Posted by: Debra Alexander / wordmavenmusic | April 22, 2014

Your Songwriting In the Fast Lane

Dear Readers,

Happy Spring! I’m trying a little experiment and opening a Blog on my Song Maven Studio website. In the first blog I have a case study of one of my most successful songwriting students, and I outline her achievements, and what she did to make all the progress she’s made in a very short amount of time.

I’m also celebrating the launch of my new “Music Theory For Songwriters” online workshop, which I’ve been developing for the past few months. Find out how a basic knowledge of the piano keyboard and music theory can make your songs stand above the crowd. Read all about it here.

Thanks for reading and checking out my new stuff! Let me know what you think!

Posted by: Debra Alexander / wordmavenmusic | August 13, 2013

How To Convert AIFFs to MP3s in iTunes

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I love technology. I’m the one in the family that helps with internet connection problems and software updates and back-up issues, etc. I used to be the technology liaison for my department when I taught at Proctor Academy. I taught computer music and set up a MIDI recording studio for Dixon Hall Music School.  My record producing and songwriting partners, who are wizards with Logic and Finale, are frequently surprised by my ability to point out a short cut they’d never heard of. Because I’m a geek! I love reading manuals, and messing around with software.

One question that keeps coming up from my students concerns audio formats for their recorded song demos. It’s this: “How do I convert an AIFF file to an MP3 file?” Because we know that trying to send large AIFF files over e-mail is inefficient and frequently unsuccessful, it’s necessary to use the compressed format of the MP3 file to expedite the process. (Of course there are ways to get audio files to people without using e-mail, like Dropbox, Google Drive, Soundcloud, etc…but that’s the topic of another blog.)

Here’s how to convert an AIFF file to an MP3 file in iTunes 11.0.4 on a Mac running System 10.6.8.  (These general principles should apply to different versions of System and Application software. Don’t get me started on the pitfalls of the new version of iTunes):

1. In your iTunes Music Library, click on an AIFF track to highlight it.


2. In the iTunes main menu bar anchored at the very top of your screen, under “iTunes”, choose “Preferences…”

3. Click on “General” and the “Import Settings” in the ‘When you insert a CD” section


4. In the “Import Using” drop-down menu, choose ‘MP3 Encoder”


5. Click “OK” twice to exit Preferences.

6. Control-Click on the highlighted track you want to convert, and find “Create MP3 version” in the drop-down list. You should hear the tritone that indicates the process has completed.

You can convert any file to any other type of supported audio file in iTunes, and the key is step number 4. You won’t find the “Create MP3 version” command in the drop-down list unless you’ve first configured your Preferences.

Can’t find that mp3 file you just created? Highlight the “Songs” tab in the iTunes application, and sort by “Date Added” by clicking on that column—your mp3 file should be there at the top.

Let me know if you had any trouble! Good Luck 😉

Posted by: Debra Alexander / wordmavenmusic | May 6, 2013

Songwriters Association of Canada Blog Challenge 2013 Part 2


It’s been a couple weeks now since the Coursera Songwriting class with Pat Pattison came to a close, but my duties at Guest Blogger and Challenge 2013 Group Moderator went on with gusto, as I attempted to read all of about 120 Blogs! I had some catching up to do, but had a lovely time checking in with songwriters from around the country as they chronicled their weekly frustrations and triumphs around the lesson and assignment. In my last post I provided the links to the first three of my six guest blogs. Here are the final three:

Week Four “Stressing The Right Syllables in Songwriting”

Week Five “The Muse Is Not King in Songwriting (i.e. You Need Skills)”

Week Six “Songwriting For Survival — Inviting Your Audience to ‘Follow The Lion’”

I’m very grateful to the Songwriters Association of Canada, and especially to Lily Cheng, my fearless editor there, as well as all the Challenge participants I’ve had the privilege of getting to know.

Here’s to the continued practice of putting those new songwriting tools to excellent use!

Posted by: Debra Alexander / wordmavenmusic | March 19, 2013

Songwriters Association of Canada Blog Challenge 2013 Part 1


I’m honoured that the Songwriters Association of Canada has asked me to be their guest blogger and group moderator for Challenge 2013. It’s very meaningful for me, because I studied with Pat Pattison when I was living in Austin, and I was the secretary for The Austin Songwriter’s Group. We were a very tightly knit bunch. At least one of us got famous. And I got Pat’s autograph on the inside cover of Writing Better Lyrics (first edition)!

We are half way through our six week Coursera Songwriting class with Pat. Here are the links to the first three blogs:


Week One “Building The Foundation for a Song”

Week Two “The Adventure of Prosody”

Week Three “Scheming With Rhymes for Better Songwriting”


Thanks for checking in with me here, and let me know what kinds of posts would be helpful to you.

Posted by: Debra Alexander / wordmavenmusic | February 22, 2013

How To Format Lyrics


You’ve worked hard to polish the lyrics of your song, and that shows on the page, as well as a vocal performance. To present your lyrics in the best light for a reader, put them in the proper format. This is especially true when submitting to song critiques, song contests, liner notes, online blogs, etc.

General Guidelines:

1. Break your lyric lines so that structure (AAA, AABA, ABCABC, VCVC, V preC C V preC C, VCVCBC, etc.) is revealed.

Try to keep sections in groups of 4 or 6, or 2 or 3 lines. Separate each section with one space. For example, a 6-line verse might have a 3 line pre-chorus, and there would be one space between them. I prefer to indent and use one space between new, non-repeating sections because it’s a cleaner look; some people label each section.  I like to leave intros and tags inline with the sections closest to them. If a section has tons of lyrics, like in a rap song—realize that 4 lyric lines usually equals 8 bars of music—so 8 lines of lyrics would equal 16 bars of music.

2. Break your lyric lines so that your rhyme scheme is revealed.

Use common sense and a good eye for presentation on the page. Use a standard font like Arial or Helvetica, in a readable font size, like 12 or 14. You want your reader to be able to follow along easily and grasp your meaning without struggling to see it or make sense of form.

3. Clearly indicate the song title and the songwriters at the top of the page, and the contact information (songwriter or publishing company, performing rights affiliation, address, e-mail, and phone number) at the bottom of the page.

Here’a one example of a possible template:

Song Title                                                          Songwriter(s)


Verse 1——————————————– Line 1

Verse 1——————————————– Line 2

Verse 1——————————————– Line 3

Verse 1——————————————– Line 4


Chorus————————————— Line 1

Chorus————————————— Line 2

Chorus————————————— Line 3

Chorus————————————— Line 4


Verse 2——————————————– Line 1

Verse 2——————————————– Line 2

Verse 2——————————————– Line 3

Verse 2——————————————– Line 4


Chorus————————————— Line 1

Chorus————————————— Line 2

Chorus————————————— Line 3

Chorus————————————— Line 4


Bridge———————————–Line 1

Bridge———————————–Line 2

Bridge———————————–Line 3

Bridge———————————–Line 4


Chorus————————————— Line 1

Chorus————————————— Line 2

Chorus————————————— Line 3

Chorus————————————— Line 4


© Writer or Publishing Company (PRO) Contact Address, E-mail & Phone




Posted by: Debra Alexander / wordmavenmusic | December 4, 2012

It’s Never Too Late


Eric Beall’s To Do List 2012 is a wonderful crystal ball view on what you need to focus on as an indie artist/songwriter in today’s music biz.

And it’s every bit as useful as an end of the year review checklist as it was to kick off the new year. Let me know if you’re on it!

Posted by: Debra Alexander / wordmavenmusic | November 12, 2012

How To Find The Chords In Any Song


A big thanks to The Songwriter’s Association Of Canada for making me their guest blogger recently! I get by with a little help from my friends, since I’ve missed a couple months of posting here. That article was about mapping out a song lyrically. Here’s a companion piece about mapping out a song musically.

How To Find The Chords In Any Song

1. Use the instrument of your choice to figure out what key it’s in. Listen to the recording and write down the melody, by letter name, phrase by phrase, section by section (i.e., verse, chorus, bridge). The note the melody ends on at the end of the song is usually the key you’re in. However, it could be a major key or a minor key.

2. Build a major scale on the ending melody note (tonic). Decide if the melody notes of the vocal fit in that scale. If not, build a minor scale on that tonic note.

—Write out the letter names for either scale from tonic to tonic, but leave out accidentals (sharps and flats) except for the starting note. For example, if your melody note ends on “F”, you would write: F G A B C D E F. If your melody ends on Bb, you would write: Bb C D E F G A B.

—Use a standard tone (T) / semitone (ST) pattern to decide where the accidentals should be added. The major scale pattern (based on C major) is T T ST T T T ST, and the minor scale pattern (based on A minor) is T ST T T ST T T.

So in our example, the F major scale would be F G A Bb C D E F. The F minor scale would be F G Ab Bb C Db Eb F. It’s easiest to see this on a keyboard, where it’s there in black and white.

(Incidentally, the tone / semitone patterns give us the reasoning behind how we name the accidentals (sharps or flats). You have to maintain sequential letter names. So it’s Bb, and not A# in the F major scale, because you can’t have the same letter twice.)

3. Build triads on each degree of the scale the melody is based on by stacking two letter names above each letter name you’ve already got. Skip every other letter. For example, in the key of C major, it would look like this (only the columns would be absolutely straight!):




4. Add accidentals to all the letters in the stack according to your original scale. In F major, your stack, taken by each degree of the scale, (Laid out horizontally here because it’s easier to see) would be:


That gives you what some call a “chord palette”. Play each triad on a keyboard to hear the basic building blocks of a song in the key of F major.

5. In order to find the chords in the song, listen to the recording and play the chords you hear from the chord palette you’ve built.

It takes some ear training skills to be able to do this. If you want to develop your ear training skills, please let me know! I can help you with that.

Can you make a chord chart for your latest favourite song?

Posted by: Debra Alexander / wordmavenmusic | August 14, 2012

Translating Pop-Dance Tracks To Piano/Vocal Arrangements

I am so blessed to have the most talented and amazing students! They make my world go ’round. I thought I’d introduce them periodically, and let them tell you what they’re up to, as well as talk about how we work together.

First, just because she has a big show coming up this weekend, is Lexi Tellings. Here’s where you can find out about her upcoming show and hear samples of her songs. I have a blast working with Lexi, because it’s so fun to translate dance-based pop tunes into piano/vocal arrangements. Our goal is to expand Lexi’s live opportunities, and move into venues that prefer instrumental performances rather than performances to tracks. We also want to develop a good bag of music theory tools to help with composition before, during, and after studio writing sessions with producers. Keep your eyes & ears open for Lexi Tellings! Here’s Lexi’s take on it:

“I’m a singer songwriter and I have been taking piano/theory lessons on and off since I was 9 years old with countless different teachers. None of my attempts lasted longer than a few months because they could not offer answers to questions I had, or teach theory in a way that was applicable to songwriting, so naturally whatever I learned wouldn’t stick because I wasn’t able to use it.  After growing tired of receiving the common answer ‘I don’t know, that’s just the way it is,’ from teachers, I started to think maybe piano wasn’t for me. Thankfully I decided to take one last stab at it, and that’s when I found Debra.

Having discovered Debra at Song Maven I feel more confident on the piano, she has taught me to think ‘I can’ rather than ‘I can’t’ and always has a way of explaining things with an easy to approach method. She picked up on my strengths right away, and then taught me how to use them to my advantage. And now because of the confidence I have developed I am now starting to overcome my weaknesses. She has an answer for every question, and can easily demonstrate things if it’s still not sinking in. Currently I am learning theory as it applies to songwriting, and in specific, my songs and style of music. In a short span of time I have learned how to figure out what key my song is in, figure out bass notes, chord progressions, and then how to make each section sound rhythmic and different. Because I’m an ‘instant results’ kind of person, Debra has made learning everything fun because I automatically started to see improvements on my playing and overall knowledge of the piano.

Before Debra I felt that the piano was where my songs went to die, now it’s where they go to grow. I know that seems kind of dramatic, but it’s the only way I can describe it!”

Posted by: Debra Alexander / wordmavenmusic | July 31, 2012

Happy Trails!

Greetings from the midst of summer! Here are some pics from my bike trip to Pine Hill–the way back. This time I followed the Erie Canal to Lockport, rode north to the Ridge (Rte. 104), and crossed back into Canada at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. I got caught in a big downpour right before the bridge crossing, so no pics there!

Pine Hill was idyllic. My niece and nephew are flying a kite and appear as a bright spot in the centre of the landscape.



Happy Hour in the Grove.



The Barn and The Crib at Dusk.



A series of shots on the Erie Canal at Lockport.


I had never actually seen a boat in a lock before–even though I’ve been to the locks many, many times. It only took a few minutes to lower this boat. I’m taking the picture from the same spot, so you can see how far down the boat went.


Here’s a pic of my bike to prove I made it back to Toronto.



Hope your summer trails have been as happy as mine!

Posted by: Debra Alexander / wordmavenmusic | July 9, 2012

Refuelling The Songwriting Machine: Rainbow Bridge To Pine Hill

When summer rolls around, songwriters and students scatter, and I find it’s a good time to give myself a change of scenery and open up to new ideas.

I’ve been following Kate Sulis, as she rides her bike across Canada, via her wonderful Blog. She inspired me to try a ride the long way home to my family’s farm, crossing the Rainbow Bridge, going north with the Niagara River, and then along Lake Ontario and over western New York backroads between Buffalo and Rochester.

Here’s A View From Devil’s Hole State Park on the New York Side, and a look ahead to the Power Dam.

It’s hard to take good photos with an iPhone, since you can’t see a darn thing in bright sunlight!

The best part of my trip was a visit to Olcott Beach State Park, where my Aunt used to take me, my brother, my sister, and my cousin to ride the carousel. I hadn’t been there in YEARS, and I found out they’ve undertaken a project of restoring it completely. Although it was closed when I rolled up, they let me in to snap a few photos.

It was extremely hot, and the lake looked great from the boardwalk. I had a hot dog and an iced tea from one of the food stands.

I was tempted to call my sisters and have them drive 35 miles to pick me up! But I kept going. I knew I was close to Pine Hill when I reached the Culvert Road.

All in all I rode 123 km / 76 miles–a record for me! I can’t say I had any great ideas for a song, but once home, I did enjoy playing my childhood piano again.

Next post–the ride back, along the Erie Canal.

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