Writing Music 101: Songwriting Basics | Jason Rivera | Skillshare

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Writing Music 101: Songwriting Basics

teacher avatar Jason Rivera, Music Instructor

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

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Your Assignment


    • 3.



    • 4.



    • 5.



    • 6.

      Orchestration & Arrangement


    • 7.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

Learn the basics of songwriting from composer Jason Rivera. This class covers fundamentals such as chords, melodies, lyrics, orchestration and arrangement. I share several tips and techniques that I’ve picked up on my musical path.

For your class project you will write an original song/composition, utilizing the fundamentals we cover in the class, and record it. Your recording doesn't have to be professional quality—a smartphone demo will work just fine. For beginners, I’ll supply you with a chord progression to work with.

Anyone interested in cultivating their skills as a songwriter or composer can learn from this class. Prior knowledge and/or experience in music is helpful but not required--beginners are welcome!

If you want to continue your music education I have many other courses available here on Skillshare. I have other classes on melodies, writing chord progressions and music theory. I invite you to check out those other classes which you can find on my profile page here https://www.skillshare.com/user/jasonriveramusic

Meet Your Teacher

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Jason Rivera

Music Instructor


Hi! I'm Jason - a full time musician, composer and instructor. I've been playing and writing music for over 25 years, and teaching music for over 10 years. You can check out my guitar tips and tricks on my Guitar Teaching YouTube Channel. Alongside creating music courses, I'm a composer for media projects--films, trailers and e-Learning courses.

I really enjoy creating these classes for Skillshare and always aim to make courses that are fun with a focus on foundational techniques and creativity.

I have a variety of classes available here, covering the basics of guitar, ukulele, music theory and songwriting. I encourage you to take a look through the classes below.

I am passionate about providing as much support as I can throughout your music learning journey... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Hello. My name is Jason Rivera. I'm a multi instrumentalist and composer. You could find me online at www dot Jason Rivera music dot com. I have written on and played on Countless recordings have toward the U. S. As a performer, and I've had the good fortune to write for and conduct some of the best life orchestras in the world here in Los Angeles. I love writing music because it's a universal language, and it allows me to express myself in ways that I'm not able to with words. Music is a beautiful and infinite subject, and I work at refining my musical craft every day because I sincerely believe that no matter how good you are, what you do, there's always more to learn. And the more you refine your craft, the better you're able to express yourself through your music. This class is a crash course on the basics of songwriting and composing. My goal is to provide you with the tools that you need to write your own songs or composition. I hope that this class will help you to organize and refine your musical material and get you on your way to writing your own music. 2. Your Assignment: in this class. I'm gonna guide you through the fundamentals of writing a song or composition the topics we will cover our cords, melodies, lyrics and orchestration and arrangement. I'm gonna walk you through these subjects and give you tips and techniques along the way that you can try out in your own music. For your assignment, you will take the techniques that I provide you with and create your own song and then upload your results to soundcloud, YouTube or dropbox and post a link to your file in the project gallery. Your recordings don't have to be Hi fi. I encourage you not to be labour, the writing or the recording process and to trust your instincts. The goal of this assignment is to get you writing and trying out some new ideas and sharing the results with your classmates so that we can all grow as writers together. 3. Chords: Okay, so let's talk about chords. First of all, what are cords? A court is a combination of musical tones. One very common type of court is to try at a three note chord. Triads consist of a route, the note from which the cord grows 1/3 the third note up the scale from the root, and 1/5 the fifth note up the scale from the root. For example, the C major court has its roots. See 1/3 E uh, which is the third note up the scale from C and 1/5 G, which is the fifth note up the scale from C. Court progressions are a succession of chords in time and provide the foundation for writing a song or a composition, a couple of broad brushstroke comments on courts, or that major chords like the C major chord sound bright and cheerful and minor chords like the D minor chord sounds somber. C major d minor. Most court progressions have a mixture of court types in them, such as major and minor chords. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Depending on the style of your writing in, you might use augmented, diminished or seventh chords to name a few options. To get started writing on your project, I'm gonna provide a court progression for you to work with, and here it iss a minor to D minor. To see major T e minor and back to the A minor writing core progressions is a topic that I could go on about. If you want to learn more about how to develop an original court progression, I said, Just checking out my other class. Create a court progression in a major key. That class is a deep dive into creating an original court progression with variations. Now I'm going to give you a few tips for how to make your court sound a bit more interesting. One technique is to use arpeggios when playing your cords, for example, another way to add variation is to experiment with the rhythm they use. For example, you could play each court four times per measure as quarter notes, or you can play each chord four times per measure, with quarter notes in the left hand and eighth notes in the right hand. Uh, this is really useful in a pre chorus or chorus section of a song to give the illusion that the music is moving faster helps ability energy in your piece. Another technique you could use to vary the sound of your cords is to use chord inversions when you invert Accord. Essentially, you turn it upside down by placing the bottom note on the top. As an example, let's go back to our C major triad. We have root position where the sea is at the bottom for the first inversion. We moved the sea up inactive, and now the third e, uh, is on the bottom of the cord. The for the second inversion. We move the third e up inactive and now the 50 G's on the bottom. So those are three different positions to play the same court. See Major, And as you can hear, the quality of the court changes when you use a different position, all courts could be inverted in this way. For example, let's go back to the court progression for your project. One way I might play these courts is with a minor and root position to the D minor and second inversion with the hay at the bottom to the C major and second inversion with the G at the bottom to the e minor and first inversion, also with the G at the bottom. Using these inversions in this example makes playing the court progression in my left hand a lot more efficient, but it also changes the color of the court progression. Let's listen to the court progression, using all of the courts played in route position first. And now let's hear it again, using the inversions I just described. So that's the end of our lesson on courts. I hope that was helpful for you, and I'm looking forward to hearing what you do with your piece. 4. Melody: Okay, Next up is our lesson on melody. Let's start out by defining a melody. A melody is a Siris of notes that move along in time. One after another melody can take many different shapes. For example, it can be a tune, such as in Pop Music, a theme, which is a melody that develops over the course of a work, such as in Symphonic Music. A Motive, which can be a smallest two notes and could be joined together to make phrases a long, melodic line or a baseline. It's helpful to think of melody as the singing part of music. Let's look at some tips for writing good melodies when writing a melody. It's important to be aware of the cords that are going on underneath rather than just rolling the dice and hoping you come up with something that sounds good. This will give you a solid place to start out. One way of getting the ball rolling is toe. Have your melody used the route or third of each court as the court progression is moving along. For example, if we're on the a minor chord, you might start your melody on the note. A this helps to establish the key that you're in and solidifies the court progression. What I was doing there was as I change chords, I played the root of the cord, followed by the third of the court. By doing that, I was playing on Lee notes that came from whatever cord was playing at the time. Those notes are called quarter tones. Now we can start adding some flavor by using notes and our melody that are not in the court we are playing. When doing this, it's helpful to be conscious of a couple of things. First, try and keep your melody moving in steps, For example. Uh, what I was doing there was I was still using the route or third of each chord and my melody as the court progression changed. But I moved the melody through some notes that weren't in the cords. Those notes are called non core tones. Also, I was moving my melody mostly in steps, which gives the melody in nice shape. Another useful tip is to singer melody out loud as you're working on it. This will help make your melody more musical. If you have a cello playing your melody, for example, the cellist doesn't need to take breaths in the same way that a woodwind player does. But nevertheless, given your melody, breath helps to give it shape and phrasing. Another tip for giving your melody shape is to use repetition the first time through your court progression. You state your melody in the second time you play through the court progression. You repeat the melody, but with a small variation repeating the phrases helps the melody stick in the mind of the listener, for example, yeah. - Lastly , try moving your melody open active as your song progresses. This is a simple trick, but it helps add variety and give the song a lift as it's building up. So those are a few tips for building a melody on top of your court progression, and you can hear that a song structure is already starting to take shape. 5. Lyrics: Okay, let's take a look at lyric writing. I have co written and written lyrics to several songs over the years, but since my musical output is mostly focused on instrumental music, I'm gonna make this video a quick overview. It's good to be aware that their different approaches to lyric writing, for example, and the song like the Beatles, Lucy in the Sky. The lyrics are extremely visual and filled with metaphor, whereas in John Lennon solo works, for example, a song like Imagine the Lyrics are much more direct and to the point. Either approach is valid. It's up to you to decide how you want to tell your story through your lyrics. Also, do your research. Who are your favorite songwriters and lyricists? Find their sheet music, study it and take a look at how the words are put together with the melodies and the music . Listen, toe lots of music and also read a lot. One of my favorite contemporary lyricists is Thom Yorke. From what I understand, he studied literature in college and really shows in hysterics. Even those lyrics look quite simple on paper when you hear them put together with his voice and his melodies and his music. They take on a life in the meaning of their own. That brings up another. No, you may have to change and adapt your lyrics after you hear them sung out loud. What works on paper doesn't know it was working a musical context. One other tip is that some writers write their lyrics first and then a melody, or vice versa. There's no one right way to approach it when it comes to writer's block, and this goes for whether you're writing lyrics or music. I found from my experience that the best way to get past this is to literally right through the block, put something down on paper or in a recording and then take a break from it, go for a walk, make a cup of coffee the worst thing and sometimes the most intimidating thing as a blank page. So just put something down. Even if its stream of consciousness you could always come back later and refine it. Don't be intimidated. Take a crack at it, and the more you do it, the better you'll get at it. I'm looking forward to hearing your lyrics 6. Orchestration & Arrangement: okay for our final lesson, Let's look at orchestration and arrangement. This is another massive topic, and at some point I may dedicate a class specifically to it. But my goal for right now is to give you an introduction to it and give you some tips and pointers so that you could apply some of these concepts to your own pieces. Orchestration in the traditional sense is writing or adapting music for a live orchestra when orchestrating pre existing music. The original notes and harmonies air kept intact and are not altered at all. An arrangement as a reimagining of an existing or new work. Arranging may involve changing harmonies, altering the tempo and choosing the instrumentation. Orchestration and arranging are related, but they're different for our purposes. In this class will be focusing on some basic concepts of orchestrating and arranging whether or not you'll be working with a live orchestra for your piece. These concepts can really be applied to most any writing situation when you break it down to essentials. Most music, especially popular music, has two main elements to it. A melody and musical or vocal accompaniment. That idea should help you organize and streamline any ideas you may have and hopefully make riding a little easier and less overwhelming. In our last lesson on melody, we had two elements happening. A melody with quartz as accompaniment. Another tip to keep in mind is to have your accompaniment and melody and different ranges. For example, if you have your accompaniment playing below middle C on a piano, then have your melody at a higher or a lower octave and so on. And that way you keep your accompaniment out of the way of the melody and that example that I played there. My melody was above middle C on my accompaniment was below Middle C. Another thing to keep in mind is to have your melody at a louder dynamic or volume than your accompaniment. If you're producing a song, you could achieve this through mix, but it should also be kept in mind when performing and recording your song. This will help to highlight your melody and bring the listener's attention to it, creating a focal point. Another concept to keep in mind, especially when mixing attract, is to thank you for your elements in terms of foreground middle ground and background. Usually your main melody would be in the foreground. You're rhythmic elements like guitar and drums would be in your middle ground, and any textures, such a synthesizers or ambient sounds would be in the background again. We're trying to place the melody in the foreground and give it prominence. Also, it's good to utilize counterpoint in your music, and this is another massive topic that you could literally spend years studying and a nutshell. Counterpoint is the relationship between musical elements, for example, to human voices that are interconnected in terms of the chords and scales that are happening in the music but are independent of each other in terms of the notes they're hitting at any given moment and their rhythmic values. That may sound kind of complicated, but let me demonstrate it and hopefully make it clearer on my first chord. My melody, My right hand is a little busy, so my left hand, the accompaniment is just holding down whole notes on the next court again. My melody starts with kind of a busy phrase and eventually holds on the note F when the melodious static, the left hand, then please a small descending eighth no type figure on the next court again. The melody is a little busy in the right hand, so my left hand plays a whole note on the final chord, the melodies holding down a whole note. So at the end of the phrase, my left hand plays a small chromatic gate note figure that leads back into the a minor chord. That's a really basic intro to counterpoint, but hopefully something you can apply that will give more clarity and interest to your music. Lastly, I want to mention song structure. This is really a part of song writing and composing that is unique to each writer and teach writing situation. But if you're brand new to this craft, you might want to start with a simple A b A B structure, a being averse and be being a chorus. So in that example, you'd have verse one, followed by a chorus one, followed by Verse two, followed by chorus, too. And you might want to make that second chorus two or three times as long as the first chorus, so that it also functions as an outro to your song again. You could really play with this, depending on how long you want your song to be and where you want to take your piece. For example, you could have three verses instead of two or add in a bridge after your second chorus. But if you're just taking your first crack out writing, you might want to start with the first structure that I mentioned the A B A B structure. Also, please be aware that it's perfectly okay to use the same court progression for the entire length of a piece. Many pop songs and film score accuse used this approach. Just make sure that you keep the listeners interest through your use and development of melody, lyrics, orchestration and arrangement. 7. Final Thoughts: Okay, so we've made it all the way through this class on song writing basics. I want to congratulate you on making it all the way through. I hope that you picked up some useful tips to help you in your writing process. And I hope you feel a little bit more confident to jump in and start writing your own music . Your project for this class is to write your own songs or composition. We've walked through all of the steps. I've given you a chord progression to start out with in some ways of adding variation to it . Then you'll add your melody and lyrics if your piece as vocals in it. And lastly, you'll use, um, orchestration and arranging tips to help organize your musical ideas and give clarity tear piece. Remember to upload your recordings to Soundcloud, Dropbox or YouTube and post your links in the project gallery. Most importantly, remember to have fun with this process. Thank you so much for watching this video lesson, and I'm looking forward to hearing your music