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Rachel Efron
Rachel Efron
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Overview & Registration



Explore melody writing, basic harmony, more adventurous chord progressions, song form, rhyme schemes and the instrumental component of songwriting, all with the purpose of honing your unique voice as a composer. Most importantly, develop two or three songs to be workshopped and refined in real time over the course of the term.

Saturdays 1:30 – 3 pm
1/12 – 3/16 (10 weeks)
Rachel Efron • $415


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DEPARTMENT: Composition

COURSE #: 66

COURSE TITLE:  Songwriting

COURSE DESCRIPTION: In this course students explore lyric writing, melody writing, combining words and melody, chord progressions, song form, and the instrumental component of songwriting, all with the purpose of homing in on each student’s unique songwriting voice.  Every week there are in-class and at-home composition and listening exercises, and students are asked to begin the practices of “morning pages” and melody/harmony transcription.  Most importantly, students develop two or three songs over the duration of the course, to be presented and workshopped in class.

COURSE OBJECTIVES: To cultivate skills in each of the major aspects of songwriting, to develop the tools to learn from the students’ favorite songwriters, and to write two to three new songs.

COURSE PREREQUISITES: There are no specific prerequisites for the course, though prior study of music theory, facility on an instrument, and experience writing songs are all beneficial.  Students should bring paper and pencil, their instrument, and songs they have written to class.


Week 1

The words

This week we focus on two main things: how to locate the subject matter of songs, and how to come up with the words for lyrics.  We begin the practice of “morning pages” for the purpose of excavating each students’ songwriting raw material.  Tools for brainstorming song lyrics are offered and explained.  Students study a lyric that they love.

Week 2


Oftentimes writing better songs means writing better melodies, and yet this is a component of songwriting that is often overlooked.  This week we take a good clear look at melody, specifically how to begin melodies with strong statements, and how to compose beautiful and balanced melodies with via concept of statement and response.  Students study a melody that they love.

Week 3


This week we tackle the negotiation of lyrics and melody.  A model for understanding this negotiation is presented.  Students are all but guaranteed to hear songs differently after looking through the lens of phrasing.  Students are shown how to begin with lyrics to find melody and how to begin with melody to find lyrics.  Students study a song whose phrasing they love.

Week 4

Chord progressions — diatonic harmony

This week we begin our study of chord progressions by getting to know the four basic triads, where they occur within a key, and how they like to move from one to the next.  By the end of this class students will have a better sense of how to navigate inside of a key.

Week 5

Chord progressions — nuance within diatonic harmony

We spend a second week inside of the key to explore all of the beautiful nuance that can be found there.  In particular, we discuss inversions, suspension, extensions, and slash chords as ways to create harmonic intrigue even without leaving a key.  Students study the diatonic chord motion in a song they love.

Week 6

Chord progressions — leaving the key

Finally we set off into other keys.  Students are shown ways to create even more exciting chord progressions by borrowing chords from other keys, without losing the sense of the original home key.  Students study a song they love that uses chords from outside of its original key.

Week 7

Song form

This week we discuss not formula, but form.  We explore song form as yet another realm for creativity.  We discuss how to build a song organically, by knowing the various possible parts of a song (verse, chorus, bridge, pre-chorus, intro, outro), and by imagining out a whole song from whatever piece the student first has.  Students study songs they love with interesting song forms.

Week 8

The instrumental component of songwriting

This week we discuss how an instrument can do more than just “accompany”, but can actually be a part of the identity of a song.  In particular, we look at how to write compelling song introductions, so that the song begins in its first second and not only with the entrance of the words, and how to weave the themes of that introduction through the whole song.

Week 9

Review of concepts as needed and extra time for song workshopping.

Week 10

Review of concepts as needed and extra time for song workshopping.
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Rachel Efron (songwriting) 

B.A., Harvard U. (extensive coursework in both writing and music). Studied jazz piano with faculty at Berklee College of Music. Released three albums of original music and toured on both coasts. Bandleader of Rachel Efron Ensemble, which has performed locally at such venues as Yoshi’s, The Plush Room, The Independent, Freight and Salvage, and Cafe Du Nord.
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