Songwriting: Writing Hit Songs


Authored by Jimmy Kachulis


Course Code: OSONG-310

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Master songwriter Jimmy Kachulis has analyzed thousands of hits, identifying the structures and patterns that work best, and why. In this course, he'll share the techniques successful writers use to craft vivid, memorable songs … and help you do the same. Whether you're a relative beginner or an experienced songwriter, you'll learn how to brainstorm ideas, overcome writer's block, and express yourself more effectively in words and music. Combining technical principles with pure creative expression, this hands-on course will help you find your voice, sharpen your craft, and create songs listeners will appreciate and remember.

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Upon completing this course, you will have learned to:

  • Create memorable verses, prechoruses, choruses, and bridges
  • Choose the most effective song form for every song you write
  • Understand the structures behind the hits
  • Generate better ideas more easily
  • Use structures, harmonies, and melodies to support and enhance the emotional intent of your lyric
  • Craft song sections that connect, contrast, and flow together into a unified whole

"When students finish this class, they will gain a profoundly deeper understanding of songwriting along with a more developed and refined set of skills and creative artistry allowing them to effectively communicate their ideas, emotions, and thoughts through music." - course instructor Neil Diercks Read Less


Lesson 1: Writing a Chorus 

  • The Chorus 
  • Setting Up the Groove
  • Choosing a Key Color, Tempo, Rhythmic Motive, Feel, and Style
  • Standard Harmonic Phrase Length
  • Harmonic Ideas for the Chorus
  • Harmonic/Melodic Tools for Emphasis
  • Standard Phrase Length
  • Phrasing Types
  • Standard Chorus Types 1 and 2
  • Standard and Surprising Moves in Choruses
  • Title Placement

Lesson 2: Common Verse Types 

  • Lyric Moves
  • Musical Moves
  • Counterpoint Types
  • Varied Repetition
  • Phrasing Types
  • Developing Verse Ideas into Verse Sections
  • Contrasting the Verse and the Chorus
  • Harmonic/Melodic Contrasts
  • Chorus as the Emotional High Point
  • Overall Verse Chorus Form

Lesson 3: Bridge in Verse Chorus Forms 

  • Lyric Content
  • Lyric Form: Standard Types
  • Creating Variations of Standard Types
  • Harmonic Movement in the Moving Bridge
  • Variations on Standard Types
  • Review: Varied Repetition 1
  • Building Intensity
  • Placing of the Sections
  • Placing the Bridge

Lesson 4: Standard Chorus Types

  • Building the Section Lyrically
  • Five More Standard Chorus Types
  • Contrasting Ideas
  • Contrasting Ideas: - T - T, T - T – Chorus Types
  • Harmonic/Melodic Contrast
  • Developing Ideas into a Chorus
  • Building a Chorus with a Cadence
  • Connecting the Chorus to Verse 2

Lesson 5: Chorus—Variations of Standard Chorus Types 

  • Creating Variations of Standard Types
  • Add a Line
  • Varied Repetition 2—Surprising Emphasis
  • Subtract a Line
  • Replace a Line
  • Vary a Repeated Title
  • Surprising Phrase Length
  • Stack Standard Types for a Double Chorus
  • Combine Variation Tools
  • Chorus on the 12-Bar Blues

Lesson 6: Verse—Variations of Standard Types 

  • Build Intensity
  • Ending on the V chord
  • Changing the Phrase Length
  • Add One or More than One Phrase
  • Connecting the Verse to the Chorus
  • Verse on the Twelve Bar Blues
  • Verse and Chorus on the Blues Form
  • Contrasting Examples Using Verse and/or Chorus Variations
  • Contrast in Blues Form

Lesson 7: Modulation in the Verse/Chorus Song Form

  • Three Types of Modulation
  • Parallel Key
  • Relative Key Modulation
  • Surprising Key
  • Modulation into and out of Two Sections

Lesson 8: The Verse/Pre Chorus/Chorus Song—Type 1

  • Writing Process
  • Chorus Types
  • Verse Types
  • Type 1 Pre Chorus
  • Surprising Form

Lesson 9: The Type 2 Verse/Pre Chorus/Chorus Song

  • Verse Types
  • Type 2 Pre Chorus
  • Intensity
  • Chorus Types
  • Emphasis and Emotional High Point

Lesson 10: Verse/Refrain—Standard Types

  • Refrain Line and Lyrical/Musical Form
  • Title Placement in the Complete Verse/Refrain Song
  • Musical Setups for the Verse/Refrain Lyric
  • Verse/Refrain on the 12-Bar Blues
  • Tools for First Line Emphasis
  • Deemphasizing the Last Line
  • Instrumental Hook
  • Bridge in the Verse/Refrain Song Form
  • Standard AABA Song Form
  • Musical/Lyrical Form

Lesson 11: Verse/Refrain—Variations and the Complete AABA Song 

  • Variations of Standard Verse/Refrain Types
  • Change a Phrase Length
  • Stack Types Together
  • Combine Variation Types
  • Two Part Verse/Refrain
  • The Complete Verse/Refrain Song without a Bridge
  • Moving Bridge 2
  • New Key Bridge
  • Larger Form—Surprising Moves

Lesson 12: Combination Form: Verse/Refrain and Chorus 

  • The Verse/Refrain Structure
  • Type 1: Pop Chorus
  • Type 2: Country Bridge Chorus
  • The Complete Combination Form


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills

  • Familiarity with popular music song form
  • Basic proficiency on a harmonic instrument
  • Comfortable creating chord progressions in a variety of grooves
  • Knowledge of basic harmonic theory
  • Ability to create a melody over a harmonic progression
  • Ability to create lyrics (optional - will be provided, if needed)
  • Ability to sing melodies or have a vocalist sing them for you



  • Students are required to record themselves and save the recording in MP3 format. You will have a tool to use for this purpose inside the learning environment. Alternatively, you can use software such as GarageBand (Mac), Audacity (PC), or any DAW.


  • Harmonic instrument, such as guitar or piano/keyboard


  • 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 Classes. 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


Jimmy Kachulis


Jimmy Kachulis teaches songwriting and lyric writing at Berklee, conducts clinics nationwide, and has helped thousands of songwriters develop and maximize their skills. Look through the bios of some of today's best songwriters, and his name comes up again and again; his students' works have earned Grammy nominations, and been recorded by a vast range of artists on major and independent labels. An accomplished composer, arranger, and conductor, he has worked with great artists like George Coleman, Jon Hendricks, John Lewis, and Martha Reeves, and his compositions have been featured on scores from The Sopranos to Touched by an Angel. Jimmy's songs and arrangements for "Island Breeze," by legendary guitarist, Eric Gale, have been re-released and distributed worldwide under the Warner Brothers label.

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.

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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

Christopher North


Christopher North is a singer/songwriter (eclectic albums, songs for film and children’s TV), award winning composer, multi-instrumentalist (Carnegie Hall, Newport Folk Festival, CBGBs, Grammy award-winning recordings) and conductor (Hollywood Chamber Orchestra, Symphony Space). A Texan in NYC since 1997, he’s thriving in Brooklyn, having released 20 genre crossing albums and composed scores / songs to over 60 films (inc. award-winning and Grammy Nominated). A Sundance Fellow, collaborating brings out his best, for which VARIETY says he's a "notable asset” to work “well served by a fine soundtrack.” With studies at University of North Texas, a BM from SMU and a M.Mus from Brooklyn College, he is energized by learning, teaching and sharing what he loves as an Asst. Professor at Berklee in Boston and Berklee Online. 

Ben Camp


Ben Camp teaches songwriting at Berklee College of Music. Their songs have appeared in film and TV on networks like MTV, CBS, NBC, Fox, and more. They have written singles for Brice Fox, Tiesto, Victoria Justice, Sam Feldt, and others. Ben's mission as an educator is simple: Help you write the songs that only you can write.


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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