This class provides a stylistically open foundation in guitar playing focused on the needs and working processes of songwriters. The class integrates knowledge of theory approached in terms of the guitar fingerboard with songwriting/composition concepts and skills. Each session introduces technical work on guitar skills development, along with small composition exercises, performed and evaluated in class by the instructor and peer critique.
This class will offer a foundation in keyboard and piano playing specifically for songwriters. The course will integrate keyboard technique, specifically theory as applied to seeing and playing it on the piano, with songwriting and composition techniques and processes. The student will work with scales, major and minor triads including inversions, suspensions and colors/tensions, voice led I-IV-V progressions, and excursions into blues and dorian and mixolydian modes, with attention to emotional tone and compositional color. Writing assignments will allow students to learn concepts through creative work. The course will also serve as a survey of basic piano pop rhythmic styles, working with rhythm templates as bases for individual embellishment. Although in format this class will resemble a lab, the combination of technical and writing assignments presented will require delivery as a full 2-hour class session. The goal of this class is to provide a foundation for creative work on the piano for students for whom piano is a second instrument.
The purpose of this course is to provide the student with an overview of the contributions that songwriters have made to 20th-century American culture. Included will be a history of the sources of, and the trends in, various popular American styles, including the blues, standards, show country music, and the more contemporary and progressive styles of rock, pop, and new wave. This course will use the basic technical and analytical tools taught in SW-221 and SW-211 to study and analyze significant popular songs and song styles.
Rooted in the African cultural diaspora, improvisation is an ancient form of musical communication. The process of discovering and collaborating on ideas in the moment is at the core of productive learning, and provides a solid foundation for songwriting. This workshop introduces improvisation tools and techniques to explore effective processes of creating music and lyrics. Students learn via action-based teaching methodology in the classroom, where students’ instruments include voices, hands, feet and desks, as well as piano and guitar. Students improvise and perform original songs in the classroom and create a final performance presentation at the end of the semester. They learn various approaches to finding and cultivating song ideas through the art of playing improvisation games including free word association, singing melodies, clapping and rapping rhythms, jamming with instruments, object writing (stream of consciousness), and rhyming (games are loosely based off of those presented in the famous television show Whose Line Is It Anyway? but in a songwriting context). Students develop words into lyric rhythms, lyric rhythms into melodic motifs, and melodic motifs into longer phrases over harmonic and rhythmic ideas. Students successfully apply improvisational techniques to their songwriting practice in order to become more prolific and have an intrinsically rewarding experience. With emphasis on incorporating musical dialogue, student-run composition, and instructor-initiated improvisation techniques, students find total engagement in creative activity as a means of initiating more possibility for inspiration, innovation, and song collaboration.
Note: SW-261 replaces SW-361 as a songwriting major requirement. SW-361 is no longer offered as of 2017 spring.
The second level Pro Tools-based production course provides songwriters tools to compete in the current marketplace, equipping them with strategies needed to be in control of their content, enhance their songwriting skills and increasing their employability. In this course, students learn to create demos of their songs using a combination of recorded audio and synthesized/sampled textures in order to fit their needs. They use virtual instruments; learn to mic multiple audio sources; create semi-professional level mixes that incorporate groups, effects and effect chains; and more. Students create a personal workflow for composition, demo production and file management.
This course will offer a foundation in writing topline for pop songs. Toplining is the practice of creating and recording the melody and lyric line for tracks that have already been recorded by track producers, or producers who specialize in creating rhythmic and harmonic structures. The practice has become the industry standard for pop, r&b, and dance songs; virtually all modern pop hits are written in teams by producers and topline writers. The course will focus on techniques for creating topline for tracks including: writing vocal hooks, developing melodic motives through judicious melodic rhythmic and note choice, defining sections through melodic contrast, modern pop forms, and vocal recording techniques like doubling, editing, tuning, processing, and applying effects. Through a series of projects, students learn how to use logic and record their voice as well as deliver a finished topline work, including dealing with the music industry, its players, its gatekeepers, and its many pitfalls.
This course will explore contemporary R&B and its resurgence as a force on the top 40 charts. R&B is a popular genre whose foundation is built on African-American spirituals, jazz, and Western classical music, and represents the marriage of black church music and more modern influences such as hip-hop and contemporary popular music. Topics will range from the history of the R&B and songwriting and production styles to toplining, collaboration, and the business behind the genre. The course will include critical listening, analysis, and songwriting.
Building on student's Ableton Live skills developed in SW-181, this course provides the songwriter with the tools to compete in the current marketplace, equips them with the tools and strategies to be in control of their content, enhances their songwriting skills/workflow, provides them with creative digital tools to use in their writing, and increases their employability. Students record their original songs, learning advanced recording skills, including mic placement, recording vocals, EQ and compression, preproduction, overdubs, and mixing. Students sonically recolor existing songs using their writing and production skills, as well as constructing a musical piece from found sounds or samples. Students also create a collaborative performance piece.
Building on skills developed in SW-191, Logic Skills for Songwriters, this course teaches students advanced Logic skills. Topics include: creating demos using a hybrid combination of recorded audio and synthesized/sampled textures; critical listening and how to recreate specific sounds and textures; virtual instruments, both synthesized and sample-based; mic utilization, selection, and placement; recording, comping, and editing multiple audio takes; advanced mixing skills; and workflow management.
Special Topics in Songwriting sections are advanced-level songwriting project classes, focusing on special topics at a depth beyond that possible in general songwriting classes. Topics may include: songwriting in specific musical genres and styles; new creative work inspired by analysis of work of seminal songwriters, artists, or groups; or professional areas of focus that demand specialized songwriting knowledge and technical skills. Each course section, taught by a specific faculty member in a given semester, will vary in scope and depth of coverage of the given topic area, and in the sequence and emphasis of semester projects. Students should consult the course description for the specific section and semester, available at berklee.edu/songwriting.
A writing workshop geared to the producer, arranger, or songwriter that focuses on writing original songs for artists, television or film, or other content requiring original songs. The workshop involves collaboration and addresses the creative process from many angles in order to allow the student to develop varied skills and approaches. Lead sheets and multi-track demos are required.
A course in workshop format designed to help the student develop individual style and technique in lyric writing. The course will focus on prosody of form and content, setting lyric to music and vice versa, and on the integration of techniques learned in SW-221 and SW-222.