Songwriting: Writing Hit Songs


Authored by Jimmy Kachulis


Course Code: OSONG-310

Next Semester Starts January 11, 2021

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 

  • 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

Required Textbook(s)

Software Requirements

  • A basic audio recording tool that will allow you to record yourself 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 like Audacity (PC) or GarageBand (Mac) 

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 (available in the course when joining your first chat)
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal Microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection



Author & Instructor

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 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



A graduate in Songwriting from Berklee College of Music, Kyle James Hauser went on to study banjo under Jayme Stone, Noam Pikelny, Chris Pandolfi and others. He’s been involved in over a dozen album releases over his career, and his album "You a Thousand Times" reached #1 on Colorado Public Radio a month after its 2014 release. His songs are featured in film and television including Judd Apatow’s The Big Sick, MTV's series 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom, Where Hope Grows and many more. Kyle James Hauser’s performance credits include performances at the Kentucky Derby, and sharing the stage with Nathaniel Rateliff, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The Head and the Heart, Brett Dennen, John Hiatt, David Grisman and more. Playing with Colorado band Rapidgrass 2014-2016, Hauser released two albums and toured internationally, most notably headlining La Roche Bluegrass Festival in France and winning 2015’s RockyGrass Competition. In 2015, Hauser also seized the opportunity to co-write a ballet with one of the country’s most highly-regarded regional ballet companies, the Louisville Ballet. Hauser currently serves as Colorado Music Strategy Coordinator for the Detour touring program at Bohemian Foundation’s groundbreaking incubator, The Music District. He’s been involved in music nonprofits Louisville Folk School (as co-founder), Think 360 Arts, Colorado Music Collective and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. In addition to a private teaching practice he has given masterclasses at schools all over the country, including Oberlin Conservatory and Swallow Hill. For more info, visit

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