Songwriting

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Course Date: 13 October 2014 to 24 November 2014 (6 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

Learn an efficient, effective process for writing songs that express your ideas and emotions, including a range of tools that revolve around the concept of prosody—the matching of lyrics and music to support your underlying message.


Estimated Workload: 6-8 hours/week

Course Instructors

Pat Pattison

Pat Pattison is a professor at Berklee College of Music and the author of several online courses in songwriting and creative writing offered through the college’s continuing education division, Berkleemusic.com. The courses—Lyric Writing: Tools and Strategies, Lyric Writing: Writing from the Title, Lyric Writing: Writing Lyrics to Music, Creative Writing: Poetry, and Creative Writing: Finding Your Voice—are instructor-led and offered four times each year to anyone, anywhere in the world. Pat’s former students include Grammy-award-winning artists John Mayer, Gillian Welch, and Tom Hambridge. In addition to teaching, Pat is the author of four books on songwriting, including Songwriting without Boundaries, Writing Better Lyrics, The Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure, and The Essential Guide to Rhyming. He has written over 50 articles on songwriting for various magazines and blogs and presents clinics for songwriters around the world.

Course Description

There’s a songwriter lurking somewhere inside you, peeking around corners, wondering if it’s safe to come out. Now it is. This course is an invitation to let your inner songwriter step into the sunlight. All it takes is a simple “yes” and you’ll be climbing that windy hill, marveling at the view.

If you haven’t written any or many songs, this course will show you an efficient, effective process for tailoring songs to express your ideas and emotions. If you have, you’ll look at your process differently, taking control of aspects of the process you may have not noticed.

The course will start by examining the tools available to you, all revolving around the essential concept of prosody. You’ll learn to use your tools to enhance your message—to work compositionally at the same time you’re developing your ideas.

You’ll be working both lyrically and musically, though musically it’s not necessary that you either read music or play an instrument. If you play, great, and you’ll be encouraged to play and record your musical responses to the assignments. If you don’t play, the course offers you a number of musical loops to work with. All you’ll have to do is sing your melodies over the loops.

Assignments will ask you to post something for peer review—sometimes lyric lines or sections, sometimes melodies, sometimes both. None of it has to be polished. The course is about writing, not performing.

Most important, you’ll have a lot of fun.

FAQ

  • Do I need to have prior songwriting experience or musical ability?
No. Playing an instrument, such as the guitar or keyboard, is helpful but not necessary.
  • Can I work on my own music?
Absolutely. If you do not have your own music, you will be able to use musical loops supplied in the course.
  • What do I need in order to submit recording assignments?
During the course, you will be asked at times to submit recorded examples of your song ideas. In order to do this, you will need your computer's built-in microphone or an external microphone plugged directly into your computer (via built-in ports or an external audio interface), in addition to basic audio recording software, such as Audacity, that will allow you to record yourself and save the recording in MP3 format.

Syllabus

Lesson 1: The Journey of the Song

By the end of this lesson, you will see how to develop your song idea so it creates an interesting journey from start to finish. You’ll understand your options developing the point of view of your song and will be introduced to the songwriter’s six best friends.

Lesson 2: Stopping and Going

By the end of this lesson, you will understand the concept of prosody as it relates to the number of lines/musical phrases in a section and to line lengths/musical phrases, the school crossing guards of your song. You’ll create both stable and unstable line/musical groupings, using an odd or even number of lines and musical phrases. Using these tools, you’ll write a verse and chorus.

Lesson 3: Sonic GPS—Mapping Your Song with Rhyme

By the end of this lesson, you will understand the relationship of rhyme schemes to prosody. You’ll create both stable and unstable sections, using various rhyme schemes to show your ear the way to go home. Using these tools, you’ll write a new verse and chorus.

Lesson 4: Making It Move

By the end of this lesson, you will understand language rhythms—the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables and how to put rhythm in your lines, preparing them to join into the dance with musical rhythm. Using these tools, you’ll put last week’s verse and chorus to music.

Lesson 5: Writing the Song

In this lesson, you’ll select a new song title and create a worksheet to help develop your ideas. You’ll write your lyric and set it to music, matching your lyric rhythms to melodic rhythms. You’ll create a melody, using stable and unstable notes to support your ideas.

Lesson 6: Crossing the Finished Line

By the end of this lesson, you will understand the role of phrasing to create the body language of your song, using the relationship of your phrases to musical downbeats to create stability or instability. Then you’ll put the finishing touches on your song from lesson 5.

Format

The course consists of video demonstrations, with integrated quizzes that allow you to reinforce your knowledge of the material before moving on. From time to time, you will be asked to listen to songs that demonstrate key concepts. There are 21 songs in total referenced in the course, and you should make sure that you have access to them, either digitally or perhaps in your own record/CD collection:

  1. "Still Crazy After All These Years" (Paul Simon) performed by Paul Simon
  2. "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" (Paul Simon) performed by Paul Simon
  3. "Can’t Be Really Gone" (Gary Burr) performed by Tim McGraw
  4. "Eleanor Rigby" (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) performed by The Beatles
  5. "The End of the Innocence" (Don Henley) performed by Don Henley
  6. "For No One" (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) performed by The Beatles
  7. "The Great Pretender" (Buck Ram) performed by The Platters
  8. "Hasten Down the Wind" (Warren Zevon) performed by Warren Zevon
  9. "Heartbeat City" (Ric Ocasek) performed by The Cars
  10. "How Can We Hang On to a Dream" (Tim Hardin) performed by Tim Hardin
  11. "I Can’t Make You Love Me" (Mike Reid/Allen Shamblin) performed by Bonnie Raitt
  12. "In Front of the Alamo" (Gary Burr) performed by Hal Ketchum
  13. "It Was a Very Good Year" (Ervin Drake) performed by Frank Sinatra
  14. "Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig's Tune)" (Joni Mitchell) performed by Joni Mitchell
  15. "One More Dollar" (Gillian Welch) performed by Gillian Welch
  16. "Some People’s Lives" (Janis Ian/Kye Fleming) performed by Janis Ian
  17. "Strawberry Wine" (Matraca Berg/Gary Harrison) performed by Deana Carter
  18. "Sweet Baby James" (James Taylor) performed by James Taylor
  19. "Train in the Distance" (Paul Simon) performed by Paul Simon
  20. "What’ll I do?" (Irving Berlin) performed by Linda Ronstadt
  21. "Why Can't I Have You?" (Ric Ocasek) performed by The Cars
You will also have assignments that ask you to write or record examples of your song ideas for peer review.

Suggested Reading

Writing Better Lyrics, second edition, by Pat Pattison. Publisher: Writer's Digest Books. ISBN-10: 1582975779.


Course Workload

6-8 hours/week

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