A Songwriting Crash Course for Kids and Parents

Music theory is a complex language. It often left me cross-eyed all through high school. Despite being the first chair flutist, lead vocalist in the jazz choir, and bandleader of a 7-piece funk band, I had no freakin' idea how to unpack the depths of Music Theory Land.  Now that I run Free Spirits Music, I've devised a super-easy, super-fun way to deliver this information to my students.

Music theory is a complex language. It often left me cross-eyed all through high school.

Despite being the first chair flutist, lead vocalist in the jazz choir, and bandleader of a 7-piece funk band, I had no freakin' idea how to unpack the depths of Music Theory Land. 

Now that I run Free Spirits Music, I've devised a super-easy way to deliver this information to my students in our first lesson together.

Step 1: Get inspired.

No matter how complex a subject is, our focus remains steady when we are committed to it. To create this commitment, we'll write (or pick) a song that inspires our soul. From this feeling is where our strength lies.

Step 2: Learn the chord tree.

Every chord you learn will be only one string or one fret away from the previous chord you played. This minimizes the amount of movement the left hand does on the fretboard. Some chord progressions that work really well with the chord tree are:

  • Em Asus4 Em Cmaj7
  • G6 Cmaj7 Em
  • E A
  • F C G6

Step 3: Embrace opposites.

What makes the form of a song captivating is balancing how you repeat the groove in the verse/chorus and shake things up in the bridge. This is typically the function of a bridge. The quickest way to demonstrate this is with major and minor chords. Major chords have a happy texture while minor chords sound more somber. One way to reinforce form through chordal relationships is with this basic rule:

If the verse and chorus start with a major chord, the bridge could start with a minor chord.
If the verse and chorus start with a minor chord, the bridge could start with a major chord.

Of course, there are many ways to create a bridge, but this is a simple and direct method. Every major chord has a relative minor chord that sounds powerful with it. We use these relative chords to create texture, color, and variation in our songs.

Tell me: What is the most brilliant song you have ever heard? Leave it in the comments below.