Pat Pattison’s Songwriting Course

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Earlier this year I took Pat Pattison’s free on-line songwriting course through coursera.org (https://www.coursera.org/course/songwriting ). The main focus of the course was on writing lyrics and less on writing music. The aim was to write coherent lyrics which tell a story with a beginning, middle and end in a rhythmic way which is modeled after the natural flow of spoken language.

I took the course naively thinking that I would get some professional feedback on some of my songs. Little did I know that over 63,000 people signed up for the course. With that kind of enrolment, even if half the students drop out, it is totally unrealistic to expect any interaction with the instructor beyond what is given in the downloadable video lectures.

The course consists of weekly video lectures in small bite-sized segments, quizzes on the lectures and song-writing assignments with three parts: the assignment, a peer-review assignment to evaluate five other students’ work and a review of your own work by five other students. If you don’t review five other students yourself, you don’t get feedback on your own work. The quizzes may be taken over and over again (up to 100 times!) until you get it all right. The final grade in the course is derived from a combination of quizzes, assignments delivered and peer-review grades.

I very quickly came to find that the peer-review component of the course was in general, not very useful. Many of the students are not native English speakers, some of the students (regardless of their native language) do not know English grammar, and some have just not understood the lessons. You have all levels of songwriting knowledge among the students and yet five random individuals grade your work. This is the Achilles heel of the course. I soon came to disregard the results of the peer-review process.

The good news is that the video lectures are very good and have lots to teach. His style of delivery takes a bit to get used to – he never looks at the camera, which is somewhat disconcerting and his deadpan style of delivery makes you wonder sometimes, what’s up with this guy.

Pat teaches several concepts:

1. Song development via his “box method” with each successive box containing more and more detail such that the song moves forward.

2. Stability vs. unstablity in lines, in rhymes, in song components to propel the song forward or to bring it to rest..

3. Natural language flow and how to place musical stress on important words in the lyrics and avoid stressing unimportant words for clearer communication of the message to listeners.

4. The types of rhyme and how they may be used to stabilize or destabilize lyric lines.

5. How to use rhyme-type and a rhyme dictionary as a search engine to brainstorm ideas for your song and effectively defeat writer’s block. (A very cool concept.)

There is not much on chord progressions or melody and many loops are available for download is you are musically challenged. Most of the focus is on lyrics. He used to be an English professor I believe.

The course was well worth the time. Forget the peer review and concentrate on the principles in the videos and the exercises.