When it comes to Taylor Swift’s songwriting, Scarlet Keys can show you incredible things. On May 1 Keys will lead a Masterclass called The Songwriting Secrets of Taylor Swift, a two-hour session that serves as a bite-size online version of the popular course she teaches at the Berklee College of Music campus in Boston. After launching in 2023, the course received media attention, as well as a classroom full of Swifties writing new songs, wearing cardigans, and exchanging friendship bracelets. 

“Here’s this woman writing all of her material, almost every song on every record is a good song, and she has sustained this career,” says Keys, who has previously taught artists such as Laufey, Lizzy McAlpine, and Charlie Puth. “It was right before the Eras tour, so she wasn’t quite ruling the world, but it was right at that moment where I thought, ‘Why don’t we have a class at Berklee?’” 


‘Big Enough So You Can’t Hit Me’

Keys first became attuned to Taylor Swift’s music after hearing her on the radio around the time of her second album. As a mom, the song “The Best Day” from Fearless was a stand-out. It wasn’t until Keys witnessed her daughter using music to cope with friendship breakup where she saw the real power of Taylor’s songwriting. 

“On my daughter’s first day of middle school, her best friend was like, ‘I need my space.’ And I was like, ‘oh, not the space!’ And of course, it was devastating,” says Keys. “And then every morning I would hear Taylor Swift’s song, ‘Mean,’ and I would see how Taylor was, in a sense, taking care of all these little girls and giving voice to their emotions. I was attached from that point.”

‘Capture It Remember It’

In a full circle moment, Keys and her daughter got to experience the Eras tour together when Swift played at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA (fortunately, not the infamous rain show the previous night). Keys says she doesn’t have a favorite Taylor Swift era because they’re all gold, which doesn’t make it easy to narrow down song choices for the Masterclass. 

A person making the shape of a heart with their two hands at a Taylor Swift concert.

“I’m looking for teachable moments in a song,” says Keys. “So obviously in a two-hour class, I only have so much time, so I might pick three to four songs where we analyze what’s happening and talk about some of the different techniques that she’s using.”

‘Hey Isn’t This Easy’

One example of a teachable moment is in “You Belong with Me,” which is also from Fearless.

“She’s really painting a picture with concrete language, but the rhythm is so simple in the melody,” says Keys. “I always say, ‘simple is global.’ When you’re simple as a writer, it’s more global, because if you write a simple rhythm, it’s really easy to hand it over to 10,000 people and go, ‘now you sing it.’”

Keys also highlights Taylor Swift’s use of a three-note melisma to create a hook with the words “see” and “me.”

“It made that average statement—‘why can’t you see, you belong to me’—interesting,” says Keys. “A melisma is when you take one syllable and you place it against many notes. So ‘me’ belongs with one note, but for a melisma, there’s three. It wouldn’t have caught you if it was just one note.”

Tortured Poets Department

Swift is releasing her new album, The Tortured Poets Department, on April 19, just a few weeks before Key’s Masterclass on May 1. When asked if the new material will make it into the two-hour session, Keys sounds hopeful. 

“My students are begging me to talk about that album, so probably, but we’ll see what it brings,” she says. “I have to see what I feel is really teachable, but I’m sure there’s going to be something.”

While the contents of The Tortured Poets Department are still a mystery, it was recently revealed that Swift is related to a famous poet, Emily Dickinson, who is her sixth cousin three times removed. Although the discovery was officially published after this interview, it aligns well with Keys’s thoughts about why Taylor Swift’s music deserves to be discussed in an educational setting. 

“Taylor Swift is literally using all the classical developmental techniques and all of the rhetorical devices from literature and writing hit after hit after hit,” says Keys. “I mean, she’s using these techniques so well and effectively that it makes it way more fun to learn these techniques from an artist that you’re in love with.”

 Published March 25, 2024