Songs Unmasked: Techniques and Tips for Songwriting Success
Authored by Ben Camp
Course Code: OSONG-597
This course will give you a detailed understanding of your own personal musical influences. It will teach you to write better songs, and refine your tastes by studying your influences. You will become a trained detective, examining and exploring the traits and techniques of successful songs, and applying them to your own writing.
This course will also help you develop an internal visual language through which to interpret the subjective emotional qualities of objective musical events like tension, cadences, and syncopation. This visual language, based on gestalt principles of perception, will allow you to grasp musical events that take place over long periods of time: Song form, sectional structure, and thematic development.
This course will review and reinforce fundamental songwriting techniques and vocabulary taught throughout the Berklee Online songwriting degree. You will discover, highlight, and imitate in detail, the contextual use of core songwriting curriculum.
This course stresses holistic and comparative analysis techniques.
Holistically, you look within a song’s hidden and surface structures and themes to find the relative purpose(s) of each element in the context of that particular song/production/performance. This course will empower you to understand each element and structure in the context of the whole recording. How does the distorted guitar riff feel in the context of the lyric that’s being sung over it? What type of relationship is created when Randy Newman sings a lyric in the style of an unreliable narrator, and the music seems to give us exactly the opposite mood?
Comparatively, you look to other songs that use those salient elements in similar ways, and to songs that don’t use those elements, to determine the effect that each technique has on their experience of a song. How prevalent is dissonance in this hook, and how does it compare to uses of dissonance in other songs of its era or cultural context?
Each week will include an in-depth analysis of songs of your choosing and a writing assignment in the style of those songs.
By the end of the course, you will be able to:
- Identify a song or genre’s salient features and techniques.
- Describe those features and techniques to others in detailed but understandable terms.
- Apply those features and techniques in your own writing
- Discuss and apply prosody holistically - between writing, production, performance, and presentation.
Lesson 1: The Big Picture: Purpose and Prosody
- Purpose: The ‘Why’ of Songwriting
- Content, Context, and Prosody: The ‘What’ and ‘How’ of Songwriting
- Narrator and Purpose
- Assignment 1: Intention, Content, and Context
Lesson 2: Gestalt Ground: Context
- Perception of Figure-Ground
- Musical Ground: Rhythmic and Tonal
- Shifting Ground
- Conceptual Ground: Lyrics, Semantics, and Conceptual Themes
- Assignment 2: Gestalt Ground
Lesson 3: Gestalt Part 2: Figure and Emphasis
- Figure in Songs
- Absolute and Relative Context
- Tools of Emphasis: Pitch, Dynamics, Duration, Position, Contrast/Novelty, and Repetition, Relationship to Space
- Assignment 3: Emphasis
Lesson 4: Relationships: Agreement and Disagreement
- Types of Relationships
- The Relationship of Agreement
- Figure-to-Figure Examples
- Figure-to-Ground Agreement between Melody and Tonic
- Figure-to-Ground Examples
- Assignment 4: Agreement and Disagreement
Lesson 5: Traits of Figures and Ground
- Qualities of Structure
- Qualities of Intensity: Volume, Duration, Pace/Pitch, Brightness
- Tonal Brightness
- Parity and Balance
- Assignment 5: Quality
Lesson 6: Small, Medium, and Large Scale Development
- Narration: Development, Structure, Gestalt
- The Human Instinct for Storytelling
- Repetition, Variation, and Contrast
- The ABCs of Repetition, Variation, Contrast
- Order of Phrases
- Subjectivity of Perception
- Medium Scale Development: Phrases become Sections
- Large Scale Development: Sections become Songs
- Assignment 6: Small, Medium, and Large Scale Development
Lesson 7: Development: Position and Rhetorical Structures
- Emphasis by Position
- Rhetorical Devices: Position and Repetition
- Development: Position
- Assignment 7: Position
Lesson 8: Home and Away: Structural Tension
- PENTAD and AA’BX Notation
- Number of Lines
- Rhyme Scheme
- Line Length
- Assignment 8: Structural Tension
Lesson 9: Home and Away: Musical Tension
- Agreement: Consonance and Dissonance
- Departure and Arrival
- Tension and Resolution: Cadence and Closure, Musical Narratives
- Open and Closed Structures: Balance and Symmetry
- Assignment 9: Musical Tension
Lesson 10: The Shape of Melodies
- Designing a Melody: Prosody of Shape and Contour
- Song Design: Types of Melodic Motion
- Song Design: Meta-Melodies and Structural Tones
- Song Design: The Shape of a Dynamic Soundscape
- Assignment 10: Melody
Lesson 11: The Shape of Songs
- Song Sections: Developmental versus Central
- Song Sections: Open versus Closed
- Song Sections: Comparison and Prosody
- Assignment 11: Song Shapes
Lesson 12: Wrap Up
- From Theory to Practice
- Form, Function, and Feeling
- Co-Writing with Yourself - The Power of Ambiguity
- Moving Forward
Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements
- None required
- Full-featured DAW such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Cubase Pro, Ableton, Studio One, Reason, FL Studio
- Audio interface
- XLR microphone such as Shure SM58, Audio Technica AT2020, etc.
After enrolling, please check the Getting Started section of your course for potential deals on required materials. Our Student Deals page also features several discounts you can take advantage of as a current student. Please contact email@example.com for any questions.
General Course Requirements
Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course.
- Latest version of Google Chrome
- Zoom meeting software
- Speakers or headphones
- External or internal microphone
- Broadband Internet connection
Author & Instructor
Ben Camp teaches songwriting at Berklee College of Music. His songs have appeared in film and TV on networks like MTV, CBS, NBC, Fox, and more. He's written singles for Brice Fox, Tiesto, Victoria Justice, Sam Feldt, and others. His mission as an educator is to get you to write the best versions of the songs that only you can write.