Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/songwriting


Hello Dr colin

I am a classically trained vocalist (tenor) and I look for some sources for songwriting in classical crossover style. I know some  rules and ideas about songwriting in general but I wonder is there anything special about classical crossover that makes it different from pop music particularly the forms that are better to be used or something about the melody or words that are more coherent with this genre of music?

I appreciate your efforts and information you convey and eagerly waiting for your precious advices..
Alireza Iran

Hi Alireza,

Thanks very much for contacting me. However, I am not sure that I am best qualified person to respond. But I shall give it a try.

I know what you mean by "classical crossover." It has become something of a popular phenomenon in recent years and the expression itself is very new. But the concept has been around for many years. Many classical pieces have been "converted" into a more popular style and this approach has been used for at least sixty or seventy years. It basically involves "watering down" a classical piece to convert into something for mass entertainment. In the past, it was done by simply adding guitars, bass and drums to the voices or orchestra (and there are lots of examples from the 1970s). There are some interesting points about classical crossover here:

However, it seems to me that singers who are successful in this area are successful largely because of who they are, not so much the material that they sing. Perhaps in recent years, the first singer to venture (perhaps unintentionally) into this area was Pavarotti, although he probably didn't realise at the time. One of his recordings (the famous Nessun Dorma) became popular with football crowds, though I have no idea why. Then singers like Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman came along with their own personalities. I have noticed recently in the UK a 14-year old boy has become famous because he is singing middle-of-the-road operatic-style songs. However, if he had been 54, rather than 14, I am sure he would not have been successful. The fact that he is young, very good-looking and with exceptional stage presence seems more important than what he is actually singing. Apart from that, the song was converted into a huge production number with full theatre lighting and even a troupe of dancers!

Your question does not indicate whether (a) you want to write cross-over style songs or (b) whether you want to sing them yourself.  If you are looking for guidelines on how to write them, I think your existing knowledge of song-writing would be sufficient. However, it would seem that some key features (remembering that we are talking about mass entertainment here) would be (1) limited vocal range (2) exceptionally strong melodic line (3) clear, functional harmonies (4) one or two minor climax points with one main climax (5) romantic lyrics and (6) clear rhythms and probably 4/4 time signature. I know this is probably over-generalising but there are probably other considerations too. I have noticed that many songs by crossover artists have been given a more commercial sound by adding a chorus, re-writing the orchestration or adding guitars and even an entire rhythm section.

If you're looking for songs to sing yourself, there are countless hundreds of "classical" songs out there just waiting to be discovered by someone. But I think I am right in saying that you don't become a popular crossover artist just by singing a few operatic arias and hoping for the best. As I indicated above, there are other issues here. I think anyone who feels that they have a chance in this area needs to select a few classical songs, record them in a popular style (and this, of course, takes considerable musical expertise) and send the records to whoever might be interested.

Perhaps there's something in all this to give you an idea - I hope so. If you feel that I might be able to offer anything else, feel free to get back to me.

Best wishes and good luck with your venture!


Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting

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Dr Colin


I can answer questions from students of "classical" composing, arranging, notation problems and music theory, writing for instruments and voice and writing music for education. I can answer questions about orchestration but I do not cover questions about pop or rock music, pop song writing or electronic music.

I taught for many years in UK up to "A" level theory and composition. I have spent many years in music education, initially (like everyone else) as a teacher. Then I moved on to advisory work (teaching teachers!) and also lectured, giving many workshops for teachers in developing music education skills and techniques. For a time I worked as a teacher-lecturer at London University's Institute of Education and eventually worked full-time as a Music Education Adviser to schools in part of London, offering advice on music education and curriculum development.


I started composing music at the age 14 (it was mostly rubbish, since you asked) and now have a large number of compositions to credit as well as many publications, especially for instrumental music and choral music. I have also written several acclaimed works for large orchestra and choir. My work has been published particularly in the UK (under different names)(notably by Boosey & Hawkes, Novello, and Schott) but also in the USA and the Netherlands.

My music for elementary players (several publications) has been performed and broadcast worldwide. I am now retired from my previous job as Music Education Adviser. These days I spend most of my time composing and arranging. I am currently working on instrumental arrangements of world national anthems for my National Anthems website and also completing a suite of very easy piano solos and duets for elementary players. For many years I have used the music program "Finale" for all my music writing activities.

International Society for Music Education; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

"The Times" Educational Supplement; "Hi-Fi News and Record Review". For several years, I used to write for many of the state music education periodicals in the US and I also wrote several influential articles on instrumental music teaching for "Music Teacher" magazine in the UK. (UK).

PhD(Hons); MA(Hons); FLCM (compositon) ARCM, LMusTCL,(music diplomas)

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