Musician deconstructs styles of songwriters

By Rebecca Nussbaum

“Writing songs was the easiest part of any of it,” Kathryn Gallagher ’11 said. During the first semester, Gallagher studied the music of Bob Dylan, Elton John, Carole King and Joni Mitchell with the help of performing arts teacher Shawn Costantino in her music production and songwriting independent study.

Gallagher began her study of each artist by writing an essay on his or her songwriting style. She then focused on one song and transcribed it using a music composition software called Sibelius.

“Iwent through six or seven drafts of every song,” Gallagher said. “Once you write it out you have to check it over, and it’s like, ‘ah, I messed up one note or one measure,’ so you’ve got to do it all over again,” she said.

Gallagher found transcribing to be extremely challenging because she was just learning to read and write music, she said.

“It was tough in the beginning,” she said. ”I was still doing ‘every good boy deserves fudge.’”    

As a self-taught musician, Gallagher said the course made her a better technical musician.

“Mr. C really stressed rhythm on me,” she said.

In addition to transcribing one of each artist’s songs, Gallagher composed an original piece in the style of the artist.

“For Elton John, I did kind of a piano heavy, power pop ballad, and he used a lot of names in songs so I did that,” she said. “I noticed the pat terns in their songwriting and adopted them.”  

Studying diverse types of artists helped to broaden Gallagher’s writing style, Costantino said.

By the end of the semester, Gallagher developed a portfolio with four original and four transcribed songs, Costantino said.

“Usually when I write a song, I record it into my phone and play it to my band or to my mom, but with this, now I literally have sheet music. I have more tools to communicate with other musicians,” she said. “I have a binder that says ‘music and lyrics written by Kathryn Gallagher,’ which is rad.”

Gallagher thinks that the independent study made her a smarter musician, which she hopes will help her as a popular music major at the Thorton School of Music at the University of Southern California and then later as a professional musician.

“I get that the chances [of succeeding in the music industry] are slim at times, but this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said.