Byran Helsel


A brief introduction to songwriting techniques for high school students. We will study characteristics of quality songs, looking at the elements anyone can include in their own writing, and we’ll have time for questions and further exploration at the end.
Elements of songwriting will be explored regarding Form, instrumentation, lyrics, harmony, melody, and others. We will listen to segments of quality songs and break down what makes them good, and how a young songwriter can hone their craft. This is intended to spark interest and creativity. The limitations of time will keep this to an introduction, but it should get the students thinking about their writing as they move forward to further composition.

Bryan Helsel received bachelor degrees in music education (vocal) and in piano performance from Westminster College and earned a master’s degree in piano performance from Duquesne University. He is the director of choirs and music technology at Butler Area Senior High School, teaching recording and songwriting in addition to running the choral program. His choirs have appeared at the PMEA State Conference twice, and they are regularly assessed at the superior and excellent levels. Each year they alternate between taking a choir tour to a major city and performing a large choral masterwork. Past masterworks have included Mozart’s Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Rutter’s Gloria, the Mass of Hope by (and performed with) Joe Negri, the Holocaust Cantata, performed with a Holocaust Survivor, Fauré’s Requiem, Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, and Steve Dobrogosz’s Mass. His recording and songwriting classes are active in creating inventive music in various forms of media in these project-driven, student-centered courses.

Active in the arts in Western Pennsylvania, Helsel plays piano in the Butler Symphony, organ and keyboards at various churches, trumpet in the Butler Brass Quintet and Musician’s Concert Band, and can be found playing recitals locally or playing jazz and rock music at Pittsburgh area venues and private functions. He is listed in “Who’s Who among America’s Educators” as well as “Who’s Who in America.” His professional affiliations include PMEA (Pennsylvania Music Educators’ Association), NAfME (National Association of Music Educators), TI:ME (Technology Institute of Music Education) and ACDA (American Choral Directors’ Association).

Helsel has composed several choral works and has released albums of his own contemporary music. He has appeared on public radio as a pianist. He has been the conductor for the community choir of Butler County, and he is in demand as accompanist and guest conductor at county and District festivals, most recently in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina.  He has presented research and rehearsal strategies at state conferences in Pennsylvania and Ohio. He has appeared as guest artist in concertos with Regional Symphonies and bands playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Concerto in F, I Got Rhythm Variations and Saint-Seans’ Carnival of the Animals. As a pianist and singer, Helsel has shared the stage with the likes of Shirley Jones and Garrison Keillor. Aside from performing and conducting, he owns and operates Helsel Music, a full production recording studio and is currently a doctoral candidate at Kent State University, completing his dissertation to earn a Ph.D. in music education in 2019. Bryan resides near Saxonburg, Pennsylvania with his talented and beautiful wife, Heather, and toddlers, Colin and Elyse.