Pop Music Theory


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2: Practicing Songwriting

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Lesson 2: Practicing Songwriting

This lesson offers a plan for growing your songwriting/composing skills (no actual "music theory" in this one).

Songwriters seem to use two basic approaches to growing their skills:
  • Intuitive Approach
  • Analytical Approach

Intuitive Approach

In an intuitive approach, you just write what "comes naturally". You don't analyze music or do "exercises". Most composers (myself included) probably started this way, and plenty of composers use only this approach.

If you're happy with an intuitive approach, that's great. But if:
  • You're in a rut (you feel like you only have a few different musical ideas);
  • You hear music and think "how can I write something like that?";
... then an analytical approach can help.

Analytical Approach

In an analytical approach, you study why good music sounds good (which is just what "music theory" is). And you can combine theory with a structured practice plan which helps you actually use the theory when you write.

A Structured Practice Plan

Your own personal practice plan can take many forms. Here's an example you can use as-is or for inspiration:

Major activities:
Divide your practice time among these 3 major activities:
  • Writing
  • Analyzing
  • Exercises

To grow your writing skills, you have to write (of course).

This means, study good music and figure out why it sounds good, how it's using music theory concepts, "how it works". This is what these Pop Music Theory lessons are all about.

Finally, to connect analyzing and writing, do "writing exercises" to practice actually using the theory concepts you learn. These lessons suggest some exercises, but you can also invent your own.

The "real theory" starts with Lesson 3: Pitch Names.


1: Introduction
2: Practicing Songwriting
3: Pitch Names
4: Letters Game
5: Sharps & Flats
6: Half-Steps & Whole-Steps
7: Steps Game
8: Scales
9: Major Scale 1-2-3
10: Major 1-2-3 Games
11: Major Scale 1-5
12: Major 1-5 Games
13: Chords: Major Triads
14: Major Triad Games
15: Minor Triads
16: Minor Triad Games
17: Major Scale 1-8
18: Major Scale Games
19: Keys
20: Roman Numeral Chords
21: Scales Above 8
22: Diatonic Triads
23: Using Diatonics
24: Tonic Function
25: Subdominant & Dominant
26: Diatonic Function Analysis
27: Natural Minor Scale
28: Natural Minor Games
29: Minor Key Triads
30: 7th Chords
31: 7ths Games
32: Suspended-4th Chords
33: Time: Beats & Measures
34: Starting a Song: Hook Chords
35: Melody: Chord Tones
36: Treble Staff
37: Treble Staff Game
38: Note Lengths
39: Tied & Dotted Notes
40: Rhythm: Rests
41: Key Signatures
42: Syncopation
43: Pentatonic Scales
44: Hook Melodies
45: Hook to Chorus: Rolling Stone
46: Melody Rhythm: Rolling Stone
47: Non-Root-Bass Chords
48: Embellishing Tones
49: Diatonic 7ths
50: Pitch & Frequency

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