FROM NASHVILLE ARTISTS
Whether you have been writing songs for a while or you are new to the process of songwriting, it is inevitable. We all arrive at a place where we begin to question our abilities and feel frustrated. We don’t know how to progress and this leads to self-doubt, more frustration, and self-criticism. We get stuck. We get…blocked. We often experience these blocks in multiple areas. How many of these resonate with you?
Are you in a songwriting rut?
The process of songwriting and creating is very dynamic, and very layered and nuanced. It is challenging and can feel overwhelming. This is normal, and part of the creative process. Engaging in songwriting lessons with professional songwriters and artists is a great way to gain insights and skills into the process.
We are known for being the studio where songwriters come when they want to improve their skills and move out of that creative rut. We have taught tens and tens of thousands of lessons and have helped a lot of songwriters pursue their own goals.
Let’s get to work on your songs & creativity today!
I have lived and built my life as a creative person, a songwriter, and guitar player. And now, I would like to help you find your passion and excitement for creating and playing again. Replace anxiety, frustration, procrastination, fear, and all too often shame and embarrassment. I know how all of this impacts us creatively, emotionally, and mentally. I’ve been there. I chose to work through all of these exact issues and feelings in my own creativity and life.
It really frustrates me to see such a lack of real understanding and guidance for songwriters and creative people. That is one of the reasons why I started Green Hills Guitar Studio in 1998. I graduated with a degree in music composition and studied guitar performance and moved to Nashville to pursue my own vision as a professional songwriter, artist, and guitarist. I also wanted to help other songwriters, artists, and creative people. It’s a core part of what we do at the studio. It is a safe place for songwriters to learn the skills they need and develop their creativity and artistry in a supportive and encouraging environment. There are no judgments here, just a process and a journey.
Founder, Green Hills Guitar Studio
Songwriting Areas of Study
Having a teacher or mentor who helps you understand all of the components of a song or piece of music is really key to this process. The process is not always the same or linear from project to project. But if you learn the tools and skills to work the spark of an idea when it appears, you can mold that idea into a song. These tools will also give you insight into how to go hunting for an idea.
Please click below to purchase weekly lessons. Once you have made the purchase for music lessons, you will be directed to a form to request your lessons with an instructor. We will find a day and time that works best for your schedule. Please email us with any questions.
and Ear Training
Nashville is home to some of the world’s busiest and best recording studios and musicians. Studying music theory and ear training in Nashville, or online, with a professional and experienced musician is a great resource for singers, guitarists, pianists, songwriters, and any musician interested in understanding not just the how but also the why of music.
Developing your ear is essential to your growth as a musician. Whether you are just playing for fun by yourself, if you are wanting to get together with some friends and jam or if you want to be a professional musician, ear training is crucial. Many people think, “Either you got it or you don’t,” when it comes to having a good ear. It is true that some people are born with perfect pitch, but that’s not most people…and it’s certainly not most musicians.
Musicians have spent a lot of time working on their ears’ ability to discern the components of music. Having “big ears” is a skill that can be learned and honed over time, just like anything else. There is a method and linear approach to ear training, and when it is coupled with music theory, look out! These skills open up a whole new world of appreciating and experiencing, performing, understanding, creating and communicating the language of music.
Areas of Study
- Intervalic relationships and pitch recognition
- Keys and tonicizations/modulations
- Triads (major, minor, diminished and augmented)
- Chord inversions and chord extensions
- Harmony, chord progressions and chord function
- Rhythm and time signatures (yes, that’s you singers!)
- Parts, arranging and counterpoint
- Notating chord charts/lead sheets and the Nashville Number System
Students who study music theory and ear training lessons gain a fuller understanding of how great musicians, performers and songwriters execute and develop their craft, and how they can use these same processes, skills and musical “rules” to their advantage. These skills help students, performers and songwriters improve their individual skills and help them work more efficiently in an ensemble.
Shane gives a detailed explanation of ear training in this blog post.
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Melodic study and writing
What is a melody? How do you begin trying to write one or improve on the one you’ve written? What are the elements of a “good” melody? All good questions! The way to find the answers is to STUDY good melodies. Take a song, strip away the lyrics and the arrangement.
Take away all the production and the singer’s voice. Play the melody by itself with no accompaniment or chords, just the melody. Once you’ve studied the melody: it’s contour and range, the structure and the intervals, the repetition and variation, go ahead and play the melody with the chords. You will hear the melody differently and the pieces will emerge and dissipate all at once. Suddenly you are left with the simplicity and the immeasurable complexity of a great melody. Go ahead, try it with ‘Hey Jude,’ ‘Yesterday,’ ‘Crazy’ or ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’
Aside from the obvious importance of being able to play in tune time, what options do you have when accompanying yourself or someone else? Having options and a skill set with your playing is very important. Dynamics, tone, chord inversions, strumming, chord melody playing, finger style and arpeggiation are elements and skills that need to be mastered in order to provide a good accompaniment.
Being a solid rhythm player that knows how help the singer or soloist BUILD a song and define the sections in a performance or recording session requires a fair amount of study and work.
Lyric study and writing
Like studying melody, isolating the words and lyrics is very important to becoming a better lyricist and songwriter. The study of phrasing, economy, rhyme scheme, imagery and structure will help provide insight into the songwriters you love and admire. Go ahead, try to write something as “simple” as ‘Free Fallin’ or ‘Imagine.’ And ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ is just a series of questions, right? Go the other way and get out there, go wild and yet have it all work and make sense like ‘Desolation Row.’ Along with studying great lyricists and songwriters, there is a reason why songwriters also read a lot of literature, prose and poetry. You want to turn into a sponge and be paying attention to EVERYTHING, like when the drummer says, “It’s been a day’s night.”
Harmony, chord function, and chord progressions
The dictionary defines harmony as:
- the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect.
- agreement or concord.
synonyms: accord, agreement, peace, peacefulness, amity, amicability, friendship, fellowship, cooperation, understanding, consensus, unity, sympathy, rapport, like-mindedness;
unison, union, concert, oneness, synthesis
What we are talking about here is the underlying chords in a song or piece of music. The foundation of harmony is the basic trait, and we have 4 types:
- Major – Root 3rd 5th
- Minor – Root b3rd 5th
- Diminished – Root b3rd b5th
- Augmented – Root 3rd #5th
It is very important to always think in terms of FUNCTION. How does the chord function in a key and a chord progression.
Once you understand how a chord is constructed and what it’s FUNCTION or role is in a key and a chord progression, you are well on your way to making sense of the music you enjoy listening to and having the tool kit to write your own songs and co-write with other songwriters and lyricists. Music will “make” more sense and you will be able to discern keys, pivot chords, tonicizations and modulations.
A chord progression is the order in which the chords are played in a song/piece of music.
As a songwriter/composer, it is very important to not only have an theoretical/technical understanding of harmony, but to have the skill and ability to apply the knowledge in relation to the music YOU want to write and perform. You gain this knowledge by learning music theory and then APPLYING the theory. If you aren’t able to apply the music theory, you will forget it!
Song Analysis and Study
A fantastic way to become a better songwriter is to study other songwriters…really study them. Get inside of your favorite songwriter’s songs and recording and live there for a while. To this day, I still enjoying learning and transcribing a new song or full record when one of my favorite artists puts out a new recording.
I spend a lot of time with my students teaching them how to listen… actively listen. I believe it’s important to pull the songs apart and study all of the components:, melody, lyrics, chord progression, structure, parts and instrumentation/arrangement. I also teach my students how to figure out songs by ear and chart them using the Nashville Number System and traditional song charting. Transcribing songs and being able to write them down is a great way to work on your ear training. Again, I believe immediate application of knowledge is very important.
I often tell my students, “If you wanted to be a great transmission mechanic, you would need to spend a lot of time in the shop with someone that’s been doing it for 20 or 30 years, smokes and swears too much and knows all of the ins and outs and wants to share the information with you.” Getting the information from a book is one thing, studying with someone that knows it AND can teach it, that’s where you want to be.
Form/structure – how to define sections and set up the chorus/hook
Knowing and understanding HOW the different sections of a song or piece of music work together and function individually is an area that is often overlooked when people are writing songs. Often times, songwriters will know the terms intro, verse, pre chorus, chorus, turn around, solo, bridge, coda, etc., but the sections and form can get confused in the process of writing.
Being intentional and clear with the form and structure you are working within is a really important way to keep from getting stuck or bogged down. Is there a big fat chorus or a tagline?
Is it a 12 bar blues? A “pop” song? a folk song? Sonata? Sonata Rondo? A fugue? Is it strophic? Ternary? Binary? Rondo? Arch form?
How we transition and move from section to section helps define those sections.
Often times when a songwriter is stuck, a good place to look is at the sections….and usually, deep down, the songwriter has a sense that “something was wrong with the pre chorus,” or “the bridge just didn’t feel right” but just didn’t know how to address it.
A bridge that doesn’t and feel like a bridge, or function as one, usually is not a bridge but what I call a confused verse.
Again, charting songs and labeling sections is a great way to learn this. Study your favorite songwriters and chart songs….lots of ‘em!