Arts & Entertainment, Music

Songwriting With Empathy

Alicia Keys

Lesson time 18:40 min

Alicia demonstrates how she uses empathy to create powerful music.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Song Spotlight: “Perfect Way to Die” · Writing “Perfect Way to Die”


[MUSIC PLAYING] - We live in a time where many people choose to try to tear down, or to disencourage, or to be negative. And it's such a power-- it's such a superpower-- to find your empathy, to find the way you relate to each other, to people, to people you don't know, to people you've never met, to circumstances you've never experienced. If you can empathize with them, if you can connect, and understand them, and appreciate them for what they are, I think it's really powerful. And I know that's what creates the best music. I know that's what creates the best connection. And I also know that's what creates a chemical change in how we're relating to each other, which is why music is so powerful, because it's more powerful than any other medium, period, and probably all because of that access to understanding human beings, each other-- the heart, the soul, the spirit. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think empathy is one of the most powerful emotional experiences because empathy means that you can actually put yourself in the place of another and understand what they may be feeling, and feel it with them, understand it with them, live it with them. And there's definitely a lot of empathy and energy that comes from that. And I remember, ever since being a little girl, I've always felt people's energy so strong-- so crazy strong. I could tell right away if it was a gentle, soft spirit, or if it was kind of a rough, tougher energy, or a darker energy, or a brighter energy, you know? It definitely was, is, and has always been something that I could feel right away. And I wasn't always drawn to write very-- I didn't always know how to write songs that were quite-- maybe you would call them political, or maybe you would call them-- I'm not sure what you call them because, once again, I really try my best not to label things. But a lot of times, I would be fascinated with writers like Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, and Marvin Gaye, all people who really took the world around them and spoke on it so eloquently and beautifully. And I was fascinated with them, but I didn't know how to do it myself. Like, how do you do that? How do you actually take all the chaos and all the indescribable inequities, unfairnesses, and put it into a song that makes sense? I remember after a trip, my first trip to South Africa with my organization Keep A Child Alive, I met this young boy named Sudi. And he was 16 years old, but he looked probably seven years old. And his growth had been stunted from the AIDS virus and not being able to have access to the medicine that would keep him alive. And I went to his home, and I met his family, and I met him. And he just had these tears that just fell down his face the whole time, but he wasn't crying visibly. And it was so intense, and it was so powerful to be there with him in this new experience, in this place that looked totally different from where I grew up, and the experience that was different from mine. And ...

About the Instructor

With 15 Grammy Awards and more than 40 million albums sold so far, Alicia Keys is one of the world’s most beloved singer-songwriters. Now the legendary artist invites you into her studio to share her process for creating music built from authentic emotion. Breaking down anthems like “Fallin’,” Alicia shows you how she writes lyrics, crafts melodies, and explores sonics so you can discover the music you were born to make.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Alicia Keys

The legendary singer-songwriter and producer shares her approach to making music that resonates and helps you find the power of your unique voice.

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