and making them easier to write.

How to Brainstorm Song Ideas. One of the most common struggles new songwriters experience is Writer's Block. Feeling "blocked" can be stressful and frustrating, so we'll be discussing some fun ways to come up with song ideas, starting with fill-in-the-blanks!

Setting The Scene. Let's say you have an awesome outline or a great idea for a song, but you don't know where to start or you find that all of your words feel corny. Sense description can take your songs from good to great by grounding the listener in a story. 

Rhyming. The Rhyme Scheme of a song refers to the rhymes that fall at the end of each line and more specifically, which words rhyme with which other words. We'll be going through some common rhyme schemes and you'll learn how to choose the right rhymes for your song.

The Notes on the Piano. The piano can look scary to the first-time player, but remember that pianists are just really good button pressers! In this class, you'll learn what all of those buttons are and how to differentiate between them. Get ready to tackle the piano by breaking the notes down into silly pneumonic devices. *No piano experience required! (You don't even have to own a piano!)

Using Chords. chord is when multiple notes are played at the same time. Chords are used to enhance a song by providing emotional context in the music. In other words, chords are the background music of your song! In this class, we'll be learning about different types of chords, how to choose chords for your song, and how to play one simple chord shape on the piano that you'll be able to use in your song!

Writing Melodies. Melody is another word for the tune of your song! So, how do we create a melody that fits our lyrics and sticks with listeners? In this class, I'll be giving you some helpful tips for writing great melodies!

How to Edit Your Song. Now that you've written a song, let's edit! Editing is an important part of the songwriting process because you'll notice things you may have missed while you were writing and you'll be able to polish your song to give it more clarity.


Meet Your Teacher

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April Keez

Singer-Songwriter and Music Teacher


Hi, I'm April! I am a singer-songwriter and music teacher, both in real life and on YouTube. My goal is to push the world of songwriting further by giving people access to great information, new ideas, and inspiration.

I graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2013 with a BM in Professional Music and a minor in Performance Poetry. I've been teaching songwriting classes, rock bands, vocal ensembles, and private music lessons to people of all ages for the last 10 years. My YouTube channel, which I started in 2018, is full of helpful tips & tricks, as well as my original music.

I hope that we can go on this journey together to make the music world more accessible to people who want to create!


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1. Introduction: How to push past the heart, how to stop my song, just let it go. Songwriting is one of the most creative, expressive, fun things that you can do within music. Hi, I'm April. I am a singer-songwriter and music teacher, and I'm so excited to welcome you to my Skillshare course. In this course, I'm going to be teaching you all my favorite tips and tricks for writing amazing songs. I'm a graduate of Berklee College of Music. I've been teaching private music lessons, ensembles, and classes for the last 10 years. I have a YouTube channel where I talk all about the ins and outs of writing songs. There's no perfect way to write a song, and there's certainly no right way to do it. Everyone has a different favorite artist, favorite genre, favorite song. There are unlimited possibilities when you start writing your own songs. In this class, I'm not going to tell you how you have to write but instead, I'm going to give you some really useful tips and techniques that I found really helpful in my songwriting journey and in working with my students. Hopefully, everything in this class will make the process easier and will take away a lot of the guesswork. In this course, we're going to be learning how to write catchy melodies, beautiful chord progressions, and compelling emotionally driven lyrics, and we're also going to be learning how to play the piano even if you don't actually own a piano. Whether you're a brand new songwriter or just need a refresher, this class is designed to take you step-by-step through the songwriting process in order to help you breeze through that tricky second half and banish writer's block once and for all. I am so excited to share my favorite thing with you, and I can't wait to see all of the amazing things you'll create. 2. Project Overview: The class project for this course, is to write and finish your very own original song, which I know sounds really intimidating, if you've never written a song before. But we're going to break the process into bite-size pieces, to make sure that you feel confident and have fun through the entire songwriting process. Each lesson in this class is designed to get you through some of the biggest struggles and hurdles that I've seen with my songwriting students, as well as in my own writing. We're going to get started right off the bat in lesson 1 by talking about one of those huge challenges, which is of course, coming up with ideas. Beginner and advanced songwriters alike, all have days where they just feel blocked. Staring down at a blank page can be really intimidating. We're going to be playing a game that will help us to unlock those doors and get something on the paper while having a lot of fun. In lesson 2, we're going to be breaking down a bunch of popular songs in a variety of different genres in order to talk about song structure. Song structure just refers to the bones of your song and which part of the song comes when. Lesson 3 is all about setting the scene. We're going to be talking about how to create beautiful compelling imagery in order to really immerse our listeners in the world of our story. In lesson 4, we're going to be tackling another one of those huge challenges that I see all the time with my students, which is getting stuck halfway through a song. This can be really challenging. What we're going to do is actually plan our song out ahead of time by using an outline. In Lesson 5, we're going to be talking all about rhyme schemes and rhyming, and by the end of that lesson, you're going to have your entire lyric finished. Lesson 6 and 7 are all about the piano, we're going to start by learning all of the white notes on the piano. After that, we're going to learn how to turn them into chords and actually use them in our song. In lesson 8, we're going to take those lyrics and that chord progression, and we're going to smash them together and create a beautiful melody for your song. Finally, in our last lesson, we are going to be talking about how to edit. So take it piece by piece, go at your own pace, and have fun with the process. Remember that every song you finish is a step toward becoming the best song writer you can be. Now let's go write some songs. 3. What to Write About: Welcome to our first lesson. In this lesson, we're going to be talking all about how to come up with ideas, which can be really difficult. I don't know if you've ever stared down at a blank page and tried to figure out what on earth to write about? But it's super intimidating, and it can be really scary. How do you narrow down every single possible idea that could conceivably exist, into just one idea? Well, we're going to start by playing one of my favorite childhood games, Mad Libs. We're going to start by coming up with six lists: emotions, big themes, people or personified proper nouns, if you want, verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Go ahead and come up with 3-5 things per category. Don't worry if they're serious or silly, you can use the ones that I've used in this list or you can come up with your own. Anything goes here, just have fun coming up with the first words that come to your brain. These are the things that I came up with. For my big emotions, I came up with sadness, joy, anxiousness, and anger. For my big themes, I'm writing love, hate, time, the universe, friendship, and home. For my people or personified nouns, I'm going to write you, me, my mom, my cats, my romantic partner, Princess Elsa, the city of Philadelphia, and aliens. Verbs are doing words, so I'm going to use run, sing, laugh, explore, and swim. For nouns, I'm going to use my phone, a tree, fire, a car, and lemons. Finally, adjectives. Adjectives are descriptive words, so I'm going to use sweet, terrible, funny, and green. Remember that these ideas don't have to be perfect. Don't get too caught up in coming up with the best answers you can possibly come up with. Often, the best ideas are really surprising. If you haven't already, go ahead and pause this video right here and I will wait for you while you finish your list. Now that we have all of our lists finished, we're going to mix and match. What I'm going to do here is take all of my words and scramble them up and fill in the blanks. Here are some ideas that I came up with. I love lemons, I am anxious about the universe, I am happy when the city of Philadelphia laughs, my cats are like home, and finally, you made me angry. In five seconds, I want you to pause the video again and try to fill in the blanks on the screen. At this point, you should have a bunch of words that you can mix and match and play with to try to come up with whatever you want your main idea to be. If you have no clue what you want to write your song about at this point, that is also totally fine. You'll have plenty of opportunity later to come up with a main idea for your song. In the meantime though, we're going to learn all about song structure. 4. Song Structure: Now that you have some ideas of what you might want to write your song about, we're going to talk about song structure. Song structure just refers to which parts of the song you decide to use and where you want to put them. In this lesson, we're going to be talking through the three most popular songs structures and you're going to choose the perfect form for your song. The first song structure we're going to look at is called verse-chorus form and it's by far the most popular song structure in modern music. In fact it's so popular, that it's actually nicknamed "pop song form". Now, this doesn't mean that it's specifically only used in pop music. It is used in pop music, but you'll also find it in hip hop and R&B and country, and metal. You'll find it all over the place, it can be in any genre. It's just a really really effective and popular form to use. This song structure is especially fun because the focus is on creating a catchy, memorable chorus. These songs are really effective when it comes to getting across a simple main idea, or getting your audience to sing along, or get the song stuck in their heads. The two main sections in a verse-chorus song are exactly what you might have guessed, the verse and the chorus. Now, I've heard this described in a lot of different ways but my favorite way of talking about a verse and a chorus is by referring to them as the show and the tell. In your verse, you show the story by setting the scene and introducing the primary struggle or the plot. In your chorus, you tell the listener exactly what your song is about. This is exactly the moment where you would use that main idea that we came up with in the last lesson. Choruses are super easy to recognize, because they're insanely catchy, they are easy to sing along to, everybody knows the words, and they repeat several times throughout the song. The versus, on the other hand, are all about setting us up for that big chorus. When we hear them, those lyrics have to do a lot of heavy lifting. When listening to a song, you can pick out the verses because the melody or the tune will repeat with each verse, but the lyrics change throughout the song. Along with the verse and the chorus, there are a couple of other song sections you might run into when you're listening to a verse chorus song. The first is the bridge, which is the apex or the pinnacle of the song. It's usually where we find the most intensity in the music and in the lyrics, and it's usually used as a summary or a plot twist. Learn to Fly and Juice, both have fantastic bridges. Another optional section is the pre-chorus. A pre-chorus is just a section that bridges the gap between the verse and the chorus. Juice for instance, has a wonderful pre-chorus, which leads perfectly into her chorus. You'll mostly come across verse/refrain form if you're listening to a lot of folk music. This is because verse refrains don't have a catchy chorus so all of the weight is on the lyrics to get the job done. The lack of a catchy chorus, makes the listener really focus in on the lyrics, which is why a lot of the time you'll find the song structure in really meaningful, lyric driven music. In this song form, instead of having a chorus that we can latch onto and sing along to, we need something that's going to really ground us in whatever the main idea is so we get what's called a refrain line. Now, this is just one singular line that does the entire job of a chorus, but really small. That refrain line is just one single sentence that sums up your entire main idea, like the period at the end of a sentence. You can also totally use a bridge for the song form as well, and it will work pretty much the exact same way that it works for a verse chorus. The last song form we're going to go over is AABA form or 32-bar form. This is the Tin Pan Alley song form, and you'll often find it in jazz and musical theater. AABA form is all about contrast and repetition. It's really popular in jazz because being only 32 bars, means that it can repeat and repeat and repeat as many times as you need it to. That way, there's tons of room and opportunity for melodic change ups, for solos, and for any other playful stuff that you want to do. AABA songs have two contrasting sections, one is the A section and one is the B section. Typically, when you see this kind of song structure, the A section works almost like a verse, and sometimes there's even a refrain line within that verse. The B section, on the other hand, is like a bridge and it works the same way that a bridge would work in any other type of song. But sometimes it'll repeat a couple times. Which song form do you want to use for your song? There are no wrong answers and every song form that I've listed is awesome for its own different reasons. A few things to consider are, do you want your song to be more sing-along-able, more story focused, or do you want it to be more open to improv? Think about the artists and genres and styles that inspire you. What song forms do you find in most of the music that you like? Don't worry if you haven't chosen a song form yet or if you're stumped for ideas, you'll have an opportunity later to figure out which direction you want to go. In the meantime, let's get started talking about setting the scene. 5. Zooming Out: At this point, you should have an idea of the type of song you'd like to write, as well as, generally, what you want to write about. Now, at this point, we're going to take all of those great ideas and we're going to build on them to create a beautiful, compelling story that really draws your listener in. The way we're going to do that is by doing a little exercise that I call zooming out. The idea behind this exercise is that we want to start really small, like we're super zoomed into a scene and we're going to be progressively zooming out. We're going to get started by thinking about our main ideas and then picking out whatever the noun is in your main idea. For instance, if your song is going to be about a dog, I want you to picture that dog, and if your song is going to be about a lemon, like mine is, I want you to picture that lemon. If your song's about a person, you can totally picture that person. If your song is about a really big main idea or if you just haven't chosen your main idea yet, I want you to think about an object. Something really small, maybe something that fits in the palm of your hand. Then once you have that object in mind, I want you to close your eyes and we're going to start by picturing that object really zoomed in. If you have trouble visualizing something in your mind's eye, that is totally fine. You can draw it on a piece of paper. You can go to your fridge and find a lemon, or you can go ahead and just Google search whatever you're trying to write about. Once you've chosen a noun that you want to write about, I want you to get really specific. This isn't just going to be any random lemon. I want you to think about that specific thing, in a specific place, at a specific time. What we're going to do is we're going to describe your noun using our senses. Your five senses are smell, sight, taste, touch, and sound. We're going to really focus in on each one of those senses in order to give us a really beautiful picture of what our noun is like. If you want to get really fancy with it and add to the exercise, you can also use other senses like weight, or movement, or balance. When I think of a lemon, the first thing that comes to my brain is yellow. I know that the first thing I want to write down is that lemons are yellow. But there's so much more to what a lemon looks like. Maybe it has a bruise on the side or maybe there's a little twig with a green leaf on the end. When I touch my lemon, is it going to be soft or will it be firm? Is it going to be bumpy or smooth? There are so many beautiful details that you can zoom into when you're describing your object. Here are the things I came up with for my lemon. Now, you may come across a sense that doesn't really apply to your noun, and that's totally fine. You can write N/A for not applicable, or you can describe something like the sound it makes when you slice into the lemon or the sound it makes when it drops on the floor. I want you to take a moment and really describe your noun using specifics and using all of your senses. Once you've completed your amazing list of senses, I want you to take your mental camera and zoom out. What I mean by that is, start thinking about the w's: who, what, when, where, and why. Where is your noun? Maybe my lemon is sitting on a table in a fruit bowl, or maybe my lemon is in someone's hand. Who is eating that lemon or who are they talking to? What is happening in your scene? Are two people arguing over a dinner table or are two people snuggling on a couch watching a movie? For the when, I want you to think about when your story takes place. Maybe it's 50 years in the past or maybe it's 50 years in the future. Is it happening on a weeknight or is it a weekend? Is it daytime or nighttime? At this point, your why category should still be blank, but we're going to get to that in just a moment. For now, take a sec and fill in your w's. Now that you have your big, beautiful scene with lots of intricate details and lots of stuff going on, I want you to zoom out one final time. But this time, we're not going to be zooming out into a physical space, we're going to be zooming out into our emotions. Specifically, we're going to answer the why and the how of our stories. Firstly, how are your characters feeling and how do they relate to one another? Secondly, why are they feeling this way? If your main idea included an emotion or a big theme, this is exactly the time to use it. If you haven't come up with an emotion or a big theme yet, think about all of your new characters and your setting, and start to come up with a plot in your mind. Once you have the how and the why figured out, we're actually going to take that bigger theme and we're going to zoom it back in. I want you to go back to your original noun, that object, person, place, thing that you initially started with. What does that theme have in common with your bigger picture? Maybe that bruise on your lemon represents your sadness or feeling emotionally bruised, or maybe that little leaf growing on the end is about new possibilities. Does that lemon make you feel energized, or excited, or sour? Take a moment now and think about how your noun relates to the bigger picture. From here, you should have a solid story, as well as a metaphor that you can connect through your entire song. In the next lesson, we're going to be going through one of my very favorite things in songwriting, which is outlining. 6. Outlining: Now that you've figured out a setting for your song, we're going to talk about the age-old struggle of getting caught halfway through. I know this is something that I've dealt with in the past. It's something that I see all the time with students, and it's something that can be really difficult to overcome. My favorite way of dealing with that halfway through the song writer's block is by outlining. All you have to do is plan out your song ahead of time, and it'll be so much easier to get through the entire thing. An outline for a song works exactly the same way that an outline would work if you were writing an essay for a language arts class. All you're doing is coming up with a one-sentence description of whatever your song section is going to be about. We come up with all of these things before we actually go in and write the lyrics. I think this is a wonderful way to write a song, not just because it's going to help you be clear and concise, but because it's going to help you stay organized throughout. In this lesson, I'm going to be going through all three songs structures, and I'm going to start with verse chorus. Now remember, my main idea is I love lemons, so I'm going to make sure that my outline really gets that point across. What you're looking at is a typical pop song structure. Now you can get rid of one of those versus if you wanted to, you can take away the bridge, you can add another chorus at the end, you can do really whatever you want with the song structure, but I'm going to stay with the basics for now. All that I'm going to do is take my main idea and just copy and paste it into every spot that says chorus. Obviously, the chorus is the easiest part of the outlining process because that's the part of the song that just tells us our main idea. Our verses are going to be a little bit trickier, but I promise you're going to do just fine. There are tons of ways to organize your verses, but a few of the really common ones are to use beginning, middle, and end for your three verses, or to start really small and then gradually get bigger. For instance, in our zooming out exercise, we could start by describing the lemon in our first verse, and then we could talk about where the lemon is, and then at the end we could talk about why the lemon is. For my song, what I've decided to do is start by talking about cutting a lemon on a cutting board and then I cut my finger. That's going to be my first verse. Then as I get to my second verse, I have to make sure that I expand the story a bit and that it goes somewhere. In my second verse, I've decided that I'm going to talk about how my finger really hurts and is worsened by the fact that lemon is really acidic. Now looking at my outline, it looks like we have a tiny bit of a gap here. In the verse, I'm talking about how I just really hurt myself by cutting a lemon, and in my chorus, I'm talking about how I love lemons. Something doesn't really add up here and it feels like I need something in between to bridge the gap. What I'm going to do is add a pre-chorus. In my pre-chorus, I've decided that I'm going to bridge these two sections by talking about how sometimes the things you love can hurt you. This gives me the freedom to use both of my ideas without having to sacrifice anything. However, if I wanted to go a different direction with it, I could just change my main idea to sometimes things hurt. Now as we get to that third verse, we've already heard our pre-chorus and chorus. We need to find a way to basically shift the perspective a little bit or make the story a little bit more intense. I think the way that I'm going to do that is by taking that idea of sometimes the things you love can hurt you and I love lemons and spinning it on its head a little bit. Maybe something else I love has hurt me, maybe I could talk about a breakup or a sad relationship. In my third verse, I'm going to talk about maybe someone I fell in love with and they broke my heart. So when I hear my pre-chorus again, I hear sometimes the things you love can hurt you. Then in my chorus, I can then go ahead and say, oh, but I love lemons anyway. In this chorus, I might not use the word lemons or maybe I won't even use the word lemons in my first chorus, and I'll just imply lemons so that each chorus sounds a little different while staying exactly the same. Now for my bridge, I can either do a summary or a bit of a plot twist. In this case, I'm twisting my idea a little bit and we're going to be talking about turning lemons into lemonade. That way I can talk about making a bad thing better, but I can also include my metaphor and my main idea. Here is my completed outline. If you've decided to go with a first chorus structure, now is a great moment to pause this video and go ahead and start thinking about what you would like to put in your outline. If you've chosen verse refrain form, I want you to do exactly the same thing that we did for verse chorus form, which is basically taking your main idea and plugging it in every time it says refrain. Once you've done that, we can move along to your verses. Actually, your verses are going to be a little bit different from the way that they would be in verse chorus form. Because in verse refrain songs, we generally rely on vignettes. Vignettes are tiny little self-contained scenes that don't necessarily have to relate to one another or go in any specific order. The only thing that's a requirement is that they have to somehow illustrate your main idea. Since your verses can go in just about any order without messing up the story, you can stack them by intensity. That means that you're going to start in verse 1 with the least intense story and then you can just build and build and build until your last verse is really intense. For instance, if my vignettes were watching my mom make lemon curd as a child, two people going on a date under a lemon tree, and maybe drinking lemonade on my porch on a breezy day. I think I already have an idea of which ones feel emotionally weighty and which ones don't. I'm going to start my song with lemonade. After that point, the other two stories both have a certain emotional pull to them. I think I'm going to put the lemon tree date as my second verse, and my last one is going to be that childhood memory, because to me childhood memories have the most pull. When I get to my bridge, I've decided that I'm going to go for that big bold summary. For now, I'm just going to write, I love lemons so much. This is my finished outline and at this point, if you've chosen verse refrain form, you can take a moment and pause the video here and fill in the rest of your outline. Last but not least, if you've chosen AABA form, you get the best of both worlds because you can either choose a plot like in verse chorus form, or you can go with vignettes like in verse refrain form. You get the option of either when you're writing your A section. In the AABA form, your B section often works the way a bridge would work. For instance, in the song, My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music, the whole song centers around things she loves: raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. But when we get to the B section, it's the opposite. She starts describing things that she doesn't like. These are the things that keep her awake at night and scare her. Our final line of the B section is that in those moments, she thinks about her favorite things and then everything is okay again. These two contrasting sections shed a light on two opposite sides of the same idea. In my song, I've decided to use my B section to illuminate why I love lemons. Maybe I'll say that I love lemons because eating them reminds me of all of these beautiful memories. Here's my completed AABA outline. If you've also chosen AABA, I want you to take a moment, pause the video, and fill in the rest of your outline. Keep in mind that your outline does not have to be perfect and it doesn't have to be totally finalized either. If you decide later as you're writing that your story wants to go in a completely different direction or that you want to change your outline, go for it. The whole point is to give you a roadmap. It doesn't necessarily mean that it has to restrict you to only writing one story. Now that you have your completed outline, buckle up because we're going to finish our lyrics. 7. Writing Your Lyrics: Now that you've completed your outline, you've basically finished the hardest part, which is figuring out what on earth to write about and getting an entire plot down on paper. That's incredible and you should be so proud of yourself already. Now at this point, what we're going to do is get into the nitty-gritty of lyric writing. All we're going to do is talk a little bit about rhyme and expand each of our song sections into four lines. This goes for every song section except the refrain, which is of course just going to be one line. Before we dive headfirst into writing our lyrics, let's talk a little bit about rhymes. Now I'm sure you're pretty familiar with the concept of rhyming, but in case you're not, a rhyme is a set of two words that share the same ending. For instance, "pie" rhymes with "tie". Songs and poetry are often chock full of rhymes, but there is a method to the madness, and this is called a rhyme scheme. Rhyme schemes refer to the pattern of rhymes at the end of each of your lines, and in this lesson, we're going to be talking about two specific rhyme schemes. The first is ABAB rhyme and the second is AABB rhyme. The As and Bs in these rhyme schemes are basically telling you which words should rhyme with which other words, so all A words should rhyme with each other and all B words should rhyme with each other. Here's an example of ABAB rhyme. "It's a bright and breezy day. The birds are flying free. I'm captivated by the things you say under the yellow glow of the lemon tree." In this example, you can see that the A words rhyme with one another, "day" and "say," and you can also see that the B words rhyme with one another, "free" and "tree". As you write something else to keep in mind is that you're totally welcome to use what's called a slant rhyme or an imperfect rhyme. These are exactly what they sound like, which is that they're two words that sound like they rhyme that but not completely. Most of the time, these words will share a vowel in common, but they'll just have different consonants. In my AABB example, I've used two slant rhymes, "A cold glass of lemonade, a sweet and citric Sunday. There's a lurk on the horizon, only she knows the summer song." You can hear in this example that these words don't totally rhyme but they are close enough that nobody is really going to notice, and you'll have the opportunity to use words that you might not have thought to use. Now is the super exciting moment where you actually get to go in and write your lyrics. Go ahead and take your time and have fun with the process. Remember that writing anything at all is better than staring at a blank page. Just go crazy, enjoy the process, and get to writing those lyrics. In the next lesson, we are going to meet back up and switch gears completely, and we're going to talk all about the piano. 8. Understanding the Piano: Up to this point, we've focused a lot on lyric writing and you've been doing a wonderful job getting your lyrics all ready for your song. But we've neglected one of the most important parts of songwriting up to this point, the music. In this lesson, we're focusing in on the piano. Specifically, we're going to get to know all of the notes on the entire instrument, which I know sounds really scary. But even if you don't have a piano at home and you've never touched a piano in your life, we're going to be going through all of the steps that you need to get started on your piano journey. As I mentioned before, you don't actually have to have a piano or a keyboard at home. If you do not have an instrument, you can actually use a virtual piano. All you have to do is use the top row of keys on your computer keyboard in order to activate the online keyboard. We're going to get started by looking at the black keys. The black keys are going to be your road map to the entire rest of the piano because the placement of those black keys is going to help you to determine what all of the other white keys are. Now, I am personally a very visual learner. The way that we're going to learn is going to be using a mnemonic device. But if you don't find that that works with you or jives with your learning style, you can actually just remember that the piano keys are just A through G of the alphabet and that's it, A, B, C, D, E, F, G. When we take a look at the black keys on the piano, the first thing you'll notice is that there are some really specific groupings here. You'll notice that there is a group of two and a group of three. Then that pattern just keeps repeating through the entire piano, 2, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3. Now the super silly mnemonic device we're going to use is that we're going to imagine that the group of two black keys, any group of two throughout the whole piano is going to be our dog house. Imagine that all of the black lines are just walls. Now if you are going to guess who on Earth lives inside of that dog house, it'd be pretty easy to say the dog. We're going to remember that in-between the two black keys is the dog or D. On the left side of the dog house, you're going to find the cat because cats don't want to be in a dog house. On the right side, you're going to find the elephant, because of course, elephants are way too big to fit inside of a dog house. Now that we have those three animals, the cat, the dog, and the elephant, let's try playing this little snippet of Mary Had a Little Lamb. Now that we've gotten to know the cat and dog and elephant, we're going to take a look at the group of three black keys. Those ones we're going to imagine are a big people house. On the left side of the house, we're going to see the garage or G. On the right side, we're going to find the apartment or A. You can also remember this as GA. In front or to the left of the people house, you'll find F for the front yard. In the back, you'll find the backyard. From there, that is every single white key on the entire piano. If you can just remember that scene of the doghouse in the front yard of the big people house, it'll make it a lot easier to remember which note is next to which other note without having to count up the entire alphabet every single time you play. We're going to touch a little bit on the black keys right now, but we're not actually going to be using them for really anything else in this class. The only thing I really want you to remember about the black keys for now is that when you go to the left of any note, that black key is called a flat. When you go to the right of any note, that black key is called a sharp. These are the symbols we use for flat and sharp. Now you'll notice that that means that each of the black keys actually has two names. If you're coming from the left, it's going to be one thing. If you're coming from the right, it's a totally different thing. Again, you're not going to totally need to know these right off the bat, but it's good to know that they're the halfway point between any other note. Congratulations, you now know and understand the entire piano. If you didn't get all that, that is totally fine. I'm going to put a handy little diagram up on your screen right now. At this point, you can take a moment to jot down some notes, or if you feel comfortable, move right along to the next lesson where we're going to be learning all about chords. 9. Chords: Now that you know all of the notes on the piano, we're going to talk about how to take all of that information and actually use it in a song. The way we're going to do that is by talking about chords. A chord is what happens when you play multiple notes all at the same time. The chords that we're going to be playing in this lesson, all use three notes, and in fact they actually use the exact same hand position. So all we're going to do is learn one single hand position, and then we're going to be able to play a bunch of different chords, all of which you can actually use in your song. Songs typically have more than one chord in them. We're actually going to be learning how to use a chord progression. A chord progression is just a bunch of chords, one after the next, usually in a looping pattern. In order to talk about chord progressions, we have to learn that hand position. The chord that I'm playing here is a C major chord. All that that means is that in my right hand, my thumb is starting on a C, and I'm playing every other white key. That's the part that makes it a C chord. But in order to understand why it's major, I just want you to listen to these different sounds. Do you notice how this one sounds happy, whereas this one sounds sad? Major chords have that brighter, happier sound to them, whereas minor chords have a little bit of a sadder sound to them. We're also going to hear one diminished chord, which sounds a little bit spooky and creepy and might be used for like a haunted house song, but we're probably not going to actually use it in our songs. If you're using a virtual piano, you have the ease of just using every other white key. If you're playing on an actual piano or keyboard, make sure that you're using your thumb, your middle finger, and your pinky to play the chords. Keep your hands nice and rounded, and try to think of it like you're picking up a big squishy ball and then dropping it, keep your hand nice and relaxed. If you ever notice any discomfort or if your hand starts to cramp up or feel uncomfortable, take a second, stop what you're doing and just shake your handout and relax it for a little bit. In those moments, it's really important to take a break, figure out what's wrong, and regroup later. Go ahead and try that C major chord. Now that you have a good sense of how to play a C major chord, all we're going to do is take that hand position and move it all around the keyboard. We can play a D minor, an E minor, an F major, a G major, an A minor, and of course our spooky creepy B diminished. After that we're right back to C major. Go ahead and experiment, play one chord and then play a totally different chord that's a little further away. See which chords you like following which other chords, and really trust your gut and have fun with the process. I would recommend maybe coming up with three or four chords for your chord progression. If you have any trouble coming up with a chord progression, feel free to use anything from this list of really common chord progressions. You're also totally free to make stuff up, use a black note here or there, and experiment, and have fun with whatever you come up with. Once you've chosen a chord progression, it's time to start thinking about how you want your song to end. Now, if you started your song on a C major, it's going to sound really complete if you also end your song on that C major. Same thing goes for if you started on an A minor, and want to end it on an A minor, it's going to sound a little bit sadder if you use those minor chords for the beginning and the end of your song. If you don't want your song to sound complete or resolved, you can also use a completely different chord for your ending, but just know that this can leave people a little unsettled. So if that's something that you're trying to go for, absolutely do it. Go ahead and take a moment now to think about what chord progression you want to use for your song. Once you have a chord progression figured out for your song, you can move on to the next lesson where we're going to be talking about how to combine your chord progression and your lyrics by creating a melody. 10. Melody Writing: Now that you have a fully formed story for your song, you have an awesome chord progression and beautiful lyrics, we're going to talk about melody. The word melody just refers to the tune of your song; what you would whistle or hymn, if you didn't have any music or lyrics. Since there are three notes in each of the chords that you've chosen for your chord progression, those are three perfect places to start your melody. Now, when I personally sing these notes, I find that the G is the most comfortable note for my voice. Something to keep in mind is that as you're figuring out which notes feel comfortable for your voice, you should also pay attention to the fact that songs don't just stay on one note throughout the entire thing, they usually go up and they usually go down. Starting on a G feels really comfortable for me because I know I can go higher and I know I can go lower. Once you've chosen a starting note that feels comfortable for your voice, where you know you can go up and you can still go down, you can either start by improvising a melody or making it up on the spot, either on your piano or with your voice. Or if you don't feel so comfortable making stuff up on the spot or you're little more analytical, you can go ahead and try this exercise. The first step is to write down every single note in all of the chords that you're playing. Now, go ahead and circle one note from each of these chords. They can all be the same note, they can be completely different notes, they can be far apart or close together, they can really be whichever notes you feel comfortable with. But be sure to keep in mind as you choose that you're going to have to sing these notes later. If you do happen to choose a note here that you don't feel comfortable singing, you can always change it later. Now that you've chosen a note for each chord, you can start by expanding on that melody. Now, I know it's a lot to think about playing the chord progression, and remembering all the notes, and figuring out your melody all at the same time, so you can use a tool like this one. This is called a piano roll, and it makes it super easy to loop your progression over and over. All I'm going to do is choose every other white note the same way I did on my piano or on my virtual keyboard. In this program and other ones like it, it's really easy to tell which note is which because you're just counting from the bottom with C. You're counting C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. Now that I can have my chord progression on a loop, it's a lot easier for me to make stuff up with my voice or play along with the chord progression without it feeling like it's taking over my entire brain. Just keep in mind that each of the different sections of your song will have different melodies. If you want to make sure that your chorus or your refrain line feels elevated, and feels exciting, and intense, make sure that the melody goes up a little when you go into that chorus. If your melody in your verse started on an E, try starting on a G when you go into your chorus. I personally have the worst memory ever when it comes to remembering the melodies that I'm writing, so what I do is I just record those melodies into the voice memos of my phone. Just makes it way easier to remember and then you don't have to get bogged down with writing down every single note that you're singing. While you're thinking about what to write for your melody, here are a few things to keep in mind. Number 1, make sure that any long melody notes or any notes that feel especially important fall on the most important words. As an example, "and I will always love you," would sound a lot less exciting as "I will love you always." Try rearranging your melody notes or you can even try rearranging your lyrics to make sure that they fit cohesively. Number 2, make sure to give yourself room to breathe. Remember that you are a human being with lungs that are a finite size and that you're going to need to take a breath at some point during the song. Lastly, make sure you can hit all of the notes and make sure they feel comfortable for your voice and your voice type. If you happen to know your vocal range, that is fantastic. But if not, just notice when it feels uncomfortable or notice when it feels like it's going too high or too low. At this point, you have all the tools you need to start taking your music and your lyrics, and putting them together with a beautiful melody. Go ahead and take a moment to try to figure out what you want your song to sound like. In our next and final lesson, we're going to be learning how to tie up all those loose ends and learn how to edit our songs. 11. Finishing Touches: Wow, you've written an entire song and you should be so insanely proud of yourself. That is a huge accomplishment and you've done an incredible job. Now that we've written our entire songs, all that's left to do is edit. We're going to take off our artist's hats, we're going to put on our editing hats, and we're going to just pick apart everything we've just done until we've really love everything that we've written. One of the biggest things to pay attention to while editing is that some words carry a lot more weight and importance than other words. There are going to be lots of tiny little filler words that you didn't really notice as you were writing, but you're going to notice now. Those words are: typically, really, very, so, and like. Those are the most common ones, but there are tons of tiny filler words that you're going to start to notice in your writing or in other people's writing. Sometimes these words are super useful. For instance, in the line, "Coming out of my cage and I've been feeling just fine." That word just doesn't seem to be doing much. In fact, it does qualify as what I would call a filler word. But in this specific context, the word just is there to basically tell us that our character is cynical. Sometimes filler words are really great for setting up a character. Aside from that though, I think it's generally a good idea to nix those tiny little words that aren't actually doing anything for the story. Another thing to pay attention to is that, sometimes ing words are a little bit of a mouthful, ing. It doesn't really feel comfortable to say or to sing. Instead of, ''The horse was galloping,'' you could just say, "The horse galloped." Along those same lines, the horse galloped, is also a much more efficient sentence than the horse was running fast. Another thing to pay attention to is repetitive words. Those are words that you use twice in the same paragraph or even in the same sentence. Now again, this is one of those circumstances where it might be worth it to use the same word twice. When Bob Marley, for instance, sings, "Don't worry, about a thing, cause every little thing is going to be all right." He does use the word thing twice, but we go with them because it's such a beautiful melody and it just works. The main thing to focus on here is just to be intentional with your language. Make sure that every decision you're making is happening for a reason. Here's a list of some things to pay attention to as you edit. Number 1, do you like what you've written? That is such a big deal. You want to make sure that every single thing you write reflects what you want to write and what you like to listen to. Number 2, make sure that your words, melody, and chords all work together. This is called prosody. Prosody is a really useful thing to pay attention to as you write. Number 3, get rid of those unnecessary words; and, buts, and ors, reallys and verys, and unnecessary adverbs. Now you can take a moment and start editing your song. Once you've done that, you're done. That's the end. We've completed our entire songs. Again, you should be so proud of yourself. 12. Final Thoughts: Congratulations, you're absolute songwriting whiz. You are amazing and you should be so proud of yourself. You have written an entire song, and that is a really big accomplishment. I hope that you'll take all of the information that we went over in this class and that you will use it to continue growing and learning and honing your craft as a songwriter. Remember that there is no right way to write a song, so you can take as much or as little of this information as you'd like going forward. Here are just a few things to consider as you continue in your songwriting journey. Number 1, the easiest way to avoid getting stuck is to plan your song out ahead of time. You can do this by zooming out, you can plot your story out ahead of time, or you can create an outline. Number 2, use your senses and get specific. The more you can immerse your listener in the world of your story, the more they'll be able to empathize and picture themselves inside of the narrative. Number 3, trust your instincts. If the chords and melodies sound good to you, you're on the right track. Finally, number 4, don't be afraid to go back and edit. You don't have to write your magnum opus in one sitting. In fact, editing is a totally normal, really fun part of the songwriting process. While you're here I would love to see what you came up with. Go ahead and share lyrics and audio recording or a video in the project section. Thank you so much for taking this course. I hope you had fun, I hope it was helpful in your songwriting journey, and if you want to see more songwriting tutorials or some tips and tricks, feel free to check out my YouTube page where I do tons of songwriting tutorials and walkthroughs. Now, go forth and write some amazing songs.