SONGWRITING LEVEL II

LESSON OUTLINE

Sessions 1 & 2 - Rhythm and bass. Song 1.
• Study: Percussive and rhythmic patterns. Application: Song 1.
• Study: Basslines and instrumental hooks. Finishing a song. Application: Song 1.

Sessions 3 & 4 - Harmonic rhythms. Song 2.
• Study: Hook Theory II. Harmonic rhythms. Extending the basic chords. Minor and 7th chords. Application: Song 2.
• Study: Hook Theory II. Chord substitutions. Energy control and deception. Connecting sections of arrangements. Finishing a song. Application: Song 2.

Sessions 5 & 6 - Hooks and arrangements. Song 3.
• Study: Vocal hooks. Melodies. Syncopated, 4x4, and other melodic rhythms. Application: Song 3.
• Study: Lyrics. Crafting song sections. Application: Song 3.

Sessions 7 & 8 & 9 - Structures. Ableton as a songwriting tool. Song 4.
• Study: Splice basics. Quickly creating sketches. Expanding your composition. Application: Song 4.
• Study: Subtractive songwriting. Application: Song 4.
• Study: Connecting composition ideas. Application: song 4.

Sessions 10 & 11 - Looping. Song 5.
• Study: Looping both in Ableton and with analog gear. Arranging with loops. Application: Song 5.
• Study: Creative sound design. Character in a song. Application: Song 5.

Session 12 - Recording demos in Ableton.
• Study: Workflow and best practices. Application: Record demos of all 5 songs.


SESSION 1

Percussive and rhythmic patterns.

GOALS

Study straight, swing, syncopation, polyrhythm, tempi, notes, rests, notation, dynamics, accents, feel, and timing. What it means to be ahead of, on, and behind the beat. Accents and staccato - adjusting the length of the note affects the song’s groove. Tempo and tempo changes. Faster songs = energy. Slower = mellow.

Determine and finesse the underlying groove and rhythm of song 1. 

Songwriter’s Toolbox: determine the feel of your song - what are you trying to say?

  • Many pop songs fall between the 90-115 BPM range. 

  • House and dance music usually falls between 115-130 range.

  • Techno and disco = around 120

  • Electro = around 128

  • Ahead of the beat = “pushed” or “driving”. “Rushing” a tempo is negative, as it pushes the tempo beyond where it should be.

  • Behind the beat = “laid back” or “relaxed”. It creates a longing feeling by holding the beat back a bit. “Dragging” a tempo is negative, as it slows down the beat.

Rhythmic motifs - Disclosure

Never Really Over by Katy Perry - Hook Theory’s analysis of the chorus

Clave: The Secret to Pop Rhythm

Tresillo - the “Dembow” Rhythm

ASSIGNMENT

  • REFLECTION

    • Inspiration / Reflection. Envision your music. 

      • How can you apply these rhythmic feels to your piano, guitar, and vocals?

    • Time management. Organization. 5-6 hours/ week. 1 hour lesson, 2 hours music, 3+ hours songwriting and practicing. 30-60/minutes per day honing your skills practicing.


SESSION 2

Bass lines and instrumental hooks.

GOAL

Study 5 instrumental hook techniques and apply them to your song. Study how to craft bass lines and add them to your song.

INSTRUMENTAL + MELODIC HOOK TECHNIQUES

  1. Stutter

    1. A stutter in a song occurs when melody is crafted so that part of a word—typically the first syllable—is repeated one or more times by the vocalist. 

      Toro y Moi - Freelance - nonsense syllable (0:24) plus catchy instrumental hook (0:58)

      Elton John - Bennie and the Jets (1:43)

      Taylor Swift - Shake It Off

  2. Repeating rhythms

    1. Write a melody that includes a unique, instantly memorable rhythm in the vocal melody of a given section of your song (i.e., verse, chorus …). Then repeat this rhythm multiple times within the same part of the song. In order to accomplish this, each line that has the same rhythm needs to have the same—or approximately the same—number of syllables in the lyric that accompanies it.

      Katy Perry - Never Really Over (0:59)

  3. Adding nonsense syllables

    1. In this context, a nonsense syllable refers to a sound that is sung but has no meaning. These include: “Ooh,” Oh,” Yo,” “Ay,” “Ahh,” “Ooh,” and “I.” These (and other sounds) can be joined together to create vocal hooks that combine melodies with sounds such as, “Oh-I, Oh-I, Oh,” “Ooh, Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh,” and “Ay-Ay-Ay-Ay-Oh-Ay-Oh.”

      Camila Cabello - Havana

  4. Writing a post-chorus

    1. A post-chorus can be defined as a part of a song that occurs after the chorus, providing an additional hook that typically includes vocals. It introduces melody that is not heard in the chorus or elsewhere in the song, and in many instances, it has few lyrics that have not previously been heard in the song. It often reiterates the title and incorporates nonsense syllables.

      In some instances, a post-chorus is not included after the initial chorus, but is introduced at the end of the second chorus, or in some cases, after the third chorus. This technique of saving the post-chorus allows the song to build, increasing its impact as it progresses. 

      Ed Sheeran - Shape of You - 1:16

      The Power of Post-Choruses - article with references

  5. Incorporating a catchy musical lick

    1. A musical motif, sometimes referred to as a signature lick, is a melodic phrase that is typically introduced in a song’s intro and recurs throughout the song. 

      The Chainsmokers & Coldplay - Something Just Like This (1:05)

      The Knife - Heartbeats - two instrumental hooks: intro and chorus (1:16)

      The Knife - Silent Shout - memorable longer phrase (0:23)

3 HOOK TYPES AND HOW TO USE THEM

Rhythm hook. This is a hook that establishes a beat/rhythm combo upon which the song is built. This was a favourite of Stevie Wonder, who started several of his big 70s hits that way (“Superstition”, “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”, “Boogie On Reggae Woman”, etc.) But this can work just as well with today’s style of songwriting.

  1. HOW TO CREATE A RHYTHMIC HOOK:

    1. Start by keeping a beat (tap your foot, or slap your knee)

    2. A rhythmic hook needs to be short, so sing (improvise) a short 4-or-8 beat rhythm that grabs your attention.

    3. A chord progression that accompanies the hook will also need to be short, so create a 1-or-2 chord progression that sounds good when repeated. (e.g., C-Fm7, C-Bb, C-Eb, etc.)

    4. Create a bass line where the end of the line connects smoothly back to the beginning. This line needs to have a catchy rhythm, but doesn’t need to be (maybe even shouldn’t be) the same rhythm as the other instruments.

  2. HOW TO CREATE AN INTRO HOOK

    Intro hook. While the rhythm hook uses a combination of various instruments, an intro hook is usually a melodic idea that gets established in the intro, then repeated over and over, appearing, then dropping out. Good examples: “Smoke on the Water”, “You Can Call Me Al” (Paul Simon), “Moves Like Jagger”, etc.

    1. Improvise a short melodic idea (4-to-8 beats long) based on a strong, catchy rhythm.

    2. Focus mainly on notes from the pentatonic scale (for example, in C major, use the notes C, D, E, G and/or A).

    3. Create 3 separate chord progressions that will successfully accompany the hook. Those 3 should be able to serve as verse, chorus and bridge progressions.

    4. Allow the hook to appear and disappear as your song progresses. Intro hooks are great, but can get tiresome if the listeners hear it all the time.

  3. HOW TO CREATE A BACKGROUND INSTRUMENTAL HOOK:

    Background Instrumental Hook. When you think of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, you’re as likely to think of that catchy organ bit that happens in each chorus. U2’s “With or Without You,” which has that great chorus hook, also has a great instrumental hook: that immediately-recognizable guitar lick that happens throughout. Instrumental hooks are, in my opinion, one of the most important and under-utilized devices in a songwriter’s toolbox.

    1. With your song complete, create a short 2-to-4 beat lick on guitar or keyboard that has a distinctive rhythm, and that can be accompanied by most chords in your chosen key.

    2. Concentrate mainly on using it in the chorus.

    3. Works well in combo with other types of hooks.

    4. Fit it in and around chorus lyrics, rather than on top of chorus lyrics. In other words, don’t pull focus away from the singer. Let an instrumental hook act as a kind of “answer” to a chorus lyric.


BASS LINES

Using Bass Lines to Craft a Better Song Melody


SESSION 3

Harmonic rhythms.

GOALS

  • ASSIGNMENT

    • PRACTICAL

      • read Hook Theory II, chapters 1-3

    • REFLECTION


SESSION 4

Harmonic rhythms. Use harmonic and melodic rhythmic patterns for unity. Looking at the forest (and not the trees).

GOALS

What’s the larger pattern? Look at 4 bar and 8 bar patterns. Storyline: setting, build, climax, and resolution.

Melodic rhythm - Rhyme scheme (if any). How many syllables are in each line? Unity. Look at larger sentences and their structure. Use harmonic and melodic rhythmic patterns for unity. Looking at the forest (and not the trees).

  • ASSIGNMENT

    • PRACTICAL

      • Read Hook Theory II, chapters 4-7

    • REFLECTION


SESSION 5

Hooks and arrangements. Creating a backing track in a DAW to write to. Application: Song 3.

  • Moving your ideas from your instrument  into Garageband for making it easier to edit and improve

  • Creating miniature motif with 2-3 note clusters and repeating with slightly different rhythms

  • Going back and forth between the third and the second to make it more repeatable and memorable

  • Hitting the optic just as an accent before getting started on the down beat 

  • Building 3-4 note harmonic motif

  • ASSIGNMENT

    • PRACTICAL

      • Work on instrumental hooks with songs in progress.

    • REFLECTION


SESSION 6

Hooks and arrangements. Vocal hooks. Melodies. Syncopated, 4x4, and other melodic rhythms and hooks throughout a song’s arrangement. Application: Song 3.

  • ASSIGNMENT

    • PRACTICAL

      • Integrate various rhythmic hooks throughout a demo song’s arrangement.

    • REFLECTION

      • How can I build momentum?

      • How can I take decisive action to lay down elements to a song and submit them for feedback?

      • How can I finish demos?


SESSION 7

Hooks and arrangements. Using Splice for sounds and loops. Vocal hooks. Melodies. Drum loops, bass lines, synths pads, synth leads, bells and whistles. Application: Song 3.

  • ASSIGNMENT

    • PRACTICAL

      • Download the Splice app. Audition sounds and loops. Bring favorite ideas into your track.

      • Integrate various drum, bass, synth, percussion, fx, and one-shot loops and samples throughout a demo song’s arrangement.

    • REFLECTION

      • Listen from a producer’s ear to 3 songs you’re currently inspired by in a similar genre to the song you’re writing. What is happening in each instrument of the song?

      • Write a reflection on what you notice about vocal and instrumental hooks.


SESSION 8

Arrangement exercise. Expanding your composition. Application: Song 3.

  • ASSIGNMENT

    • PRACTICAL

      • Arrangement exercise: analyze two songs in a DAW. Mark the intro, verses, prechoruses, choruses, bridge and outro.

      • Download Splice

      • Download loops for drums, percussion, bass, keys, synth, guitar, and any other instruments that fit the style and mood of the song you’re writing.

      • Download one-shot and fx samples to color your song.

      • Arrange your loops and samples throughout your track to get the skeleton of the arrangement mapped out.

      • Record scratch vocals.

    • REFLECTION

      • Where do your strengths lie? What are you noticing about your skill development?

      • What do you have an interest in that you’d like to develop further? What would you want to do less of?