Songwriting Across Keys

Large portions of these posts were written earlier in the summer. As it turns out, I got so caught up in actually creating this project, that I’m just catching up on posting. This project was a labor of love, but my goal was ambitious to say the least. Today, I will be discussing the second song on the album, Wrestle the Reticence. I’ll describe the musical writing process and how it pertains to music theory.

On this track, I wrote the melody first. Walking across campus one day, I came up with this tune which you’ll hear in the hook of the song. As far as translating ideas to actual music, it’s easiest for me to find it on the piano in the key of C major, which has no sharps or flats. Once I had found the melody line, I had to put chords underneath. Without chords, it’s difficult for a listener to find a musical center. Chords fall within a key, giving the melody a context that greatly affects the feeling of the line. The simplest example that comes to mind is the major versus minor key distinction. The same melodic line could sound ominous over chords in a minor key or happy with a major chord center. I found all of the chords to go underneath the melodic line in C major, but this was not the optimal vocal key for my voice.

Though there are several ways to transpose, one is to use roman numerals. The progression was I, IV, I, iivi, I, V. Simply, the roman numerals correspond to chords within any key, where uppercase numerals are major chords and lowercase numerals are minor. For example, the progression I just listed would be played in C major as:  C maj, F maj, C maj,  D min, A min, C maj, G maj. An equivalent in F major would be F majBb maj, F maj, G min, D min, F maj, C maj. The final song ended up in G major, I believe. G worked well for my voice but also for the trumpet that I had to account for. In the next post, I’ll talk about working with key changes.

If you’re curious what the song actually sounds like, you can hear it and pre-order it here:


  1. Wow, I had no idea this amount of “musical math” went into songwriting! It’s incredible to me that this amount of thought goes into one melody, or even one note for that matter. As a listener, it’s humbling to know that what is only 5 seconds of me listening to something is actually a whole process of inspiration, calculation, and trial and error that results in an aesthetically appealing product. As much as it’s called the “arts,” it’s obvious from your post that there is a real science to making music. Very cool stuff, I look forward to your next post, thanks for the education!