Online Master's Degree Course

Songwriting Tools and Techniques

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Authored by Scarlet Keys, Pat Pattison


Course Code: OSONG-525

Next Semester
Starts Sept 27

Level 5 - Degree Only

Level 5

The purpose of this course, in the context of the overarching master’s program, is to help you acquire the tools and techniques necessary to go forward with your studies. The course requires you to become intentional in every aspect of your writing: melodic composition, harmonic considerations, and lyric composition, all focused through the lens of prosody. You will learn to align each compositional element in relationship to your song’s central intent and emotion.

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By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • apply the concept of prosody to their songwriting
  • apply lyric, melodic, and harmonic structures prosodically
  • apply the concept of sense-bound writing to your songs
  • create effective metaphors in your writing
  • accurately set lyric to melody 
  • use front-heavy, back-heavy, and strong/weak bar phrasing prosodically
  • use melodic rhythm and contour to support the narrative and emotional narrative
  • use harmonic rhythm and harmony prosodically
  • describe and utilize the emotion that chords bring to a song both diatonically and non-diatonically using modal interchange and modulation
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors Request Info


Lesson 1: Sense-Bound Writing; Setting Lyrics to Music

  • Sense-Bound Writing 
  • Sense-Bound Language 
  • Object Writing 
  • Stressed and Unstressed Syllables 
  • Recognizing Word Stresses: Single Syllable Words 
  • Recognizing Word Stresses: Gray Areas 
  • Melodic Stress 
  • Finding Words that Fit the Music 
  • Rhythm: Syllabic and Melodic 
  • Matching Musical Stress and Syllable Stress 
  • Analyzing Lyrics for Placement 
  • Master Class with Ali Rapetti 
  • Assignment 1: Lyric Setting 

Lesson 2: Melody, ‘Who’ Writing, Titles, and Song Form

  • The Four Types of Melodic Contours
  • ‘Who’ Writing 
  • What is a Title? 
  • Types of Titles
  • Idea Development: Writing from the Title
  • Master Class with Johnny Duke and Liz Longley
  • Melody as Tone of Voice
  • The 6th and the 7th:
  •  Intervallic Narrative
  • Assignment 2: Write a Refrain Line for Your Chosen Title

Lesson 3: ‘When’ Writing, Third-Person Narrative, and Prosody

  • Assignment 3 Co-write Preview 
  • ‘When’ Writing
  • Discovering Point of View 
  • Third-Person Narrative 
  • Third-Person Narrative Characteristics
  •  Prosody—Number of Lines
  • Unbalanced Sections
  • Form: Verse/Refrain
  • The Title Game
  • Melodic Development Techniques for Verse/Refrain Song Sections
  • Setting your Refrain Line
  • Beginning your song with the refrain
  • Chord Progressions for Verse/Refrain Song Sections
  • Bridge Section in a Verse/Refrain Song Structure
  • Assignment 3: Co-Writing from the Title Using Boxes

Lesson 4: ‘Where’ Writing, First-Person Narrative, and Length of Lines

  • ‘Where’ Writing
  • Point of View: First-Person Narrative
  • Prosody: Line Length
  •  AABA: Writing a B Section
  • Extended Verses 
  • AABA Song Form Templates 
  • Assignment 4: Write a Full AABA Song in First Person

Lesson 5: Metaphor, Direct Address, Rhyme and Melody Schemes

  • Making Metaphors: Adject-Noun Collisions
  • POV: Direct Address
  • Perfect Rhyme
  • Prosody: Rhyme Schemes
  • Melody Schemes 
  • Melody in a Minor Key
  • Assignment 5: Solo Songs Due

Lesson 6: Second-Person Narrative, Melodic Rhythm and Onomatopoeia

  • Noun-Verb Metaphors
  • POV: Second-Person Narrative
  • Rhyme Types: Family Rhyme, Additive Rhyme, Subtractive Rhyme
  • Building a Worksheet
  • Melodic Rhythm for Contrast and Prosody
  • Melodic Onomatopoeia
  • Assignment 6: Melodic Onomatopoeia

Lesson 7: Assonance & Consonance Rhyme, Rhythm, and Harmony

  • Noun-Noun Metaphors: Expressed Identity
  • Assonance and Consonance Rhymes
  • Review: Stressed Syllables
  • Diatonic chords
  • Modal Interchange Chord
  • 7th Chords and Dominant Chords
  • Assignment 7: Write a Full Song

Lesson 8: Linking Qualities in Metaphor, Common Meter, and Tetrameter Couplets 

  • Metaphors: Linking Qualities
  • Rhythm: Common Meter
  • Tetrameter Couplets
  •  Post Chorus
  • Tensions in a Major Key
  • Assignment 8: Solo Songs Due

Lesson 9: Contrasting Sections, Harmony and Tensions in a Minor Key

  • Metaphors: Finding Linking Qualities
  • Variations in Common Meter
  • Variations in Tetrameter Couplets
  • Contrasting Sections using Common Meter and Tetrameter Couplets
  • Harmony in a Minor Key and Modal Interchange
  • Chord Tension for Minor Key
  • Assignment 9: Create a Worksheet for Your Title

Lesson 10: Roadmaps: Matching Lyric and Melodic Phrases and Harmonic Rhythm

  • Metaphors: Moving in Both Directions
  • Roadmaps: Matching Lyric and Melodic Phrases
  • Harmonic Groove
  • Harmonic Rhythm for Highlighting
  • Harmonic rhythm in 3/4
  • Assignment 10: Write a Song Based on an Expressed Identity

Lesson 11: Even More Metaphor, Front-Heavy and Back-heavy Phrasing; Bass Lines

  • Metaphor: Moving in Both Directions
  • Front-Heavy and Back-heavy Phrasing
  • Weak-Bar Phrasing
  •  Modulation
  • Types of Modulations: Major to Minor, Minor to Major, Modal
  • Assignment 11: Solo Song Due

Lesson 12: Review and Discussion

  • Review: Prosody
  • Review: Object Writing, Metaphor
  • Review: Melodic Contour
  • Review: Harmony
  • Review: Song Form


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Completion of an undergraduate degree, preferably with a music emphasis or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.

Students should have:

  • A desire to become a more intentional songwriter
  • Moderate understanding of music theory

Required Textbook(s)

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 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. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of  Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Scarlet Keys

Author & Instructor

Scarlet Keys has been a Professor in the Songwriting department of the Berklee College of Music for the past 15 years, holds a BM in Music from Berklee and is a former staff writer for Warner Chappell. 

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Scarlet has had a gold record in Sweden, topped the charts in Britain and has songs recorded in the U.S. by award winning artists spanning genres from jazz, country, Americana, folk and pop.

Her songs have appeared on film and TV. as well as national commercials and Scarlet has worked with and collaborated with artists such as Chris Stapleton, Gretchen Wilson, Emily West, Golden Globe nominee Monty Powell to name a few.

Scarlet’s former students include: Charlie Puth , Charlie Worsham, Liz Longley and Betty Who and many up and coming new artists.

Scarlet continues to write, perform and teach both at Berklee and songwriting clinics across the U.S. Read Less

Pat Pattison


Pat Pattison is a professor at Berklee College of Music, where he teaches lyric writing and poetry. In addition to his four books, Songwriting Without Boundaries (Penguin/Random House), Writing Better Lyrics, 2nd Edition (Penguin/Random House), The Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure (Hal Leonard), and The Essential Guide to Rhyming (Hal Leonard), Pat has developed five online courses for Berklee Online: three on lyric writing, one on poetry, and one on creative writing, all available through In addition, more than 1,500,000 students have enrolled in his MOOC, Songwriting: Writing the Lyric since its first run in 2013. He has written more than 50 articles for various blogs and magazines, including American Songwriter, and has chapters in both The Poetics of American Song Lyrics (University Press of Mississippi) and The Handbook on Creative Writing (Edinburgh University Press).

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Pat continues to present songwriting clinics across the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. His students include Grammy-winners, professional songwriters, and major recording artists, including Gillian Welch, John Mayer, Tom Hambridge, Joelle James, Karmin, American Authors, Ingrid Andress, Liz Longley, Charlie Worsham, Greg Becker, Justin Tranter, and many more. Read Less


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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