Compose Yourself: A Quick Guide To Titles


Videos by American Songwriter

The premise of the “Compose Yourself” course is that your most valuable musical asset is your musical imagination. However, it doesn’t hurt to have a fine guitar on hand to give voice to your musical thoughts. In general, I have been playing a Hagstrom jazz guitar as backup on the videos. Hagstroms have a light touch and great tone, and I’m very fond of the HJ800 seen in the videos, which offers great value for a modest price.

Future presentations will be spiced up with a selection of world-class acoustic and electric guitars generously on loan from Taylor Guitars, who happen to be friends and neighbors of mine here in San Diego. Video 1.2 has a performance of a Scottish folk tune on an 518e Grand Orchestra (cutaway electric) acoustic (at 6:10). Video 1.28 features a prototype of the new 8.14ce (cutaway electric), designed and built by Taylor’s master luthier, Andy Powers. The tone is exquisite—unfortunately, you can barely see it, but I’ll correct that in a future video. Taylor is constantly testing, evolving and improving, and I’ve been very impressed with their latest instruments. It’s a privilege to have the chance to share them with you in this series. (This is a voluntary, unpaid endorsement.)

There are now 28 videos on the “Songwriting ABCs” channel on YouTube and posted here at We have completed the course overview, the introduction to sight-reading rhythm, and are now in the midst of showing how to read and play the examples from Excerpt 1. The videos are averaging about six minutes each.

Twenty-eight videos are a lot to keep track of, so this month’s blog provides a quick reference guide to all video titles. This compendium makes it easier to see the organization of the material. It will be helpful if you want to refer to a video you’ve already seen, or you want to home in on a specific theme. I will update this index from time to time in the future.

The numbering system is easy to understand. All videos beginning with a “1” are related to Excerpt 1. For example, “Video 1.20” is the 20th video for Excerpt 1. The first video in the series about Excerpt 2 will be numbered “Video 2.1,” and so on.

Excerpts 1 and 2 are available by emailing [email protected] and typing “Request Compose Yourself Excerpts 1 and 2” in the Subject line. You can request the five free ebooks published in conjunction with “Measure for Measure” the same way.

Please feel free to email questions about the videos or ebooks to [email protected]. I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can. Your questions may become the subject of future blogs.

Initially I had planned to go straight into the musical dialog games, but out of consideration for non-sight-readers, I decided to add supplemental videos on “how to read music” and “reading and playing the examples.” The pace will pick up as soon as it’s safe to assume that everyone can read the examples.


1.1       Compose Yourself – Songwriting ABCs: Intro, Part I (9:07)

1.2       Compose Yourself – Songwriting ABCs: Intro, Part II (7:30)


1.3       Intro to Rhythm, Pt. 1 (4:31)

1.4       Intro to Rhythm, Pt. 2 (5:33)


1.5       Sight-Reading Rhythm, Pt. 1 (4:25)

1.6       Reading Rhythm, Pt. 2 (4:01)

Quickly and correctly reading rhythm is one of the most difficult parts of sight-reading. A clear understanding of the basics can spare you years of grief and make it easier to notate your songwriting ideas on paper. That’s what I hope this introduction will provide.

We’re going to cover all the symbols used in Excerpt 1 from the book, and that includes some syncopated (offbeat) rhythms as we get into eighth notes.

1.7       Quiz 1, Pt. 1 – Listen and Write the Rhythm (7:37)

This quiz has two parts. Part 1 covers one-measure rhythms with quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes. Part 2 covers two-measure rhythms.

1.8       Quiz 1, Pt. 2 – Two-Measure Rhythms (7:08)

I will play some two-measure rhythms that use only quarter notes (one beat), half notes (two beats), or whole notes (four beats). Just listen to the rhythm, then write it down.

1.9       Reading Eighth Notes, Pt. 1 (4:43)

Cracking the code of flags and beams.

1.10     Reading Eighth Notes, Pt. 2 (8:06)

The rhythms start to get interesting when eighth notes are combined with the other note values you know (whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes).

1.11     Reading Rhythms With Ties (9:40)

Songwriting means mixing two languages into one intensely expressive art form. The two languages are “natural” language (lyrics), and the musical language. Both use sound to encode meaning. While music lacks literal meaning, it more than compensates with the added dimensions of harmony, rhythm, and melody.

1.12     Reading Dotted Notes (5:47)

1.13     Reading Rests (7:52)

This is the last of the videos on sight-reading. Everyone should be able to read the examples now as I play through them, beginning in Video 1.14.

After familiarizing ourselves with the examples, we will begin playing the dialog games. 


1.14     “Read and Play” Exs. 1-1 and 1-2 (5:57)

1.15     “Read and Play” Ex. 1-3, Nos. 1 through 5 (3:04)

In this segment I will be … dropping a few guitar-playing hints.

1.16     “Read and Play” Ex. 1-3, Nos. 6 through 15 (8:55)

1.17     “Read and Play” Ex. 1-3, Nos. 16-20 (4:09)

1.18     “Read and Play” Ex. 1-4 (4:23)

A short video on playing the Q&A game with one-measure motives.

1.19     Secrets of Pickup Beats (5:18)

Ever wonder why you sometimes find one or more beats missing from the final measure of a phrase, and NO rests to complete the measure? …After watching this video, you’ll see why this happens, and how the pickup beat alters EVERYTHING about the rhythm of a musical phrase.

1.20     The Rolling Wave Rhythm (3:40)

A “rolling wave” is a group of melody notes that cluster around the downbeat, with rests before and after, which creates a telegram-like effect…. They are usually found in two-measure sections, which are the typical building blocks of pop songs and blues..

1.21     New Sight-Reading Symbols in Exs. 1-5, 1-6, 1-7 (7:04)

Examples 1-5 through 1-7 in Excerpt 1 from my book, “Compose Yourself,” include some new sight-reading symbols, such as the five-line staff, the G-clef (treble clef), and key signatures. Those are covered in this video.

1.22     Reading Guitar Tab and Playing the G Major Scale (5:39)

1.23     Reading 16th-Notes, Plus 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4 Time (6:43)

In this video we show typical 16th-note figures (one-beat groupings) and learn how to count them off. With practice, these counts become part of your rhythmic vocabulary, just like words.

1.24     “Read and Play” for Ex. 1-5, “The Ash Grove” (4:08)

1.25     “Read and Play” Ex. 1-6 “Musette” by J.S. Bach (4:49)

The two-measure unit of construction called a “section” is extremely common in pop songs. Even J.S. Bach liked it, as this example shows.

1.26     “Read and Play” Ex. 1-7 by Mozart (8:32)

The example is played first, then we talk briefly about key signature and rhythm.

Most of the rest of the video concerns the musical punctuation marks that define sections. Then we replay the example so you can mark all of the things that form the boundaries between sections.

1.27     Top 5 Goals for the Dialog Games (8:42)

Counting down the Top 5 goals for playing the dialog games.

1.28     “Read and Play” Ex.1-8, Parrot Game, in sections, and more (8:37)

The “read and play” for Ex. 1-8, The Parrot Game, plus the Q&A game, the “As If” Game, and the Word Game.


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