Blind Willie Johnson - Sinead O'Connor

How Can Studying Old Songs Help Us to Write New Ones?

Does it seem strange to think that you might learn a thing or two about songwriting by studying hits from the past? You might love Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” (Jerry Allison, Buddy Holly, Norman Petty), but what if you’re hoping to write the next big pop song hit? What does “That’ll Be the […]

Microphone - Song melody

Writing a Song Melody That Uses an Arch Shape

In 1937 Carl Orff wrote “Carmina Burana,” a 25-movement song cycle/scenic cantata that became an instant audience favourite. My choir, Dalhousie Collegium Cantorum, is working on this piece in preparation for an early-April performance, and it’s a ton of fun. Even if you aren’t familiar with the entire work, you likely do know the epic first song, “O […]

Songwriting with guitar

Songwriting, and the Inspiration That Develops as You Write

If you’ve read this blog for any time at all, you know that I believe that inspiration gets a lot of credit for starting the songwriting process, when in fact that kind of inspiration — the “ooh, that’s a good idea!” kind — is fleeting and rarely results in a solid songwriting process. There’s another kind of […]

The Beatles - {Kenny Lane - Strawberry Fields

Chart Battles and Songwriters’ Egos

In February, 1967, The Beatles, who had just released their double A-side “Strawberry Fields”and “Penny Lane,” were kept from the number 1 spot on Billboard by Englebert Humperdinck’s adult pop hit, “Release Me.” It’s funny to think that those songs were even vying for top spot in the same chart. That’s a little like discovering […]

Rolling Stones - Satisfaction

Pop Music’s Hook, and What It Does

There’s a term that gets used a lot especially in the world of classical music composition: development. We often describe pieces of music as not just progressing, but as developing. When we use that term development, we’re talking about new ideas being built on earlier ideas within the same piece of music. When I was an instructor at Dalhousie University, I had […]

How Design Saves a Song and Pulls the Audience In

When you talk about the form or design of a song, most people understand that you’re likely talking about the overall structure of a song — the verse-chorus-other aspect. Non-musicians likely know that most songs will move from the intro to the verse to the chorus, and then they might know to expect to hear a pre-chorus or […]