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Songwriting Lessons

Online songwriting lessons via Zoom with Cliff Smith, BMus(Hons).

Beginner songwriter wondering where to start? Experienced songwriter needing a different perspective? My songwriting lessons can help!

Beginner Songwriter To Album - In 8 months!

Henry Gata started songwriting lessons with me in March 2023, having never written a song before.

He worked hard and had new songs or song developments to show me every week at our lesson. Henry wrote the songs himself, I just guided him along the way. I made suggestions for a chord here or there, a structural change, a tweak to the guitar solo, a lyric or a backing vocal etc.

Henry released his first album, Kestrel Road, in October 2023. Going from never writing a song to writing, recording and releasing your first album in less than eight months is an epic achievement! I am impressed and I hope that this video will inspire others to try songwriting!

11yr Old Songwriter Leila Fialho - Future Pop Star?

Leila’s songs tell a story. When I first heard them, I knew I was hearing something special. I have been teaching guitar for 25 years, and 11 year old songwriters are a rarity! I wanted the world to hear Leila’s songs, so I made this video.

Leila had started guitar lessons with me as a beginner three years before, and was studying for her grade 4 acoustic guitar exam (which she has since passed with distinction). As well as working through the grades, we had covered a lot of pop songs, and Leila started writing her own songs.

At the time of recording the video, Leila had written four songs. She has since written another four and is about to take her grade 5 exam. I’m really just giving Leila the tools, support and encouragement she needs to be creative. She writes the songs herself and I try not to interfere with her process!

Can A Grinch Write A Christmas Song?

As a lifelong Grinch, in December 2022 I set myself a challenge: Can A Grinch Write A Christmas Song?

In this video you’ll see me write each section of the song and explain my process along the way.

I had a horrible cold while I was recording this, so apologies if my voice is a bit nasal! I hope you like the song!


Sunflower is a song I wrote when I had been teaching and studying a lot of jazz, which bled through into my creative process.

The song originally had a bridge which changed key, and a very ‘clever’ run of chords to get back to the original key. I was very happy with my key change, but I just couldn’t make the whole song work emotionally, so I effectively chopped out more than 50% of the song and threw it away. What was left allowed me to tell a story and create a journey.

Here are some harmonic concepts that I used in the song:

  • Secondary dominants
  • Secondary diminished sevenths
  • Major and minor ii V Is
  • Modal interchange

Songwriting lessons - beginner to advanced

I have been writing songs on and off since I was about 14. Songwriting can be therapy, it can be a diary, it can be story telling, it can be fantasy, it can be abstract imagery – it can be many things.

I have also learned, taught and studied thousands of songs over the course of my lifetime as a guitarist, singer, songwriter, bandleader, performer and teacher.

Who can become a songwriter?

Anyone with basic musical abilities can write a song. Many songs only have two, three or four chords – if you can play two chords you can write a song.

You do not need to be able to read or write sheet music – I can but I rarely write that way.

What do I need?

What you need is time. Lots of time. The first songs you write will probably not be very good, and that is fine – not everything an artist creates is worth making into a finished product.

You need the will to push through this, to keep studying, keep writing, keep editing, keep working on your craft. Before you know it, you’ll have written (and probably rewritten multiple times) a song you are happy with.

I do think that you need to be able to play a harmony instrument such as piano or guitar to at least a basic standard. Singing ability is useful, but not essential. You can write the melody on your instrument, add lyrics and hire a singer to record the vocals for you.

Do I need to buy lots of equipment?

You need to be able to record your ideas. A smartphone is the quickest and simplest way as you always have it with you.

I also recommend typing your song’s chords, lyrics and other ideas either on a computer or your phone or tablet. Set up some kind of automatic cloud backup so that it is impossible for you to lose your notes. Google Docs, iCloud or something like that.

An audio interface and a computer running a DAW such as Garageband, Logic, Reaper, Protools etc will be useful once you have songs written and want to record them at home.

You’ll need a microphone, cable and microphone stand to record vocals and acoustic instruments.

I do have some recommendations for equipment.

You could go to a recording studio, but it may be expensive and you may be stressed due to the unfamiliar environment and time limitations and not get the best results. Saying that, if you are super-organised, well prepared and know exactly what you want, you may get good results for not too much money.

Topics covered in my songwriting lessons


  • Chords
  • Chord progressions
  • Chord movements and cadences
  • Harmonic rhythm


  • Scales, modes & keys
  • Building and releasing tension
  • Chord tones, steps and leaps
  • Chromatic movement


  • To rhyme or not to rhyme?
  • Related words, synonyms etc
  • Multi-level editing
  • Concept, story
  • POV, timeline
  • Brainstorming


  • Verse, chorus, bridge
  • Instrumental hooks
  • Pre and post choruses
  • Intros and outros
  • Solos
  • Arranging and instrumentation

Recording your song:

  • Setting up your home studio
  • Recording as a creative process
  • Creating texture and interest within the arrangement
  • Backing vocals
  • Mixing and mastering
  • Working with other musicians, engineers etc.


  • Analysing existing songs
  • Analysing what you have written


  • How to start your first song
  • How to finish an existing song
  • How to work even when you are not feeling inspired


  • Choosing appropriate rhythms for the style or genre
  • Varying and combining rhythms to create texture and build or release tension.

There is a lot more we can cover – I can’t list it all!


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