Songwriting Tools and Techniques

author.full_name author.full_name

Authored by Scarlet Keys, Pat Pattison


Course Code: OSONG-525

Next semester
starts June 24

12 Weeks

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


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.

Read More

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
Read Less
Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
Request Info


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

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

Lesson 2: Melody, 'Who' Writing, Titles, and Song Form

  • The Four Types of Melodic Contours
  • Static Melody
  • Step Melody
  • Skip Melody
  • Leap Melody
  • What Is a Title?
  • Types of Titles
  • Developing Song Ideas: Using Boxes
  • Examples of Boxes In Action
  • Master Classes with Johnny Duke and Liz Longley
  • Melody as Tone of Voice
  • The 6th and the 7th
  • Intervallic Narrative
  • Assignment 2: Writing from the Title Using Boxes

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

  • 'When' Writing
  • Discovering Point of View
  • Third-Person Narrative
  • Third-Person Narrative Characteristics
  • Prosody
  • Number of Lines
  • Form: Verse/Refrain
  • 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-Write No. 1

Lesson 4: 'Where' Writing, First-Person Narrative, Length of Lines, and Common Meter

  • 'Where' Writing
  • Point of View: First-Person Narrative
  • Characteristics of First-Person Narrative
  • More Examples Where the Narrator's Characteristics Play a Role
  • Prosody: Line Length
  • Common Meter
  • Common Meter with Variations
  • The Effect of Music on Line Lengths and Song Sections
  • 'Train in the Distance'
  • Non-Diatonic Moves to a Bridge Section
  • Modulating in a Bridge Section
  • Master Class with Rebecca Perkins
  • Assignment 4: Draft of Song

Lesson 5: Working with Metaphors, Delaying the Tonic, and Writing in a Minor Key

  • Making Metaphors: Adjective–Noun Collisions
  • POV: Direct Address 
  • Master Class with Maureen McMullan 
  • Tetrameter Couplets 
  • Prosody: Rhyme Schemes 
  • Perfect Rhyme
  • Master Class with Ali Rapetti
  • Melodic Keep-Away: Delaying and Avoiding the Tonic 
  • Melody in a Minor Key 
  • Melodic and Dorian Minor 
  • Assignment 5: Solo Song No. 1

Lesson 6: Metaphors, Second-Person Narrative, Rhyme Types, Melodic Rhythm, and Song Form 

  • Noun–Verb Metaphors 
  • POV: Second-Person Narrative 
  • Second-Person Narrative Song Analysis
  • Grammatical Advantages in Second-Person Narrative 
  • Point of View Review 
  • Family Rhyme 
  • Additive and Subtractive Rhyme 
  • Building a Worksheet 
  • More on Worksheets 
  • Melodic Rhythm for Motion, Contrast, and Prosody
  • Repetition and Contrast within a Section 
  • Contrast between Song Sections 
  • Rhythmic Onomatopoeia 
  • Assignment 6: Co-Write No. 2

Lesson 7: Metaphors, Assonance and Consonance Rhyme, Phrasing, and Harmony for the Songwriter 

  • Noun-Noun Collisions: Expressed Identity 
  • Assonance and Consonance Rhymes 
  • Consonance Rhyme 
  • Consonance Rhyme in Lyrics 
  • Front-Heavy and Back-Heavy Phrasing 
  • Three Chords and the Truth
  • Secondary Chords in a Major Key 
  • Stealing Chords 
  • 7th Chords and Dominant Chords 
  • Assignment 7: Harmony Practice 

Lesson 8: Linking Qualities in Metaphor, Weak-Bar Phrasing, Tensions in a Major and Minor Key, and Chord Voicings 

  • Metaphors: Linking Qualities 
  • Linking Qualities in Action 
  • Weak-Bar Phrasing 
  • Mixing POV
  • Analyzing Successful Songs for POV 
  • 'Lyin’ Eyes' Feedback
  • When Changing POV Wins Out 
  • Analyzing POV in Eminem’s “3 a.m.” 
  • Less is More: Reinventing Common Chord Progressions 
  • Voicings 
  • Tensions 
  • More is More 
  • The Add2 and the Add4 Chord 
  • Sus4 Chord 
  • Assignment 8: Solo Songs

Lesson 9: More Linking Qualities, Contrasting Sections, Choosing POV 

  • Choosing Point of View 
  • Third-Person Narrative 
  • First-Person Narrative
  • Second-Person Narrative 
  • Direct Address 
  • Musical Contrast 
  • Harmonic Rhythm: Contrast, Highlighting, and Prosody 
  • Contrast for Highlighting 
  • Symmetry vs. Asymmetry and Surprise 
  • Rhythmic Patterns and Surprise
  • Assignment 9: Song Co-Write

Lesson 10: Metaphor, Matching Lyric and Melodic Phrases, Melodic and Harmonic Phrasing, Sectional Symmetry

  • Roadmaps: Matching Lyric and Melodic Phrases 
  • Symmetry vs. Asymmetry: Balanced and Unbalanced Song Sections 
  • Extension 
  • Roadmaps: Harmonic and Melodic Phrases 
  • Melodic Phrase Lengths and Harmonic Phrase Lengths 
  • Assignment 10: Writing Practice

Lesson 11: Mixolydian Melody, Major and Minor Pentatonic Scales, and the Blues 

  • Mixolydian: What a Difference a Note Makes 
  • Major Pentatonic Scale 
  • 'My Girl' and the Pentatonic Scale
  • Minor Pentatonic 
  • Blues 
  • Blues Form 
  • Borrowing from the Blues 
  • Assignment 11: Solos Songs

Lesson 12: Review and Reflection 

  • Review and Reflection: Prosody 
  • Review and Reflection: Object Writing, Metaphor 
  • Review and Reflection: Melodic Contour 
  • Review and Reflection: Harmony 
  • Final Reflection


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
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



  • Students are required to submit MP3 files of their songs for assignments. You will not be evaluated on arrangement or production quality in this course, but melody, harmony, and lyric should be clearly audible. A basic audio recording tool is available inside the learning environment. Alternatively, you can use software such as GarageBand (Mac) or Audacity (PC).


  • Students are required to capture their performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required):
      • XLR microphone and audio interface (recommended option)
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (required if multitracking and/or input monitoring)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need an XLR cable, microphone stand, and pop filter.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with 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


Scarlet Keys has been a professor in the Songwriting Department at Berklee College of Music for the past 15 years, holds a bachelor's in Music from Berklee and is a former staff writer for Warner Chappell. She has taught students like Laufey, Lizzy McAlpine, Charlie Puth, Amy Allen, and many more. Highlights of her songwriting career include topping the charts in Britain, earning a gold record in Sweden, and working as a staff writer for Warner Chappell. She has collaborated with Chris Stapleton and Golden Globe writer Monty Powell, and her compositions have been recorded by award-winning artists in the US, spanning genres such as jazz, country, folk, and pop. She is also a TEDx speaker, the host of the What’s in a Song podcast, and the author of the books, The Craft of Songwriting: Music, Meaning and Emotion and What if it All Goes Right: Practicing Hope in the Hardest Times.

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 several online courses for Berklee Online. 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).

Read More

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.

For Berklee Online, Pat has authored the following courses: Lyric Writing: Writing From the TitleLyric Writing: Writing Lyrics to MusicLyric Writing: Tools and Strategies, Creative Writing: Poetry, and Creative Writing: Finding Your Voice. He also co-authored the graduate course Songwriting Tools and Techniques. Read Less

Neil Diercks


Neil Diercks is a Los Angeles-based songwriter, song coach, and musician. He served for many years in various capacities at Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., in Nashville, beginning as an intern and eventually becoming Manager of A&R Activities. It was within this role that he worked with hit songwriters including Gary Burr, Steve Bogard, Stephony Smith, Jeff Stevens, and Victoria Shaw, who penned hits for artists such as Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Ricky Martin, and Christina Aguilera.

Read More

Neil is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Berklee College of Music, where he studied songwriting, voice, and music business, and went on to serve on the Board of Trustees for three years. He has lectured and led songwriting workshops internationally, and has won several awards for his teaching, including the UPCEA Excellence in Teaching award (2015); the Pearson Excellence In Online Teaching award (2015); The Berklee College of Music Distinguished Faculty Award for Berklee Online (2016). He currently collaborates with songwriters and artists in Los Angeles and around the globe. Read Less

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Songwriting Tools and Techniques can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:

Related Degree Majors


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

Get Info