Composer’s Compass

Intermixing Rap and Songwriting Skills

by admin on April 23, 2013


The weather in the Rochester area of New York state is a crazy mix of temperatures and weather conditions in early Spring. This last week we had 75 degree gorgeousness one day, followed by plummeting temperatures and snow flurries the next.  I wanted to incorporate a songwriting experience into one of my group sessions as we were exploring different songs about sun and rain.  I decided to center the experience around the popular chorus of “Joy and Pain” by Old School Players.  Selecting popular hooks or choruses from existing rap songs is a great step in exploring rap in creative songwriting.  I then outlined four different rap verses for students to choose from.  Since this small group of students needed a lot of visual and language support in the songwriting process, I included a vocabulary bank for each fill-in-the-blank section.  One student used the vocabulary list as more of an example of words to use, and then selected their own words.  Here is a sample of one of the verses.


I created the background music for the rap using rhythm loops in Garageband and adding a simple repeating bass line.  I kept the music the same throughout to make it easier for students to perform their rap without the stress of trying to time their solo to fit between verse and chorus changes.  Each person took a turn saying their rap into the microphone.  We would then repeat the rap again with everyone saying it together.  The group repeated the chorus section between every rap verse and also added simple movements to the words.

You could simply use a keyboard accompaniment style like rap or hip-hop to provide the backbeat.  Garageband for the iPad has a Smart Drum section that can create amazing looped rhythms.  Below is a sample of this feature I found on YouTube.

Become a Song Shop member to download the MP3 I created in GarageBand, plus the Pages/PDF files for the songwriting experience.


Exploring Job Goals Through Songwriting

by admin on January 6, 2013

One aspect of the Therapeutic Arts Program at Blue Ridge is to expose our students (ages 17-30) to prevocational training in their program.  This may include self-assessment of skills, creating resumes, community outings, or working on job skills like (planning, sorting, alphabetizing, following directions, working as a team member to complete a project, etc.).  For some students, I actually have them sort through 40 “Job Skill” cards that list different things people like to do (work with animals, help others, perform, work with books, cook, etc.) and through a process of elimination, the student ends up with 4-5 of their favorite “Job Skill” cards.  This gives me a basic job profile and then later I may suggest a volunteer job option to the family.  I usually create a song on-the-spot for each person to then share their individual likes with the group. I also ask the group to try to remember one thing that each person liked to do, promoting social awareness and listening skills.

This week I decided to take the basic theme of New Year’s resolutions, and put a twist on it by exploring future job goals.  I decided to use the song “I Want to Be a Billionaire” by Travie McCoy.  I knew it was a familiar song to most of my students, and would be fun to rework the lyrics to make it more appropriate for the activity.  I selected certain lines in the song to become fill-in-the-blank sections.  Since many of my students have expressing language deficits, I always make sure to provide a word bank for every fill-in-the-blank section.  Here is one example of a finished project, the BOLD words are the words selected by one student:

I wanna be a VOLUNTEER, so, so bad.

I BELIEVE it’s the best job to have.

I wanna spend my days HELPING OTHER PEOPLE.

Smiling each and every day.


Oh, every time I close my eyes.

I see my name in shining lights.

Come home late every night, oh I, I swear.

The world better prepare,

When I become a VOLUNTEER.


I accompanied each student on the ukulele and they took turns singing their song.  We sang most of the chorus together as a group and each soloist sang the last line by themselves.  The student who wrote the example above then started her own rap to go along with the song in her private lesson.  Here it is:

I would walk beside you

Sing a song to you

Make your day better

Help you with whatever.

I would cheer for you

Anything for you

I would lend a hand

A Zumba dance band.

Cuz I’m a volunteer,

I’m a volunteer.

Get your silverware,

Help you with your hair.

Cuz I’m a volunteer, I’m a volunteer

Take away your fear cuz I will be right here.

Become a Song Shop member and download the 40 Job Skill cards and “I Want to Be A ____” songwriting worksheet.






“Holidays” by L. Oliver & W. Richards

November 26, 2012

“Holidays” is a songwriting collaboration between Time for Music and Lindsey Oliver from Allegro Harmonies.  Lindsey and I work together at Blue Ridge Music Therapy Center and we thought it would be fun to sit down and write a holiday song together.  Songwriting with a partner is great because often you lead each other through […]

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“The Sorrow Stings” by Wade Richards

April 11, 2012

I wrote this song to use with a young adult who was battling severe depression and an eating disorder.  I had asked the student the week before to pick several words out a list I had created for the session.  The list included two separate columns of words.  The words on one side had negative […]

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Composer’s Compass: Lyrical Paraphrasing

February 22, 2012

  Paraphrasing, or the rewording of something written or spoken by someone else, is a great skill to learn.  Often a deeper meaning of the work is achieved through the basic steps of paraphrasing.  I have found this to be an exciting songwriting technique when working with individuals with special needs.  Often my students have […]

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Composer’s Compass: Guest Post by Rachel Rambach, MM, MT-BC

January 20, 2011

Helping songwriters navigate through their creativity and the songwriting process. Adventures In Songwriting: My Process Guest Post by Rachel Rambach, MM, MT-BC There’s a learning curve involved in honing any new skill, and songwriting is no exception.  My early days as a songwriter were filled with experimentation and abandoned attempts, but that is what led […]

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Composer’s Compass: Rhythm Play

January 15, 2011

Helping songwriters navigate through their creativity and the songwriting process. Rhythm Play Here is a fun way to create new rhythms in your songwriting process.  Select 3-5 songs you currently are enjoying listening to.  If you have an iPod, you can simply go to your “Recently Played” file and pick a few of the top […]

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Composer’s Compass: Word Play

November 30, 2010

Helping songwriters navigate through their creativity and the songwriting process. Word Play At a loss for words to start the songwriting process with a client or yourself?  Sort through your music collection and find a song that portrays the emotion or concept you are looking to connect to.  Or, sometimes a random song works just […]

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Composer’s Compass: The Songwriter’s Need for Feedback

November 23, 2010

Helping songwriters navigate through their creativity and the songwriting process. Following a recent training course I lead for music therapists titled “Songwriter’s Garden”, I realized that music therapists need a place (or person) to bounce off ideas for songwriting and receive some basic feedback.  The feedback portion is always an important step in the songwriting […]

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