Pop music composition starters – buy my new book!


“Pop Music Composition Starters” is eleven lesson plans that use the history of American popular music as a backbone to teach composition skills to your secondary music students.

These lessons are tried and true tools to get every student in your music class creating in a way they never thought they could do before. The best part is it’s not a complete curriculum – it can be picked apart and done in any order to enhance what you already have in place.

Students will learn how to write melodies and lyrics, use harmonic progressions, perform accompaniments on multiple instruments, record, and edit sound using popular styles from the past and the present.

Buy Now Button

Some lessons require computers and software while others simply require paper and pencil. Some lessons use instruments such as keyboard and guitar while others can be done without instruments at all. Use what you can, adapt what you can, and save the rest for when you can fit it in.

These lessons are the heart of the presentation I’ve written for the National Association for Music Education convention in Grapevine, Texas this November. Being from New York State, the trip to Dallas is going to be expensive. This book is a great opportunity to offer my curriculum for sale to raise some money to defray the cost of the trip and share these lessons with your students.

These lesson plans feature reproducible handouts and step-by-step instructions for each of the pop music compositions I will discuss at the conference. Here’s a full list:

  • Folk Music Lyrics Composition
  • Blues Melody and Lyrics Composition
  • Blues Keyboard Melody Improvisation
  • Rockabilly Guitar Accompaniment Composition
  • Rhythm and Blues Keyboard Accompaniment Improvisation
  • 50s Rock Guitar Accompaniment Composition
  • 70s Bass Line Keyboard Improvisation
  • Rap Introduction Composition
  • 80s Drum Beat Improvisation
  • Sampling Composition
  • Remix Composition

Buy Now Button


If you’re not interested in purchasing the lesson plans, you can make a donation of any amount to my trip if you’d like. Thank you so much for your help and support.

Donate with PayPal

facebook_logo facebook.com/MattWarrenMusic
images (1) @MattWarrenMusic

Pop music composition starters – buy my new book!

Pop music listening activity: “Dibs” by Kelsea Ballerini


The number one song on the Billboard Country Radio play chart for the second cosecutive week is “Dibs” by Kelsea Ballerini. It’s a pretty straightforward song with the lyrics so go ahead and listen to it with your students. Here’s my breakdown:

Form Letter Time Description
Intro 0:00 – 0:09

– Instrumental intro featuring acoustic guitar,
banjo, and light bass and percussion.

Verse A 0:09 – 0:32 “I know everybody wants you, that ain’t no
– Acoustic vibe continues with sparse
accompaniment. Banjo reenters halfway
Chorus B 0:32 – 0:54 “If you got a kiss on your lips that you’re…”
– Accompaniment becomes more lush and
prominent as vocals get fuller.
– Male vocal harmony part joins female lead
and a group “eh” punctuates pauses.

Transition C 0:54 – 1:05 “I’m callin’ dibs, on your lips…”
– New speech-like vocals come in over same
sparse accompaniment from verse.
Verse A 1:05 – 1:26

“Make everybody Jealous…”
– Same music as before but banjo is through
the entire section.
– Adds male harmony to vocal melody.

Chorus  B 1:26 – 1:48 Same as before.
Break D 1:48 – 1:59 Upbeat, restrained electric guitar solo over
chorus accompaniment.
Chorus B 1:59 – 2:21 Same vocal melody as before.
– Accompaniment begins sparse similar to
earlier sections.
– Second half returns to normal.
Transition C 2:21 – 2:31 Same as before
Transition C’ 2:31 – 2:43 Same lyrics as before, presented in a higher
vocal register.
– Accompaniment mirrors the chorus, not
previous transition sections.
Coda 2:43 – 3:03 Extension of the transition with similar lyrics.
– Accompaniment style from chorus continues.

There are multiple ways I have students analyze a song like this. If this is their first time listening critically like this, put a blank spreadsheet on the SMART board of white board for them, replaying the sections several times to let them hear what you are pulling apart. Then go back and listen to the whole thing to show them the overall form. Have them fill it in as you go or just watch and participate. This takes me 45 minutes or so.

Once students get the hang of it, let them pick their own song to analyze. It’s how they build skills for their own compositions and analysis, by listening to what others have done.


facebook_logo facebook.com/MattWarrenMusic
images (1) @MattWarrenMusic

Pop music listening activity: “Dibs” by Kelsea Ballerini

2016 GRAMMYs recap: using the ceremony in the music education classroom


The 2016 GRAMMYs have come and gone. Here are my thoughts as the show was going on and some overall thoughts following the performance. (A nice GRAMMY primer from Vox can help you out, too.)

This is really the overarching theme for the night. While the tributes to Glenn Frey, B.B. King, David Bowie, Maurice White, Michael Jackson, Lemmy Kilmister, and the yearly “those we lost” compilation were all very good individually, as a whole there were almost as many tributes to deceased musicians (7) as actual awards given out on the telecast (8, right?).

Best Performances

My favorites were Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and the David Bowie tribute by Lady Gaga but for completely different reasons. Little Big Town’s performance incorporated some great string accompaniment that is a really easy chord analysis if you’re looking for music ed content.

Gaga’s performance was great for the ingenuity. The opening visuals evoking the different Bowie characters using projection then morphing into new roles along the way was a perfect way to remember Rock’s greatest chameleon.

Worst Performances

Through no fault of her own, Adele’s appearance was marred by technical issues including a weird string sound and her vocal being obscured then completely dropped before returning. She sent a NSFW tweet saying a microphone fell on a piano string causing the entire thing to be out of tune. Without knowing the sound mix going into her ear, it’s very possible that while we stopped hearing it after a little bit, she heard it the entire time. Woof.

So, so many performances were slow during the middle hour of the telecast. Then they got a huge, powerful performance from Kendrick Lamar only to bring it back down with Miguel singing a slow Michael Jackson tribute. Things began to pick up over the last hour of the show.

I love Hamilton. It is not meant to be shared as a single song without show notes or lyrics in front of you. I thought it was awesome that it was featured but I doubt it did anything to broaden the audience for the show.

Most Surprising Moments

The biggest surprise of the night happened in the last five minutes when Taylor Swift took home Album of the Year for 1989. Surely it produced a ton of hit singles, but as a whole I didn’t like the album very much and most expected Lamar to take the top prize.

Another moment late in the telecast, the GRAMMYs went after Spotify without mentioning the streaming service by name saying all the artists that made that song get paid less than a penny every time you stream the song they helped create. A powerful message that they chose to put after 11 p.m. on the East Coast.


facebook_logo facebook.com/MattWarrenMusic
images (1) @MattWarrenMusic


2016 GRAMMYs recap: using the ceremony in the music education classroom

2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees: one song

download (3)

The 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees have been announced. Here is one definitive, school-appropriate song and YouTube video for each nominee and a link to their nominee bio at the Rock Hall website.

The Cars
“My Best Friend’s Girl”

Cheap Trick
“I Want You To Want Me”

“Good Times”

“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”

Deep Purple
“Smoke on the Water”

Janet Jackson
“What Have You Done For Me Lately”

The J.B.’s
“Doing It To Death”

Chaka Khan
“I’m Every Woman”

Los Lobos
“Will the Wolf Survive?”

Steve Miller
“Fly Like an Eagle”

Nine Inch Nails
“The Day The World Went Away”

“Express Yourself”

The Smiths
“Shiela Take A Bow”

The Spinners
“Rubberband Man”

“Owner of a Lonely Heart”


facebook_logo facebook.com/MattWarrenMusic
images (1) @MattWarrenMusic

2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees: one song