Songwriting: Creating Harmonies that Tell a Story | VM Studio | Skillshare

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Songwriting: Creating Harmonies that Tell a Story

teacher avatar VM Studio, Music Educator + Music Therapist

Watch this class and thousands more

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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

10 Lessons (34m)
    • 1. Class Introduction

    • 2. Class Project

    • 3. Lesson 1: Music Vocab

    • 4. Lesson 2: Building Chord Progressions

    • 5. Lesson 3: Creating Your Chord Progression

    • 6. Lesson 4: Building a Bass Line

    • 7. Lesson 5: Creating Your Bass Line

    • 8. Lesson 6: Building a Drum Beat

    • 9. Lesson 7: Creating Your Drum Beat

    • 10. Class Wrap-Up

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About This Class

In this class, you will learn how to start writing your own songs by building chord progressions that are both engaging and accessible. This class is designed for those with a preliminary understanding of music basics, but those with no musical knowledge or prior experience can still benefit from and enjoy the class. The skills taught in this class are useful for anyone who wants to make original music for creative, professional, or personal use. You'll need access to either GarageBand on Mac or Pro Tools First on PC. Using a digital piano or guitar is encouraged, but not required.

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VM Studio

Music Educator + Music Therapist


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1. Class Introduction: Hi, I'm Valerie and other music educator. My name is Mira, and I'm a board certified music therapist, and together we will be co teaching your class songwriting, creating harmonies that tell the story. In this class, you learn the basics of creating your own core progressions, and you'll get to create your own original back tracks. We will be emphasizing the importance of using some writing as a tool for self expression. We're really excited to be on this journey with you guys. Be sure to click the next video to learn about your class project. 2. Class Project: Let's talk a little bit about your class project. By the end of this class, you will have created an original backing track. For its long. It will feature an original core progression baseline and drumbeat. We'll be using tools like GarageBand and pro tools. First. Having a keyboard or guitar nearby is highly encouraged, but not necessary. But we do want you to have a pencil and paper, not a pin a pencil. Musicians use pencils. Super helpful. So the purpose of this class project is really set you up for success for future classes, where you learn more about creating lyrics and creating melodies. And this project is gonna focus most on creating an original chord progression, one that tells a story. Along with these physical tools that you have, you'll also need some mental and internal ones. We really encourage you to approach this class with curiosity and confidence and knows the purpose of this is to embrace self expression and to gain knowledge of a skill. Absolutely. And if you're feeling a little bit of trepidation, a little bit of hesitance about being able to complete a class project like an original backing track, then just know that, or remember that music is a really beautiful marriage between the objective and the subjective, the technical and the creative. So we will be getting into some creative skill. But you'll have the technicals tools that you need before you do so. So fear not. You're gonna learn a lot of great stuff in this class. Something I've noticed in myself and students that I've taught is that there's a lot of fear surrounding song writing. Have you ever experienced that? Absolutely, I have all the time. I still feel it to the stay. Even though I'm a professional, I really encourage you to embrace that fear and move through it with bravery. 3. Lesson 1: Music Vocab: the language of music is a unique one. So let's spend a couple of minutes together getting to know some of the musical vocabulary that you'll find helpful As you move through this class. Let's start with some general opposites. Okay, I'm ready. Tall, short, hot, cold, big, small, nice left, right, Light, dark. Oh, that's a good one. But what about opposites that specifically deal with sounds or music? You got one. Hi love. Awesome. Hailo is no notes can obviously be close together or far apart. But for building cords, it's really helpful to know what 1/2 step is. Ah, half step is the closest distance between two notes for practical purposes. Half steps are the smallest distance between two notes and music. So if you're looking at a piano there really easy to see a white key to a black, he passed up a black key to a white key hasta or a y key to a white key that doesn't have a black He in between stacking half steps on top of each other to create larger distances between notes are how we're going to start building cords. So you've seen what half steps look like on the piano. Let's take a look at what they looked like on the guitar. So we've got an open string, this bottom string here and then our first finger on our first threat. It's 1/2 step if you go from fret 12 front, too. It's 1/2 step, and that goes between any of those threats that you're playing as long as they're next to each other. And now that we know what notes and half steps are, we're ready to talk about the main event, which is cords, cords or multiple notes heard simultaneously the title of this class references creating harmonies that tell the story another way. To say that is creating core progressions that tell a story. Do you have another one for me? I think I dio fast, slow, excellent that Won is beat. You'll find that in almost all of music, beats are grouped together. Beets are most commonly grouped in twos, threes and fours. Okay, one more musical opposite pair words. What you got Long, short, awesome, long short is rhythm left shot for a moment about song forms. These were the most popular ones that we've used in pop music first refrain, um, so averse Refrain form is having our verse, which tells our story and then a refrain, which is a line that repeats over and over again after Evers. Awesome. What about burst courts? Pretty similar first chorus. You have your verse, which tells our story, and then a chorus, which is longer than refrain. It's usually a couple of lines, and it'll alternate first chorus first course. You also in song writing, could introduce sections like a bridge. A Bridge is a section with a unique harmonic material that you don't really hear in the verse or in the chorus, and they bridge two sections of the song together. And you can also have pre chorus, which is my favorite part of a song because it links together a verse and the chorus, and it causes a lot of tension, which makes going to the chorus really exciting and fun. As we work toward building core progressions that tell a story, it will be helpful to reflect on where in the song you want a particular core progression to go. All of this vocab is gonna be super helpful for you folks as we move through the class toward the completion of our class project. Note. Half step cord beat and rhythm Quarter notes, half notes. Hold up and form. Feel free to run through its lesson again, and our next lesson will teach you all about chord progressions. 4. Lesson 2: Building Chord Progressions: learning how to build core progressions. A little challenging, but it's really fun. First things first. The alphabet, the alphabet you're familiar with probably has around 26 letters. Musical Alphabet's Easy. It only has seven. Hey E, that's it. Seven letters in the music. Love of it. Once we have the musical alphabet in mind, we're ready to start working with major scales, which are just seven notes in musical alphabet order that follow a special pattern. Now we won't really get into that special pattern in this class, but you will need to know the seven notes of ah C major scale when we name cords. We name them based on Roman numeral numbers, and the Roman numeral assigned corresponds to the number of the note in the scale. So, for example, if we're building chords in the key of C, which means we're building cords based on a C scale will be the notes that we use that we based the cords on. Building a one chord in the key of C will be based on the first note of the sea scale, which is C. The two court will be based on the second of the sea scale, which is D and so on. All the way to seven. You'll notice that the 14 and five Roman numeral symbols are capitalized, and that's because those cords air major. The 236 and seven are lower case because those cords are minor and diminished. Here, the three types of chords that you'll need to know major, minor and diminished. The formula for building a major chord is 4/2 steps plus 3/2 steps for building a minor court, 3/2 steps plus 4/2 steps and for a diminished chord, 3/2 steps plus three house tens When you're a little bit more advanced, this rule my change before our purposes. Now consider the +14 and five chords toe always be major uh, formula for close three. Consider the two, the three and the Six cords to always be minor and the seventh, it's a different one. Personally, my favorite. The seventh is always diminished. I'm gonna play through some court progressions, and I want you to take a moment to think about what emotions are being elicited and you buy these courts at our next one. So, based on how you grew up is going to influence the way that you perceive these courts. A lot of folks who are raised in Western societies often perceived major chords as more happy and uplifted and often in minor chords, right as more pensive, sad or fearful. Understanding how you perceive these chords is going to help you tell your story most effectively. The corporations we use in our versus are really going to support the story that we're telling. So we want to make sure that our versus often use course that aren't as destructing. So we want to use cords that are like our one chord are three minor chord and are six minor chord. Our chorus chord progression can be a little bit more exciting, so we can use our one chord. Our five core sometimes therefore cord, just to mix things up a little bit and create more tension and release within that emotional context. All right, so let's build some courts, so we're going to build the one chord in the key of C that will be based on the first note of the C scale, As we learned earlier. A major chord is built with 4/2 steps then 3/2 steps. So the one court, which is major, will be four plus three. Uh, those three, uh, there's our major one. We're gonna build our miners six chord in the key of C, which means this note will be of the first note in the court. Minor chords have 3/2 steps plus 4/2 steps. So we start with three at four. Those three notes together and there's our mind or six. Let's try building a four chord, which is Major. We already know the formula is four plus three. Put those three together and there's a major forecourt. Now we'll build a major five court. We're starting on G going up 4/2 steps. 1234 This is the next note in our court from here will go up 3/2 steps, one that's our final No, in our court, that is our five major court. Next, we will build a two minor court. So we're starting on, Miss Numb. We go up 3/2 steps. Thistles are next note. Then we will go up 4/2 steps. That is our two minor court, our seven diminished court. We're starting with this note going up. Three halfs thistles are next note. We're going up Another 3/2 steps. 12 thistles are seven diminished court. Linking individual courts together to form core progressions is the next step, and it could be helpful to know that there are some common core progressions that air really effective and that you might want to use as you start out as a template to get going . One of those really common core progressions is 1451 which sounds like this in the key of C , Another common core progression that's really effective and that you've probably heard many times is 15 minor, 64 in the key of C. That sounds like this. Some chords you'll find, have really strong tendencies, meaning that they want to go from one chord to another. For example, in the key of C, the five Corder wants to go to the one core. There's a strong tendency to move that direction. If I played that in a core progression, you could hear it. It wants to go there. It wants to go to the one another court with a really strong tendency. Is that diminished? Seventh. It also wants to go to one. It wants to what we call resolved there. That's a common movement through the progression. Where does that want to go? It wants to go to the one. So when you're building core progressions, keep in mind some of those strong tendencies. You'll find some of these cords, air charged. They have a strong emotional presence, and they have a pull to go in certain directions. So it's up to you as the songwriter toe. Listen to that pole or not, which leads us to the last thing for our lesson. Today. We're showing you a lot of the rules and suggestions. Associate it with building core progressions. Once you're familiar with those, bend the rules, possibly break the rules in your creative journey, you're going to hear how the rules or the suggestions, the way that music typically works and that people have manipulated in the past many times toe to build effective court progressions. You're gonna find that those work for you or you might want to mess with him a little bit. Do it mess with them as much as you want, use the sounds that are presented here and manipulate them use those rules is kind of a standard or guideline and manipulate them in ways that you find engaging and tell the story you want your song to tell. 5. Lesson 3: Creating Your Chord Progression: Hi. All this is Mira. I'm gonna show you how to input your chord progressions into GarageBand. So I have downloaded the court packs that we have sent you within the class, and I'm gonna use the piano chords so I'm that click and drag. Just put it in here, make sure it's all the way at the beginning And let's see you have the one chord. I want the four chord on piano a swell. And I'm just gonna put all of my course that I want in here six chord and Psych ward. So I'm just putting them on separate tracks right now because I'm gonna do a little bit of editing. I'm zooming in and finding the beginning of the one chord and some of our cores don't start right at the beginning of the beat. So I'm looking at this track and selecting it where it begins. They put the play head thumb at the beginning of the sound and I click command T. Then I select the part that I don't want and delete it. Okay, Now I am taking this and dragging it, so let's see what it sounds like. All right. I think I want this sound toe happen twice before next court. So I'm going to select this and copy it, and I'm gonna go to the middle of this measure, which is in total four beats. So I'm gonna go. This is the first beat second beat gonna go right here at the beginning of the third beat and I'm gonna paste what I just copied and commands t delete that. Okay, let's see what it sounds like now. I think I want my six chord next, So I'm gonna take that up there and actually gonna zoom in. Make sure that the sound is right at the beginning. Here we go. I think I want this one to happen twice A swell. So I'm gonna go to the middle of the measure and do the same thing that I did for the one chord. All right, now here I'm going toe add this cord, which is our four major chord. I think I want this court to just happen one time in this whole measure, so I'm going to keep it like that, and then I'm going to find my five chord and bring it up and cut this. Okay? I also want that to happen once. So let's hear the sounds like Okay, that sounds good to me. So what I'm gonna do this is an optional step for you. But what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna select this whole thing, all these little tracks and I'm going to click Command J, which is gonna put them into one audio track create. And I'm gonna move it into this section that I have created for core progressions. I'm gonna delete this track, this one, this one, this one and I'm gonna rename this region. I'm gonna call it verse, chord Progression. Now, what I'm gonna do is copy this and go to the beginning of the next set of measures. And I'm just gonna do that a couple times so that I have a couple, uh, verse core progressions. Now, I'm gonna play back just to make sure that everything's all good. That sounds good to me. So this will be my first chord progression. And in the later videos, I will show you how to create your baseline and your drumbeat 6. Lesson 4: Building a Bass Line: we're gonna talk about how to create a baseline, the note of a court that forms the basis of that court. In other words, the note that the court is built on is called the route. The roots of the courts that you select in your core progression are gonna form the foundation of your baseline. So let me walk you through creative baseline. I'm gonna grab my guitar. We're gonna be working in the key of C. And let's say, for example, we're starting with a C chord, which is our one chord. And then our next quarter. The progression is an E minor court, which is our three minor corn to get from a C cord to an E minor chord wave to figure out a way to do that, that flows really nicely. It sounds good. So I'm starting with the root of my first chord, which is C on the route of my second court, which is so I could just leave it there. I could just be playing, see, and he as my baseline. But I think I want to make it a little interesting. So I'm gonna start with C and I'm gonna leave myself Teoh e by adding a note in between. So I'm gonna add the note D which was one right in between c and E. So I'm gonna start with C on. Go to D on then. E Um um, um, those of the notes in order CD. Now I'm gonna see if I could make a fund rhythm with that. Do you like our head office baseline? So that's a really simple way of creating a baseline where I start with the roots of my chords and I see what notes can connect them. And then using the drumbeat that I created, I try and make a rhythm pretty similar so that it works well with the drumbeat and doesn't distract the audience from the core of our song. So the most important thing to remember about how court progressions relate to baseline is that your court progression is going to inform your baseline, at least in the beginning. You can add to it, but you're always gonna want to start with the roots of the courts that you selected as the template for your baseline. As Mirror said, adding, passing tones or interesting rhythms can really spice your baseline up. So the baseline that you've created and your next lesson we're gonna work on putting that into pro tools first or garage band. 7. Lesson 5: Creating Your Bass Line: So this video will show you how to create your baseline within garage band going back to our court packs that we have. And I'm finding their roots this time. Okay, so I've got all of my roots in here. 1645 And I am going to a Knute that track. Let's see, I'm going to assume in on my route on the piano and just make sure that the sound starts right at the beginning. I'm going to copy this, and I think I want it to be four times. Well, on to three. Four from here. What? That sounds like Okay, now I use my six chord. Okay. I've got my six court in position. I made you the same thing. Gonna put it in four times before a next chord. Okay, then I'm gonna cut it here. Let's hear it. It sounds like Okay, now this four chord, I think I want to create a little bit of an interesting rhythm. So I'm gonna go, um, bump a bomb bomb that's gonna require me to go here. Here, Here. Okay, let's see if I did that rhythm. Right. I'm gonna turn this down a little bit great. You might hear some clicking happening. That happens when you're using an audio track and you're cutting the sound. Okay, I've gone ahead and put the five route of the five court in. Gonna try and do something a little fancy. I want there to be some movement in my baseline towards the end of this. So I am going to click and drag and putting the four in on the five chord. Let's see one. Uh, I want that. They're now I've got a lot of other tracks. I've got the three here, The root of the three chord. I'm gonna put it right there. Let's see. I'm not sure if it's gonna sound good. We're gonna find out. You want to make sure that the the track that you are pacing into is selected when you are pasting. So I'm going to put that in here. Now I'm copying this. This is the two chord zooming in the K. So what I've done is kind of sped through that whole process. Let's hear what this sounds like. Okay, now I'm gonna copy, pay someone a select all of this copy, and I want to keep my baseline as it is. So I can kind of see the movement I'm gonna paste instead of creating a new track like I did for the court progression so you can see a copy. Paste of the ton. Let's hear the whole thing one more time. Okay? That sounds good to me. 8. Lesson 6: Building a Drum Beat: in this lesson, Let's talk a little bit about building a drumbeat, and to do so we'll start with reviewing boat cap. So we're going to go over beat, which is our pulse that can be fast or slow. And rhythm, which are are sounds going long or short. We talked briefly in a previous lesson about beat groupings, which also could be called time signatures. Basically, that just means that beats can be grouped together, and commonly they're group together in either do people, which means multiples of two or triple, which means multiples of three. So four and six are really common. Be groupings. Let's demo a couple of those for you from what you just heard, the groupings of four son way different than the groupings of six. So using a group of four can keep things really driven and feel very structured, while a grouping of three or six can kind of feel like it's lulling. Or what's the word? Lilting, lilting? Yeah, so as you recall, you learned a few rhythms earlier in the class like quarter note, half note and whole note. But in reality, you can use your ears to build a pretty cool drum be without knowing all of the rhythms involved at this point. So in our next lesson, we're going to show you exactly how to build that drumbeat in the dog, using either pro tools first or garage man. 9. Lesson 7: Creating Your Drum Beat: All right, folks. I'm gonna show you how to create your drumbeat in garage band. So what? I started Waas I click this add button which will give you a new track and you select software instrument. I went ahead and selected electronic drum kit and indie disco because I really like that sound. So I clicked window up but the top which you can't see on my screen and show musical typing so I can hear the sounds Let's see what they sound like. E think those of the sounds I'm gonna play. So what I'm gonna do is start to record the different parts. I'm going to click record here, and I'm gonna have this sound unbeaten one and three. Here we go. All right, so that sounds pretty good to me. I'm going to add another part. So I'm gonna go right to the beginning again, and I'm gonna add this sound on beats two and four. So here we go. Okay. That sounds pretty good to me. What I'm going to Dio is now at this sound beats one and two and three and four, and let's give it a track. Okay. So as you probably heard what I played wasn't exactly correct. Um, so I'm going to double click on this part right here, and that brings this up. I'm gonna select all of my notes and click here where it says time, quanta eyes. I'm going to select 1/8 or eighth note, and that should change this. And let's see what it sounds like now. Okay, that sounds great. So let's loop this. What we're gonna do is take this button and loop it all the way until the end. And that should have the drum track going through our entire song. Let us know if you have any questions. 10. Class Wrap-Up: we've come a long way and this class we've gone over some basic music vocabulary. We've learned how to build cords from scratch, how to string those chords together to make a core progression, and how to support that core progression with both a baseline and drumbeat. As you finish up your backing track, we encourage you to post your project in the project gallery so that all of your classmates can also see what you've been working on. This class focused on creating core progressions, harmonies that tell a story. We like to invite you to continue your songwriting journey by taking other classes that focus on other areas of song writing, melody and lyrics. We're looking forward to hearing what you created for your class project and to hear the court professions that you've put together to tell your story, and just a reminder that the purpose of this class was to encourage and teach self expression through gaining a new tool. So we're really excited to hear what you've been working on and hope to work with you in the future