About This Blog..

Gary Ewer
My name is Gary Ewer. I received my B.Mus degree in Music Composition from Dalhousie University in 1982, and then continued studies with various composers at McGill University. My career has been mainly in the teaching of music at all levels of education from grade school through to university: music theory, ear training, composition, arranging and orchestration. I’ve also conducted choirs, orchestras and bands. My compositions, mainly for choirs and orchestras, have been composed for, and performed by, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Symphony Nova Scotia, The Elmer Isler Singers, and many others.

Pop Meets Classical

Through my high school years, my main interest was in pop music; Genesis, Yes, and Chicago were my main influences. My university training was largely Classical, but far from abandoning my interest in pop, I saw how, on many levels, pop songwriters and Classical composers were all attempting to do the same thing: compose musical works (though in very different styles) that take listeners on a coherent musical journey.

The Essential Secrets of Songwriting – The Ebooks, and the Blog

My interest in the relationship between the pop and Classical worlds eventually led me, as a university instructor (2005), to write a text for songwriters (“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”), a comprehensive eBook that teaches the intricate details of songwriting technique, using hit songs to demonstrate each concept. In that sense, it analyzes the inner workings of popular music in much the same way a Classical musician would analyze a symphony: by showing writers what works, why it works, and how to use those same kinds of ideas in their own music.

Do you have Gary’s Songwriting eBooks?

Essential Secrets of Songwriting BundleNOTE: For a limited time, Gary’s newest eBook, “Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process,” is being offered FREE OF CHARGE. with your purchase of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle.

Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process“Use Your Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process” shows you how you can start to make your lyrics the most powerful part of your songs. Without a doubt, songwriters known for their powerful lyrics are the ones whose music stands the test of time.

Click on “Buy Now” below to take advantage of this limited-time offer: Eleven songwriting eBooks for $37 USD. Or click here to read more about Gary’s songwriting eBooks.


In 2008, I started The Essential Secrets of Songwriting Blog, and that’s the site you’re visiting right now. To date there are over 1600 articles on every aspect of songwriting: how to write chord progressions, melodies, lyrics, and touching on related topics such as copyright, instrumentation, writer’s block and more.

Beating Songwriter's Block - Jump Start Your Words and MusicI am also the author of the hardcopy book “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music“, published by Backbeat Books, a subsidiary of Hal Leonard Corporation.

I’ve recently finished a senior instructorship at Dalhousie University to devote myself to composition and trumpet playing, and to do more writing, including maintaining this blog. I’m currently the conductor of Symphony Nova Scotia’s Education Outreach program that brings the symphony to young students across our province.

If you’d like to contact me directly, I’d like to hear from you. My email address is: gary [at] pantomimemusic [dot] com.

I use Twitter to send out songwriting and other music tips, as well as to keep people up to date with my music activities and observations. I’d love to have you follow me!

Subscribe to The Songwriter’s Quick Tips Newsletter

* indicates required

-Gary Ewer


  1. Hi Gary! I’m writing a song that I think will transition from G major to D major. What would a good transition chord sequence be?

  2. I would like to copy today’s email about writer’s block (Sep 26, When Writer’s Block Goes From Mild to Moderate to Severe) and send it to the editor of “Writers Talk”, the monthly publication of the South Bay Writers Club branch of the California Writers Club.


  3. Gary, thank you for the answer to my question (9/2/22). I had opted to receive new posts by email but don’t think I got it so I’m glad I checked. Since then I purchased your course and in a couple of short sessions learned things I knew intuitively but not well enough to use consciously, so, thank you. Look forward to learning more.

  4. Hi Gary. Before purchasing the bundle, I have questions about a trend I’ve noticed: Many contemporary pop tunes use the exact same progression throughout the song. My question is, what are the tools they use to create differences in the sections? And…why is this a trend? Is there a module(s) in the bundle that talks about this? Thanks very much.

    • Hi Jill – Yes, it does seem to be true that songs that use the same short progression throughout are becoming more and more common. I wrote about this recently in my blog post “Providing Contrast in a Song That Uses a Lot of Repetition.” Most of the time, a song with the same (or very similar) progression will use instrumentation and production differences. So you’ll hear that the chorus will use a fuller instrumentation, and will usually push the melody higher as a way of not just making a difference, but also to build music energy.

      It’s hard to know why this is a trend right now, but I think it has to do with the rather simplified songwriting process of today’s hit songs: several people sitting together contributing ideas over a musical riff. In this scenario, it makes sense that a repeating chord progression would make it easy to generate melodic and lyric ideas — a kind of improvisatory tool.

      I don’t believe I deal with this to a great extent in the songwriting bundle, because it seems to be a feature of standard Hot-100-style music, and not particularly of singer-songwriter style writing that I focus on and try to help songwriters with. But in that bundle of manuals I talk about every aspect of good songwriting, including song form, lyrics, how melody and chords work together, and every other aspect of what makes good music good.

      Hope this helps,

  5. Hi Gary, I purchased your e-bundle. Is the how to harmonize a melody included or separate? if it is separate, I would like to purchase it.

    • It’s included. Take a look through the folder you will have received. If for some reason you don’t see it, please send your purchase info (approximate date and email you used) to gary [at] pantomimemusic [dot] com, and I’ll send it along.


  6. Hi Gary,
    I think you have a fantastic set of eBooks. Certainly gives me a great tool with regard to progressions. But I do have a little confusion on your Chord Formula book, it’s highly likely my fault but I’d be grateful if you could clear it up.
    The confusion concerns Extension 1 from F1 of the Major key progression chart. Extension 1 uses I/6 which you define as the using the lowest note in the key of the chord. For C Major that would be C/A. Now, if you take the second example from the Sample Major Progressions list on the “F1 Straight Through” Chart. This refers to C/E (which does make sense for that chord) but that, by the earlier definition would be I/3. Both the 3 and 6 are meant to be superscript but I cant do these.


  7. Gary : I think you should dissect Bobby Vinton’s Roses Are Red as an example of how just a single unexpected note turned a meh melody and theme into a international enduring classic : a tiny but crucial hook.
    The re-occurring motif of the verse has but 7 notes over a tiny range, but in the middle is a totally unexpected dotted quarter note that makes the verses of this song far far more arresting that the chorus could ever be – and yes, that dotted quarter even turns up in the chorus as well !
    That dotted quarter makes the verse sounding a tad un-natural —- or looked another way —- it lifts maudlin sentiments to a portentous level that’s cries out listen carefully, this is serious.
    I would love to know if that weird dotted quarter was in the original demo that Vinson first sang as an uptempo R&B number or did Bobby add it as he tried to do country , a genre he wasn’t really a fan of , and so overdid the sincerity recitation button ?

  8. Pingback: Eight ways to start your next song - New Artist Model

  9. Hello Gary, I am so happy I found you!! I write but I don’t play an instrument. Your online exercises are wonderful and I am going to order your books also. I love the way you communicate, it’s thorough but put in clear, simple steps. I have been writing poetry and lyrics for a long time but never had the confidence to bring it to another level. Thank you!!

    • Hi Michele:

      So glad that you find the site to be helpful. All the best as you take your writing to the next level!


      • I found your website about writing songs. Great and great, It was my childhood age dream to be singer, yes as many others. Today decades later, I am giving a try. From 15 lyrics I want to share one with the world. One. I hit the wall which I need to break. The song is in Eminor, too too sad. It was my intention that it must be in Major. Voice teacher said, “it is a minor song”. Now I must change it as I wanted. Looking for the tips to turn Eminor (melodies and notes) into GMajor.

        Your thoughts are valuable.

  10. Pingback: Don’t Let Technology Fool You | The Essential Secrets of Songwriting

  11. Hi Gary,

    Thank you so much for your time. My name is Anis and I am the Director of Music and Special Projects for the Songs of Love Foundation.

    The Songs of Love Foundation is a national nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization that creates free, personalized, original songs to uplift children and teens currently facing tough medical, physical or emotional challenges. Each CD is professionally produced with lyrics containing the child’s name and references to all of his or her favorite activities, things, people, and pets. Songs are written and performed in any language in the musical style that the child likes best (pop, R&B, rap, rock, alternative, etc.), by a variety of talented professionals.

    Songwriters who have written for us have going to signing record deals and even winning a Grammy. Jason Mraz is just one of them. Not to mention Michael Bolton, David Lee Roth, Itaal Shur and many more.

    We are looking for songwriters that can help us, by giving back with the talents that they were given, to some really deserving kids and teens. If a songwriter feels they can create a one-of-a-kind song for a child/teen then we would greatly appreciate their talents.

    It would be great if you could help spread the word about our charity amongst your community. We are looking for songwriters who can create complete songs for kids and teens. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Thank You

    Anis A.
    Director of Music and Special Projects
    The Songs Of Love Foundation
    (P)718-441-4588 800-960-7664

    FB: facebook.com/songsoflove
    TWTR: twitter.com/songsoflove
    Instagram: instagram.com/songsoflovefdn
    YouTube: youtube.com/songsoflovefdn

  12. Pingback: 8 ways to start your next song | One Minute Song

  13. Hi, Gary,

    Been reading your stuff for awhile, have your books. All good stuff!

    I have a very specific theory question. What principle of chord borrowing is going on here that makes C Major work in this progression (I did it on accident and loved the way it sounded, but I want to know why I liked it):

    B minor

    B minor
    C major

    I kind of had in my head that borrowing goes on between the parallel major/minor, but C is not in either B major or B minor, the key I’m working in. Dipping into G, maybe?

    Awesome if you could help. Thanks!!!!!!!!

    • Hi Chris:

      The first progression (Bm G A F#) is a standard i-VI-VII-V progression in B minor. For the second progression, there are a couple of different ways to interpret what’s going on. If you think of the progression as being in B minor, there is a chord built on the Flat-II degree of the scale (called the Neapolitan 6th chord) that often acts as a replacement for a iv-chord (Em). Most of the time, we use that chord in 1st inversion (with the 3rd in the bass). In your progression, the C chord is in root position, but the effect is the same.

      The other possibility is that the chords are all taken from D major, which makes the C major chord a simple Flat-VII chord. You can hear the effect of the C chord more clearly if you end that second progression on a D chord.

      In any case, it’s a really interesting progression – I quite like it. 🙂


      • Thank you! I didn’t think of that, and it makes sense with D being the relative major. And I’ve always liked the flat VII (at least since learning about it here on your blog).

        Thanks for all you do for us! I don’t always comment, but do always read.

    • Hi Peter – Thanks for writing. I’ve taken a quick look at your post – some great ideas, and I wish you all the best with your blog!


  14. Hi Gary,

    Have you thought about doing a podcast? It would be a great format to listen to the songs that you are referencing, and then hearing you talk about the different parts.

    Also, I would love to hear you talk about song structure for really epic, long songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, Paranoid Android, or 2112.

    • Hi Teresa:

      Yes, I have actually. My schedule is weirdly all over the place these days, but I like the idea, and may try it out soon. I’ll let you know.

      Thanks for your interest in the blog!

  15. I’ll wait for the couple of days to see what the package deal is. The songwriting ebooks look like they’re packed with a lot of useful information. but I did want to make sure I got the whole Theory course in the process. Thanks for the info.

  16. I’d like to get the full, 25 lesson “Easy Music Theory”, but can’t find where/how to do it. I see references to it, and references to a version of the Song Writing e-book collection containing it (and NOT the abbreviated 12 lesson version), but can’t find it online to buy.

    How am I going wrong?


  17. Pingback: News May 2016 | Everyday Songwriter

  18. Hey Gary,

    I’m very interested in your purchasing your books but I’m wondering if they teach the theory behind the concepts too. Learning cool chord progressions is great, but I’d also like to learn the reasoning behind it and why they work.


    • Hi Ryan:

      I do go into chord theory a bit. As I’m sure you’ll appreciate, I have to try to describe these kinds of musical concepts in a way that all songwriters — the ones with theory background and the ones without — can understand. So in “How to Harmonize a Melody”, I describe what is meant by chord function, how the different chords are typically used in a progression, and then how to choose chords based on the notes of a melody.

      In “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting”, I go a bit deeper into that discussion. I describe chord basics – how we derive chords from a scale, Roman numeral analysis, how one chord within a progression moves to the next, some basic “voice leading” principles, the concept of strong and fragile progressions, and so on. I do use musical notation to a certain degree, but as I say, I try to describe concepts in such a way as to reach as many readers as possible, of as many levels of background as possible.

      Also, keep in mind that I am very willing to connect with purchasers of my materials as they work their way through the eBooks. So if you find that you want a deeper understanding than what you’re reading, you only have to write. My email address is given in the Read Me file of the ebook package. I’ve taught music theory at the university level, and so would be able to offer you whatever explanations you might be looking for.


      • Gary,

        Thanks for the response. That sounds perfect, a little theory with a lot of practicality and application. I’ll be making the purchase!


  19. Your blog is amazing! I don’t know how you continually find intriguing things to say about one topic, but I absolutely enjoy reading your posts. It is one of the few I let into my email box. Always informative. Always inspiring. Thanks!

  20. Hi Gary,

    After hearing you on the radio this morning, I went to your website. It’s great to come across such a clear headed and concentrated source of craft knowledge.

    I am also a Nova Scotian who’s been writing songs with a friend for decades. We have just begun to share our songs with the world in an organized and internet-accessible way.


    Thanks for all the work you’ve put into your blog and I look forward to following it. It’s nice to feel like part of a larger community even if it is only virtual.

    Best Regards,

    Michael Amo

  21. Gary,

    Firstly, many thanks for your fantastic blog. I have been recommending it to other songwriters that I know, and have found it a great help personally.

    I have a suggestion/request – but please correct me if you have already covered this.

    I have found the entries about vocal ranges extremely useful, for instance the chorus occupying a higher melodic range than the verse, and the middle 8 higher still etc. I was wondering if you have addressed this for other song structures, for instance structures where there is no chorus as such, like AABA, where A contains the main hook and is a self contained ‘verse’, and B is a bridge that introduces new material.

    I hope I have explained this properly!


  22. Wow awesome blog! Just one post has helped me with my songwriting already! I also have recently started a blog on music. I’d love your opinion on it.
    Thanks! 😀

  23. Gary, I signed up for your newsletter some time ago, and often I find it very astute and informative. However I’m troubled by the lack of a clear bio and discography for yourself. I can’t help thinking of the adage: “Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach”. I would truly consider your offerings if you would make more clear your accomplishments.

    • Hi Steve:

      Thanks for writing. I don’t know what a “clear” bio is, but there are plenty of bios online that describe my career and accomplishments. The majority of writing I do is for other performers, chiefly for choral groups and other vocal ensembles, so I’m not in charge of whether or not they record. I have been at various times commissioned to write for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Camerata Singers, International Kodaly Society, and many other professional ensembles and societies. My music, a mixture of original compositions and arrangements, have been performed by The Elmer Isler Singers, Symphony Nova Scotia, Unisong (Ottawa), and others. You can see samples of my own music at my publishing site, Pantomime Music Publications, which you can view here. Some of my music is also published by Kelman Hall Publishing. My own training is in music composition (B. Mus (Dalhousie) 1982), and I’ve taught music to every age-group, from primary through to university. I’ve most recently been a senior instructor in the Dalhousie University Music Dept., now the Fountain School of Performing Arts, teaching aural skills (ear training), music theory, orchestration, counterpoint and secondary methods (teaching how to teach).

      More recently I was retained by Hal Leonard Corporation (through their subsidiary Backbeat Books) to write a book for them, which was published a few months ago, called “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music.” I’ve also written articles for Music Connection magazine, and Beat (Germany).

      My education and composition background has given me, I believe, a unique perspective on how music works when it’s good, and has also provided me with particular skills in musical analysis. That, along with my teaching experience, is why I undertook to write the songwriting ebooks. In fact, the original impetus for writing those books came from my own university students, many of which found my particular kind of approach to be helpful.

      I’d also respectfully suggest that the adage you quote (“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”), was quite probably originally said by someone who didn’t know what good teaching was. (The expression would be far more accurate if it were “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach badly.”) The music world, in particular, is filled with many examples of excellent teachers who have many abilities and talents, who have devoted their careers to the enlightening of others. That’s a skill that few “doers” have.

      To date, I’ve written 1,248 blog articles on the subject of songwriting, and I’ve analyzed hundreds of songs for developing songwriters in a bid to help them develop their own skills. The best way to know if I’ve got anything useful to say on the topic is to start reading those articles. They’re completely free, of course.

      Cheers, and all the best.

    • Hello:

      Looks very good – The only correction I’d make (unless I’m misreading your graphic) is that verse 3 after a bridge is only optional, since more songs will go to a repeat of the chorus after the bridge. And also, verse 3 chords will be the same (usually) as verse 1 and 2 chords.

      Nice graphic!

      • Appreciate your feedback. Yeah i wasn’t sure about the verse 3. Makes more sense if bridge generates the energy for the last chorus as a peak of a whole song.

      • I just recently got into music theory after buying ableton push, gonna put some graphics on the wall for a quick reference, otherwise i got carried away with all the filters and textures, forgetting about songwriting basics. Thank you again for sharing great knowledge, makes a difference..

  24. I keep searching for topics about chords, melodies, harmony etc(music theory and composing/song writing stuff…) and your site is almost always at the top haha. Bookmarked the site/blog! 🙂

  25. Hey Gary

    Thanks a lot for all your help.
    I want to know if you can post a
    Blog about writing and creating danceable songs anytime soon.
    It’s something i need advice on.

    Thanks Gary

  26. Hello Gary
    I am a classically trained vocalist (tenor) and I look for some sources for songwriting in classical crossover style. I found your blog searching for some melodic ideas to start with and then decided to ask you for some advice and guidance about this style of songwriting….I read some of your ideas about songwriting in general but I wonder is there anything special about classical crossover that makes it different from pop music particularly the forms that are better to be used or something about the melody or words that are more coherent with this genre of music?

    I appreciate your great blog and information you convey and eagerly waiting for your precious advices..
    Alireza – Iran

  27. Hi Gary,

    I’ve been following your site and blogs and wonder if you might like to exchange a guest blog. I would be happy to provided a link back to you. Please check out my site, background, testimonials and blog page at http://www.idocoach.com.

    I’m currently coaching songwriters and artists internationally with a growing clientele and readership and I think they would benefit greatly from a different point of view once in awhile!

    Look forward to hearing from you.


    Mark Cawley
    Nashville, TN

    Email: mark@idocoach.com

    MY COACHING SITE http://idocoach.com/
    MY BLOG http://idocoach.com/blog/
    TWITTER https://twitter.com/#!/iDoCoach

  28. Hey Gary just wanted to say thanks so much for the consistently great content. I’m always learning new formal and informal music terminology on your blog that I hadn’t encountered before, and it’s really useful when these terms suddenly come in to my head when I’m writing. I’m a broke college student but I’ll eventually get round to buying your books to give something back.

  29. Hi Gary. Many thanks for this awesome blog. Ive noticed that quite a few great pop songs have the odd bars with 2/4 time thrown in. Sounds Of Silence, Fernando, Across The Universe… etc. Tried googling for more info or tips on why and how but didnt find any? You have any thoughts or ideas regarding this?


    • Hi Bo:

      There’s no rule that determines when it’s a good idea to throw a bar of 2/4 into a 4/4 bar, but when songwriters do it, it’s often to help song energy to build. In that regard, the songwriter has either made it sound like a 4/4 bar has been shortened to a 2/4 bar (“Sounds of Silence”), or they’ve taken a 4/4 bar and made it sound like it’s been elongated (“Across the Universe”). In the case of “Sounds of Silence”, song energy would have waned just before the 2/4 bar if that bar had been kept as 4/4… the word “sleeping” would have long enough that the lack of rhythmic energy would have compromised the overall forward motion.

      In the case of “Across the Universe”, it really depends on how you hear it. Harrison either shortened the following 4/4 bar to 2 beats, or he elongated the 4/4 bar he was in at the end of the verse, adding 2 beats. Either way, it solves the problem of getting to the chorus too soon.

      As I say, there are no rules here. In my opinion, I wish songwriters would experiment a bit more with time signatures in this way. It helps keep things from getting too predictable, and I really enjoy the affect it has on the song.


  30. Hey Gary,

    I’ve got links to your blog syndicated on my podcast site: Inside Home Recording (insidehomerecording.com) and I was wondering if you’d be up for a recorded chat / interview about songwriting, you and your blog (not necessarily in that order!).

    Drop me a line if you’re up for it.

    Cheers, Dave

  31. Hey Gary. I thought of a good idea for your blog. Typically, when you analyze a song you find things you like about them… Sometimes it can be even more educational to show your readers songs and criticize them. It would hit home really hard if you mentioned songs with your reasons why you think they don’t work.

    Either way, love your blog,

  32. Gary,

    I am making a promo video about some beneficial music and writing blogs. I was wondering if I could include some pictures of your site and a link to your site? Let me know if you have questions. Thanks

  33. Hey there i’m a singer songwriter, with my debut E.P set for release this Summer.

    I’ve had producers send me beats via myspace, and have wrote to some of their efforts. Although nothing has been recorded as yet.

    I just wanted to know how I could obtain ALL mechanical rights to my music. And what the law is on how much a producer should receive for a track.

    I may not have explained this in the best light as this is all new to me. But as I am young and this is my first musical effort I really want to accomplish everything correctly with no legal woes or mishaps that may creep up in the future.

    Please reply to me via Email.
    Thanks a tonne!

  34. What is the name of the “boy band”?

    If someone claims authorship of a song they did not have a hand in writing, that is theft, and you should be contacting a copyright lawyer. Contesting authorship requires proof, so you will need to be prepared for that.

    If a published song is recorded, the author(s) are entitled to payment, called mechanical rights. Such rights are paid to the publishing company, and a share of those funds are distributed to the author(s). Not paying them is a legal issue, and again, a copyright lawyer would be able to help you.

    Good luck!

  35. Hello,

    Maybe you can help us out. My husband wrote a song (in spanish) named “Levemente”. He sang it to a man that was starting a boy band and next thing you know, that boy band recorded the song as a demo. My husband was okay with it, since he was collaborating with music and lyrics. He beleived he too would be taken into success IF the boy band made it big. WELL they did make it! But the man that was managing the boy band, pretty much took all the credit for the work and booted everyone else off the managing team. The man and the boy band made it big, they signed with Sony Discos and EMI as their publisher. My husband said “the hell with it” and never fought for his rights. NOW, 4 years later, I was surfing through the us copyrights search files and entered the name of the song. TURNS OUT, the man (manager of boy band) did register the song under his own name as if he wrote it, but he did also put my husbands name. As if they wrote the lyrics and music together. The song is registered under my husbands name along with that other tag along, since 2005. Yet he has not received one penny of royalties. We just found out today! What should he do to claim those royalties?? think you have an answer for us… BTW, that boy band went on to sell over 100, 000 albums and “Levemente”Hope so, thanks!!

    C LoVe

  36. Hello Gary –

    I wanted to subscribe to your Songwriting “Quick Tips” newsletter – on the main page of your website:


    Unfortunaely, the fill-in box that opens up is too large for my 800×600 screen format, so the eMail address box is off the bottom of the screen, with no way to scroll down to it 🙁

    Just thought you’d like to know …

    I hope you can correct it or possibly just enter my eMail addy directly into your contacter/mailer’s list.

    Thanks for your help and reply in advance,
    Richard Lawrence

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.