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Key Change: Songwriting 

to Set on Fire  
 
For Grades 9-12 
Elizabeth Vaughn 
 
 
Course Description
 
Key Change: Songwriting to Set on Fire​ is a new and unique music 
course that investigates social injustices and global issues through 
songwriting. This class combines critical investigation and creative music 
making, but students who enroll do not need any prior experience in either of 
these fields to succeed in this course!  
Students in this class will choose a global issue that they are passionate 
about and through investigation and formal research, develop a better 
understanding of the topic using credible sources. Students will engage in 
group discussions about contemporary global issues and will also be guided 
through the basics of songwriting (harmony, melody, song hook, lyrics, etc.) 
through a series of group activities and individual projects.  
In this classroom, numerous instruments will be available to play with, 
learn, and use to accompany original songs. These instruments include 
keyboards, guitars, ukuleles, and electric basses. Other instruments are 
welcome, as well as electronic music making software (such as Ableton, 
Soundtrap, GarageBand, etc.) to create original music.  
At the end of this course, students will record their original songs to 
post on our online class portfolio. Students will present their work to the class 
and community (through live performance or playing finished recording) and 
describe their process, including their initial viewpoints, research, 
songwriting, and what they have learned through these experiences.  
Students will be challenged in this class to approach these global issues 
with an open mind and think critically as they investigate a topic they are 
passionate about. Students will be led through the building blocks of 
songwriting and be challenged to express their understanding of and 
viewpoints on their chosen topic. 
Most importantly, in this course will dip their toes into art activism and 
see what impact they and their work can have on their peers and community. 
Rationale
Societal, political, economical, environmental, and emotional issues that 
are present at the global level are often not explored in the K-12 curriculum. In 
this course, students will be given the opportunity to dive into problems such 
as social injustice, war, racism, sexism, global warming, poverty, world hunger, 
and other global issues through both analytical and creative lenses. 
 
In existing music course offerings, students are invited to learn and 
re-create the music of composers within genres that all too often fall into one 
specific demographic. The materials used in these traditional ensemble 
classrooms usually do not extend past this repertoire that fails to represent 
the numerous, diverse ways of music making and those who participate in its 
creation. Through this course, students will be given a space to explore music 
making outside of the traditional ensemble (Kratus 2016) and confront 
material that is not typically addressed in depth at school. 
 
Students will explore global issues and engage in conversation with 
their peers about current events, movements, and conflicts. Hot button topics 
that are often avoided within school will be discussed, debated, and dissected 
for better understanding. Students will express their feelings and thoughts 
on these global issues they are passionate and well informed about and 
create original work. This original work can be song, podcast, or other musical 
product they can present and possibly perform for their peers. 
 
Students will seek out credible sources on hot-button topics to gain a 
more comprehensive understanding outside of their daily interactions with 
news on social media. Students will investigate artist activism and how artists 
can use their work to start conversations, gather allies, and evoke change. 
Students will also research various revolutionary artists to inform their 
creative processes when composing original work that discusses and 
challenges possibly controversial, hard to talk about topics they are 
passionate and well informed about. 
 
This class is designed to be flexible and can be paired with classes 
outside of the music curriculum, such as English and history courses. 
Songwriting has been found to be a great way to instill cross-classroom 
learning for students (Levy & Byrd, 2011). 
 
Lastly, students will work together to revise their original compositions. 
Through a series of research projects and songwriting assignments, students 
will assess one another’s work at every step in the process. With these 
statements of activism, students will showcase their research and creations 
to the community through both presentation and performance. These 
presentations and accompanying performances will be set somewhere in the 
community for the public to hear. Additionally, all student creations will be 
recorded and presented online on a web page dedicated to art activism in 
the community.   
 
Assessing the Impact of Artistic Activism [Scholarly project]. (n.d.). In The Center for 
Artistic Activism. Retrieved from 
https://artisticactivism.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Assessing-the-Impact-of-Artis
tic-Activism-Summary.pdf?x35829 
 
Androutsopoulos, J. (2010, May 17). Spaghetti Funk: Appropriations of Hip-Hop Culture 
and Rap ... RetrievedFebruary21,2018, from 
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/0300776032000144922  
 
Kratus, J. (2016, March 11). Songwriting: A New Direction for Secondary Music 
Education. Retrieved February 21, 2018, from 
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0027432115620660​Kratus, J. (2007). Music 
Education at the Tipping Point. Music Educators Journal, 94(2), 42-48. 
 
Levy, D. L., & Byrd, D. C. (2011, April). Why can’t we be friends? Using music to teach 
social justice. Retrieved February 21, 2018, from 
https://josotl.indiana.edu/article/viewFile/1818/1815 
 
Rosenthal, R., & Flacks, R. (2016). Playing for change: Music and musicians in the 
service of social movements. New York: Routledge. 
 
​Urbach, Martin. This Is How We Fight Back. (n.d.). Retrieved April 09, 2018, from 
http://www.martinurbach.com/2016/11/this-is-how-we-fight-back/ 
 
Expected Impact on Students
Students will study global issues and revolutionary artists to inform 
their creative processes when composing original work that discusses and 
challenges possibly controversial, hard to talk about topics they are 
passionate and well informed about. Students often gain knowledge about 
today’s global issues through their various social media feeds, which are 
ridden with biased and non-credible news sources. Students will seek out 
credible sources on hot-button topics to gain a more comprehensive 
understanding outside of their daily interactions with news on social media.  
 
Students will research revolutionary songwriters and investigate the 
influences and historical contexts of their work for a more informed 
music-making experience. Students will analyze basic song structure and 
theory and apply this knowledge into their music-making processes.  
 
Students will be invited and given the tools to musically express their 
opinions through original work that is centered around hot-button topics 
they are passionate and well informed about.  
 
Anchor standards  
 
MU:Cr1.1.C.Ia​ Describe how sounds and short musical ideas can be used to represent personal 
experiences, moods, visual images, and/or storylines. 
 
MU:Cr2.1.C.IIIa​ Assemble and organize multiple sounds or extended musical ideas to create 
initial expressive statements of selected extended sonic experiences or abstract ideas. 
 
MU:Cr3.2.C.Ia​ Share music through the use of notation, performance, or technology, and 
demonstrate how the elements of music have been employed to realize expressive intent 
 
MU:Cr3.1.C.IIIa​ Research, identify, explain , and apply personally-developed criteria to assess and 
refine the technical and expressive aspects of evolving drafts leading to final versions. 
 
MU:Re7.1.C.IIIa A​ pply researched or personally developed criteria to select music that expresses 
personal experiences and interests, visual images, concepts, texts, or storylines in moderately 
complex or complex forms, and describe and justify the choice as models for composition. 
 
MU:Re7.2.C.Ia​ Analyze aurally the elements of music (including form) of musical works, relating 
them to style, mood, and context, and describe how the analysis provides models for personal 
growth as composer, performer, and/or listener. 
 
MU:Re8.1.C.IIIa​ Develop, justify and defend interpretations of varied works, demonstrating an 
understanding of the composer's’ intent by citing the use of elements of music (including 
form), compositional techniques, and the style/genre and context of each work. 
 
MU:Re9.1.C.Ia ​Describe the effectiveness of the technical and expressive aspects of selected 
music and performances, demonstrating understanding of fundamentals of music theory. 
Student Skills and Knowledges Explored and Studied in Course 
 

Skills:  Knowledges​: 
   
Research  Song Analysis   
Finding and identifying credible  Form 
sources   Phrases 
  Organization 
Compiling information for  Repetition 
numerous sources  Lyrics 
  Mode and meter 
Analyze    
Break down song form and the  Applied Music Theory  
meanings behind song lyrics   Chord progressions 
   
Compose  Melody, harmony, and rhythm 
Original compositions with a   
certain goal in mind   Research 
  Understanding what makes a 
Revise  source credible 
Use new knowledge from research   
and theory to analyze and edit  Extensive information about 
original work  selected topic  
   
Act on peer feedback in revisions  Revolutionary artists relevant to said 
  topic, their work, and the context 
Connect   and relevance of their work  
Connect passion and research to   
original work  Understand what art advocacy is 
and does in the community  

 
 
 
 

 
 
Expected Community Impact  
 
The community and uprise of social media have shaped how students 
receive news and current events. In a context where global issues are too 
often glossed over or briefly summarized, school administrators and parents 
might be initially apprehensive to give students full rein to explore and 
investigate various global challenges and injustices we face today. 
Furthermore, students may want to discuss these numerous global issues 
but feel unsupported, unheard, or uncomfortable to do so, especially in a 
school setting. ​More members of the community will know how to find 
reliable sources and will be well informed about global issues they are 
passionate about. They will be given the opportunity to express these 
concerns and feelings they have through a new medium and share their 
opinions with the community through public presentation and performance. 
Students original work can be recorded and put onto an accessible online 
portfolio created for the class.  
 
 
 
 
 

Project Outline  
 
A “hook” is a short musical idea that is repeated throughout a song. This 
phrase, motif, or riff often represents the main idea of the song and is what 
makes a song catchy. In this project, “Creating a Hook”, students will start to 
tie in their research to their songwriting through a series of steps. Each step 
in this process of creating a one to two line “hook” for their song will be 
accompanied by group instruction, studying examples, and going through 
each process as a group before diving into individual work. By the end of this 
project, students will not only have created the backbone to their original 
song, but will have also learned how they best create through their initial 
experience with the songwriting process. This project and first process in 
writing will inform and influence how students writing the rest of their songs.  
Project Outline (continued)  
Creating a Hook Project  
Stage 1 Desired Results 

Standards:   Goals:  
   
MU: Cr3.2.C.la S​ hare  1. Students will analyze chord progressions and lyrics of popular 
music through the  song hooks.  
use of notation,   
performance, or 
2. Students will create a sample hook as a group in class for later 
technology, and 
demonstrate how the 
individual reference when creating their own song hooks.  
elements of music   
have been employed  3. Students will gain an understanding of chord function and basic 
to realize expressive  harmonic movement in an applicable context (songwriting).  
intent    
  4. Students will experiment with different combinations of chords 
MU:Cr2.1.C.IIa  to create a chord progression for their song hook. 
Assemble and   
organize multiple  5. Using their previous research, students will brainstorm words 
sounds or musical  associated with their topic, experiment with different 
ideas to create  combinations, and create lyrics and a short melody for their 
initial expressive  song hook.  
statements of   
selected sonic  6. Students will create a short hook for their songs with lyrics and a 
events, memories,  chord progression that portrays their song topic. This initial 
images, concepts,  creative process will help inform and influence the rest of their 
texts, or storylines.  songwriting process.   
   
MU:Cr3.1.C.IIIa  7. Students will share their work with their peers and give one 
Research, identify,  another feedback to inform their own revisions and future 
explain , and apply  writing.  
personally-develop  
ed criteria to assess  8. Students will present their work to the entire class (via lecture 
and refine the  presentation or performance) and 
technical and  a. Explain their rationale for their musical decisions 
expressive aspects  b. Explain how their hook portrays their researched song 
of evolving drafts  topic  
leading to final  c. Walk the class through their creative process 
versions.   
9. Students will debrief in a group discussion to examine the 
challenges of this project and how this initial writing experience 
will influence the rest of the songwriting process for each 
student.  
 
Generative (Essential) Questions:   
 
1. What gives a song meaning?  
 
2. Why does your song topic concern you?  
 
3. How can we express our own concerns in a constructive way?  
 
4. What makes a hook catchy?  
 
5. How do I use music to talk about and challenge social injustice and other global issues? 
 

Stage 2 - Evidence 

 
Day 1-​ Students engage in a group-led discussion about song hooks, identify the nuts and 
bolts of a hook, (lyrics, chords, rhyme, rhythm, etc.) and will write a song hook together.   
 
Day 2-​ Students will engage in a group-led discussion on chord function and harmonic 
movement. Students will examine examples of hook chord progressions. Students will write 
a chord progression together.  
 
Day 3-​ Students will examine examples of chord progressions. Students will write out their 
own chord progressions, record playing them, and share their process in discussion.  
 
Day 4-​ Students will engage in a group-led discussion on hook lyrics. Students will examine 
examples of hook lyrics. Students will write one set of hook lyrics together.  
 
Day 5- ​Students will examine examples of hook lyrics. Students will create their own hook 
lyrics, record them, and share their process in discussion. 
  
Day 6-​ Students will examine examples of and experiment with combining hook lyrics and 
chord progressions together. Students will take the lyrics and chords written in class and 
together combine them to create a finished hook. Students will then enter a group 
discussion about suggestions for revisions of the class hook.  
 
Day 7- ​ Students will combine their chord progressions with their lyrics and finish their song 
hooks. Students will then share these with a peer and provide feedback for one another. 
Students will prepare for presentation of their process.  
 
Day 8-​ Students will present their hooks to the whole class and engage in short, student-led 
discussion about each hook’s chords, lyrics, and overall feel. Classmates will offer ideas to 
consider for student revision and later reflection.  
 
 
 
Stage 3 – Learning Plan 

With every new topic (“What makes a source credible?”, “How to cite resources”, “Harmony 
101”, “Hook Project” etc.) students will have a daily group workshop where we play with and 
create an example of the topic for future reference when students dive into their 
independent work. The “Hook Project” dissects a song hook into three basic elements: lyrics, 
melody, and chords. Each element of the project will have its own group workshop in class, 
and from these workshops, clear examples that students can use as a reference point for 
their own songs. With this set up, students get a structured “test run” of each part of the 
project with some experimentation as well as instruction before they work individually to 
create their own original work. During independent work time in class, the teacher will float 
around the room, observe student progress, and provide feedback and suggestions for 
students.  
 
“Hook Project”​ (8 day project) 
 
Day 1: Introduction: What is a hook? 
 
1. Define through examples of song hooks they have been studying in pop music  
 
2. Identify the different elements of a song hook  
a. Chords, short melody, lyrics, harmony, rhythm, etc. 
  
3. Class discussion and activity: Create a song hook together 
a. Begin with a simple chord progression ( I- V- vi- IV ) and play this for students on 
piano/guitar 
 
4. Pick a topic to write a song hook about (avoid topics students have chosen for project) 
 
5. Brainstorm words associated with the topic together and write on the classroom board  
 
6. Separate from lyrics, come up with a short melodic idea that fits within the chords 
 
7. Begin combining list of words together, test different combinations with melody  
 
8. Test a few different hooks students come up with as a group  
 
9. Pick one final hook to solidify and have the class play and/or sing it  
 
10. Group discussion on the process 
a. What worked? What didn’t?  
b. What was the hardest step? The easiest?   
c. How will you want to approach the songwriting process after this experience? 
Identical, similar, or different than the approach we’ve just used together in 
class?  
 
Day 2: Chords and Harmony  
 
1. Define through chord progressions in pop music hooks they have been studying  
 
2. Identify and discuss the qualities of different chords (major, minor, 7ths, half/fully 
diminished)  
 
3. Identify common chord progressions found in pop music and compile a list on the 
classroom board  
 
4. As a group, experiment with altering these common progressions with other chords 
and discuss the harmonic function of these new chords  
 
5. As a group, pick one common chord progression, make additions/alterations to it, and 
create one new chord progression to write on the board for future reference. Play this 
progression as a group 
 
Day 3: Chords and Harmony (cont.) 
  
1. Review the chords, chord progressions, and new class progression studied and 
created in the previous class 
 
2. Majority of class will be given to students to work on building their own chord 
progressions  
 
3. Halfway through class, students will pair up, share what they’ve got so far, and offer 
one another suggestions for revision. Students will then return to working 
independently  
 
4. Teacher will float around the room for most of the class period, observing and offering 
guidance   
 
 
Day 4: Lyrics 
 
1. Define through examples of song hooks they have been studying in pop music 
 
2. Identify the elements of song lyrics in a hook (Rhyme, pacing, rhythm, melody, pulse, 
etc)  
 
3. Class discussion about what makes a song hook “catchy” and memorable 
 
4. Using the same topic used on day 1, review the words the class had brainstormed 
relating to the topic 
 
5. Have the class experiment, as a group, different combinations of these words that can 
form one idea/sentence 
 
6. Have the class come up with a short, simple melody that fits within the chord 
progression created on day 2  
 
7. Write a few lyric sentences and a few melodies on the board and have students 
experience mixing and matching these two song elements together 
 
8. Select one final combination of lyrics and melody, play and sing this as a group with 
the chord progression, and write on the board for future reference  
 
Day 5: Lyrics (cont.)  
 
1. Briefly review the process the group went through in the previous class 
a. What worked? What didn’t?  
b. What was the hardest step? The easiest?   
c. How will you want to approach the songwriting process after this experience? 
Identical, similar, or different than the approach we used together in the last 
class?  
 
2. Majority of class will be given to students to work on building their own lyrics and 
melodies 
 
3. Halfway through class, students will pair up, share what they’ve got so far, and offer 
one another suggestions for revision. Students will then return to working 
independently  
 
4. Teacher will float around the room for most of the class period, observing and offering 
guidance   
 
 
Day 6: Combine! Lyrics, Melody, and Chords  
 
1. Review examples studied since day one of project and have a brief class discussion on 
how each element fits in with the others to portray an idea or topic.  
 
2. Informal self assessment: Does my song hook and all of its elements fit together to 
portray my song topic?   
 
3. Majority f class will be given to students to work on combining their lyrics, melodic 
idea, and chord progression.  
 
4. Halfway through class, students will pair up, share what they’ve got so far, and offer 
one another suggestions for revision. Students will then return to working 
independently  
 
5. Teacher will float around the room for most of the class period, observing and offering 
guidance   
 
Day 7: Combine! Lyrics, Melody, and Chords (cont.)  
 
1. Class will be divided into two groups to form to Q&A panels 
  
2. Students will each share their lyrics, melody, and chord progression through 
presentation (and performance if students choose) and will explain where they 
started, their creative process, and how their final song hook portrays their topic.   
3. Following each presentation, the panels will engage in a Q&A with the student 
presenting and offer compliments, constructive criticisms, and ideas to consider as 
students approach their final revisions in preparation for their full class presentation.  
 
Day 8: Class presentations 
 
1. Class will be given notecards and be instructed to write their own name, the name of 
the presenter, and their compliments, comments, and constructive feedback on each 
students presentation (and performance if they choose)  
 
2. Each student will share their song hook and explain how it portrays their topic and will 
walk the class through their creative process.  
 
3. The class will engage in a group discussion on the project, addressing the questions: 
a. What worked? What didn’t?  
b. What was the hardest step? The easiest?   
c. How will you want to approach the rest of the songwriting process after this 
experience? Identical, similar, or different than the approach you’ve used to 
write your song hook?  
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Budget  
Below is a detailed list of the materials we will need for this class, given 
a budget of $2,500.  

Item  Use  Cost  Quantity  Total Cost 

Yamaha  For song study, chord  169.99  4  679.96 


GigMaker  theory, and 
Acoustic Guitar  accompaniment for 
Pack  original songs  
goo.gl/uMoigK 

Yamaha  For song study, chord  99.99  4   399.96 


PSR-F51 61-Key  theory, and 
Portable  accompaniment for 
Keyboard  original songs  
goo.gl/TGXc2g 

Ibanez GSR200  For song study, chord  199.99  1  199.99 


4-String  theory, and 
Electric Bass  accompaniment for 
original songs 
Flat Walnut 
Rosewood 
fretboard 
goo.gl/mjRgJp 

Fender  To amplify the class  99.99  1  99.99 


RUMBLE 25 1x8  electric bass  
25W Bass 
Combo Amp 
goo.gl/kC4W2w

Musician's Gear  To amplify the class  24.99  2  49.98 


20 Ft.  electric bass  
Instrument 
Cable, 4-Pack 
goo.gl/K7aM2w

Kala Satin  For song study, chord  54.99  3  164.97 


Mahogany  theory, and 
Soprano Uke  accompaniment for 
goo.gl/ysPnnL  original songs  

Kala Makala  For song study, chord  69.99  3  209.97 


Concert  theory, and 
Ukulele  accompaniment for 
goo.gl/r4rx9b  original songs  

MXL 990  For recording original  99.99  3  299.97 


Condenser  songs 
Microphone 
with 
Shockmount 
goo.gl/QK9yfr 

Audio-Technica  ​For recording original  99.99  1 99.99 


M4000S  songs 
Microphone 3 
pack  
goo.gl/x75QVW 

Shure Motiv  For recording original  129.00  1 129.00 


MVi Digital  songs
Audio Interface 
with USB and 
Lightning 
Cables 
Included 
goo.gl/yGaWu1 

Musician's Gear  For recording original  29.99  2  59.98 


Tripod Boom  songs
Microphone 
Stand - 2 Pack 
Black 
goo.gl/P7eZhZ 

Gear One 20 Ft.  For recording original  28.99  3  86.97 


XLR  songs
Microphone 
Cable, 3-Pack 
goo.gl/r9H3GZ 

  Total: 2,480.73 
References

Assessing the Impact of Artistic Activism [Scholarly project]. (n.d.). In The Center for Artistic 
Activism. Retrieved from 
https://artisticactivism.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Assessing-the-Impact-of-Artistic-Acti
vism-Summary.pdf?x35829 
 
Androutsopoulos, J. (2010, May 17). Spaghetti Funk: Appropriations of Hip-Hop Culture and 
Rap ... RetrievedFebruary21,2018, from 
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/0300776032000144922  
 
Kratus, J. (2016, March 11). Songwriting: A New Direction for Secondary Music Education. 
Retrieved February 21, 2018, from 
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0027432115620660​Kratus, J. (2007). Music 
Education at the Tipping Point. Music Educators Journal, 94(2), 42-48. 
 
Levy, D. L., & Byrd, D. C. (2011, April). Why can’t we be friends? Using music to teach social 
justice. Retrieved February 21, 2018, from https://josotl.indiana.edu/article/viewFile/1818/1815 
 
Rosenthal, R., & Flacks, R. (2016). Playing for change: Music and musicians in the service of 
social movements. New York: Routledge. 
 
Tobias, E. S. (2013). Toward Convergence Adapting Music Education to Contemporary Society 
and Participatory Culture. Music Educators Journal,99(4), 29-36.   
 
​Urbach, Martin. This Is How We Fight Back. (n.d.). Retrieved April 09, 2018, from 
http://www.martinurbach.com/2016/11/this-is-how-we-fight-back/