What is a Songwriting Degree?

Degree programs in songwriting teach the art of writing lyrics (words) and composing music for songs. Many programs do not require that students know how to read music or play an instrument. Classes cover music history, music theory, ear training, composition, and performance. Listed below are some sample courses. Of course, specific course content varies by degree level.

  • Lyric Writing Techniques
  • Music Composition Techniques
  • Melody and Harmony
  • Arranging, Instrumentation, and Production
  • What Makes a Song a Hit
  • Songwriting for Film and TV
  • Writing Songs for Advertising / Commercials
  • World Music Styles
  • Co-Writing
  • Songwriting Software
  • Poetry Studies
  • Renowned Songwriters and Musicians Studies

Program Options

Diploma or Associate Degree in Songwriting
Diploma and associate degree programs in songwriting do exist; however, most of them are introductory in nature and prepare students for further study at the bachelor’s level.

Courses may include some or all of the following:

  • Private Instruction
  • Ensemble
  • Music Application and Theory
  • Ear Training
  • Introduction to Music Technology
  • Arranging for Songwriters
  • Harmony
  • Basic Keyboard Techniques for Songwriters
  • Instrumental Lab
  • Songwriting
  • Lyric Writing
  • Tonal Harmony and Composition
  • Conducting
  • Arranging for Songwriters
  • Directed Study in Songwriting
  • Counterpoint
  • Survey of Popular Song Styles
  • Singer/Songwriter Workshop
  • The Business of Songwriting
  • Senior Seminar in Songwriting

Bachelor’s Degree in Songwriting
Bachelor’s programs prepare students to enter the songwriting and music fields. The focus is on:

  • Learning about melody, harmony, and arranging
  • Cultivating an individual writing style
  • Developing a portfolio of original songs

The subjects that are covered in associate programs are taught at the bachelor’s level in greater depth. Additional classes typically include:

  • Music Literature
  • Music History
  • Guitar Techniques for Songwriters
  • Music Acoustics
  • Architectural Acoustics
  • Principles of Audio Electronics
  • Professional Development Seminar
  • History of Music in the European Tradition
  • Music History Elective – examples: Jazz, Rock, Country, Film Music, American Musical Theater

Master’s Degree in Songwriting
In their master’s degree program, songwriting students take classes in:

  • Songwriting history and criticism
  • Song analysis and research
  • Audio production
  • Recording technology
  • The music industry as a business

The master’s curriculum typically also provides several opportunities to participate in songwriter forums and master classes taught by professional lyricists and composers. Emphasis is placed on courses like:

  • Private Composition / Songwriting
  • Composers Forums
  • Seminar in Songwriting
  • Contemporary Scoring
  • Recitals
  • Seminar in Music Theory
  • Psychology of Music

Degrees Similar to Songwriting

Film Scoring
Degree programs in film scoring teach students how to create music for film, television, video games, and virtual reality experiences. The typical curriculum covers scoring terminology, techniques, and aesthetics and includes at least one hands-on project of scoring a short film.

Music
This degree field presents another option to students drawn to songwriting. Depending on the level of degree, programs in this discipline may include courses in music theory, composition, and performance; as well as production techniques and methods and the business of music.

Music History, Literature, and Theory
The focus of this degree program is the exploration of the history of music styles, musical instruments, musical techniques, and what has been written about them over time.

Music Management and Merchandising
This degree field focuses on the business aspects of the music industry, specifically on managing musician careers and record labels. Coursework includes music law, music contracts, and music marketing.

Music Performance
Degrees in music performance are targeted specifically at students who wish to become musicians.

Music Teacher Education
Students who major in this field learn how to teach music and music appreciation.

Music Therapy
Degree programs in music therapy teach students how to use music as a therapy to support health and well-being and treat and rehabilitate patients with physical, mental, or emotional illnesses or disabilities. This degree is of particular interest to individuals who have an interest in and appreciation for the art of music, the science of healthcare and rehabilitation, and the psychology that connects them.

Musical Theater
The focus of the musical theater degree is training in acting, singing, and dancing.

Skills You'll Learn

The study of songwriting leaves students with some widely transferable skills:

Creativity
The process of any writing a song is most definitely creative.

Collaboration
Songwriting is not always solitary. Co-writing, of course, is a collaborative process.

Discipline
While songwriting is an artistic undertaking, it also requires an understanding of the elements of melody, harmony, rhythm, form, dynamics, tempo, and timbre. In other words, there is a structure to songwriting that demands dedication and discipline.

What Can You Do with a Songwriting Degree?

Songwriting
Of course, the goal of students of songwriting is to work directly in the field. There are several kinds of songwriting from which to choose:

  • Songwriting in a band – this involves splitting up publishing credits and royalties
  • Songwriting for other artists – often writing for artists who already have an audience
  • Freelance songwriting – one-off jobs for which writers are paid an hourly rate or a flat fee, instead of in royalties
  • Songwriting exclusively for one music publisher – these songwriters are called staff songwriters or staff writers
  • Writing song lyrics only – ‘lyricists’ work only on the lyrics or words of a song, not on the music
  • Writing children’s songs – children’s songwriters are hired for birthday and holiday parties, community events, etc.

Composing
This field requires knowledge in music theory, composition, and songwriting. Potential jobs include:

  • Composing for film – writing the score for films
  • Composing for television – writing the themes and background scores for TV shows
  • Freelance composing – writing for multiple clients, which could come from many sectors: business, non-profit, event production, film, and TV

Production
Songwriting and music/song production are closely aligned. This field presents another career opportunity for those with a background in songwriting:

  • Vocal Producer (also called ‘Top-Line Songwriter’) – top-line songwriters work in popular music genres, creating vocal melodies, harmonies and lyrics that fit into producers’ digitally constructed instrumental tracks

Performance
‘Performing Songwriters,’ also called ‘Artist Songwriters’ or ‘Singer-Songwriters’ write, record, release, and perform original songs. They may work alone or collaborate with other writers.

Musical Theater
Writing songs for musical theater productions can be particularly demanding, especially if numerous songs are to be created by a single writer.

Advertising
The advertising field hires songwriters to write ‘jingles’ for commercials. The work involves collaborating with ad campaign creative teams.

Salary

Find out what graduates typically earn.

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