The Tortured Poets Department
Chord Challenge & Song Spark

31 SONGS - 31 DAYS!

Throughout this challenge we¬†will travel inside of one TTPD song each day of July.¬† As we do, you will build your chord fluency, musical ear, and creative¬†musical¬†prowess‚ÄĒby listening & learning, tinkering with, mapping, and playing¬†along with each song¬†using¬†a simple daily plan (with timely Easter Eggs to help if you get stuck!). Any element of the song¬†will then¬†become a¬†spark¬†for your own creativity in response.

The challenge is‚ÄĒin defiance of easy googling of chord charts and cheatsheets‚ÄĒto take on TTPD as a musician‚ÄĒjumping in FEARLESSLY (equipped with¬†your ear, chord & key¬†knowledge, and again, with easter eggs perfectly placed along the trail to guide you) and¬†play your way through¬†the entire Tortured Poets Department Anthology‚ÄĒon your piano.

Song by Song, Day by Day. 

If this sounds like something you haven't done much of before,¬†but would like to play¬†the music that¬†you hear and love more effortlessly‚ÄĒ this is for you!¬†

Truly‚ÄĒif you have already been immersing yourself in The Tortured Poets Department since its release, there is NO BETTER¬†way¬†to grow your musicianship than to creatively interact with these songs.¬†

Yes, I'm in!


Musicians of all levels, and teachers, too, & all those in your house who want to grow their musical ear and chord fluency and creativity on the piano.

If you can play basic piano chords, you can do this.  And if you can't play them all yet, this will help get you there!  Taylor Swift's songs use Major and Minor chords exclusively, and almost no extensions (7ths, 9ths, 11ths, etc.) or borrowed chords. 

If a song is written in a key that you haven't played in much before, you get a chance to immerse yourself in that key for a day.  

For example: the first track, FORTNIGHT, is in B major.  
Maybe this is a key you play in often, but perhaps not!

Playing through a 4-minute song with only 4 chords will get those chords rock solid, even if the chords are E, F#, G#m, & D#m (Oops. Easter Egg Alert, but beware: they may not necessarily be in that order!)

WHO THIS IS NOT FOR:¬† Non-Swifties, or Swifties who aren't so into TTPD.¬† You should¬† ¬†This is also not for anyone looking for complicated and challenging¬†progressions or extended chords (No Bbm7b5s occur‚ÄĒnope, this is only major & minor chords).¬† ¬†


First of all...

As I said (or implied‚ÄĒ) this is not a copycat "watch me playing chords" challenge‚ÄĒ¬†

like what you often find on youtube or online courses teaching millions of songs by watching and copying.

This is the ANTI-COPYCAT challenge, with zero use of premade sheet music or a chord chart/cheat sheets.  As I said before, you will learn the chords of each TTPD song, by listening and exploring on piano, and if you get stuck, you will find daily EASTER EGGS popping up in the form of Chord & Key Clues to help as you need. Also for each new key we encounter throughout the month, there will be a daily key review class to equip you with what you need to find the chords and know how to play them in each key. 
(Scroll on for the Plan!). 


In no particular order.

You are just starting in Music...
and have picked up a lot of cool stuff online, on apps or youtube, that made you realize that, wow, you can play the piano (or another instrument)!   But you're tired of relying on watching someone else to know what to play.

You've been playing Music for years...or decades, but never feel like you are seeing the big picture. You know all the scales and arpeggios, as most of your practice and study with a teacher has been focused on technique You can read music or chord charts, but your mind doesn't connect the dots automatically. 

You take or your children take piano lessons, but the focus is on how to play pieces for recitals. You practice scales, arpeggios and cadences to prepare you for playing classical music, but don’t think much about what chords are occurring in the music while you play.  You are mostly working on mastering the technique so you can perform well.

You just never can remember how key signatures work. And when is it called a sharp or a flat? Actually the whole music theory thing just isn't your cup of tea. You know you should study it more, and get determined and attempt it every once in a while, but it's just never clicked.

You know people who can just sit down and play what they hear, or can transpose things on the spot to another key...And you have no idea how they do it.   (It's numbers!).

You are a singer. You hear music naturally or have been trained to sing, but feel lost when other musicians talk about chords and structure and keys.   You dream also of being able to accompany yourself fluidly as you sing and feel a little envious of people who can do that.

You want to learn to improvise and try composing, but you feel silly...especially compared to the mighty masterworks you have learned in your life as a musician in your classical studies. 

You play music yourself, and your children also study an instrument...but you wish you could make time to make creative music together and not just technical practicing. 

You play in a band, or love creating music on your computer, using chords and making melodies and riffs, but you aren't sure why they all work together, and wouldn't be able to play them in any other key.

You are a music teacher. You might even be a piano teacher, but you want make time to explore improvising and creating music more without your inner critic shutting you down, comparing every melody you tinker with to Chopin's melodies.

You are a music teacher with children...and you would love to find a way to connect with your child or children meaningfully and creatively in music that isn't about you just reminding (coercing/cajoling) them to practice.  (Jk-- I know we music teachers never do that!)

You are a composer or arranger...but don't quite have fluency with chords and inversions in every key.  Yep.  You've gotta know this STAT.

You are just really into Alice in Wonderland...and heard about this and said--Oh yes, how can I get in on this awesomeness?  
(This was a real text I got).

(Keep scrolling, I'll show you how!)




to the daily TPD song. 
Sing or hum along. Sing the melody, sing the harmonies you hear.  Dance. Journal. Ponder. Run errands to it.
You live inside the dreamscape of this song all day. 

If people ask you how you are, you are this song! 


Play around while you listen to the song.¬† Pick out¬†anything¬†you can¬†on your piano‚ÄĒthe¬†melody, bass line, chords,¬†all are clues to the key.¬†
If you can't get all of that worked out,
or you¬†are new to learning this way‚ÄĒ

I've got you‚ÄĒbecause...


Chord & Key clues to help you, as well as a 13-minute chord/key class you can play through at your own pace in case the song is in a key you don't often play in (or you just want to brush up on).


Make a chord chart for yourself, mapping out the sections (verse, chorus, bridge) and the chords within them, so that you can play along¬†as you listen easily.¬† You can write out the lyrics, too, or decorate any way you like. This is only for you‚ÄĒDo it your way.¬†

(I'll share mine, too. 
One for my own song study and one I would use if I were playing in her band!)


In the afternoon each day,¬†I will¬†post my map of¬†the song, (and you can check what you came up with and see if you agreeūüôā). I will¬†also share¬†a few piano patterns¬†you can try¬†for¬†each section of the song, and¬†song spark‚ÄĒan idea¬†to¬†create¬†something with.


Play along with Taylor, play and sing on your own, and take an element or thought in the song, and make something new in response.  All night if you like!

Me, in my Tortured yet Poetic 30s


Hi! I'm Hollie Thomas.

I am a composer, classical & pop pianist,¬†lifelong educator & a Swiftie!‚ÄĒfully committed to equipping¬†music-makers at every age and level with clear understanding of how music works¬†through creative exploration on piano.¬†

For this core purpose: I am here to support, empower, and celebrate you (and yours) in your exploration and expression of your inner world and creativity in the language of music.

The relationship Taylor has and enjoys with creating music can belong to everyone, in every home and in everyone's hands.   

Although music makes¬†some people rich and famous‚ÄĒ(and obviously,¬†TS is a mastermind at this)‚ÄĒthat is not what¬†music¬†was made for.¬†¬†Music making is a gift¬†for¬†each of us,¬†to deepen and richly feed our hearts and souls¬†daily.¬† When we are joyous, and when we are tortured by our heart's longing‚ÄĒmusic is our forever friend‚̧ԳŹ.¬†

I am here to encourage and challenge you to see chord fluency as an achievable goal to aim for, as it will bring you a lifetime of wonder and daily creative fulfillment.

That's it. My tricky ulterior motive here. That's me! 

In Love & Poetry,


P.S. I'm so happy you are here!  
(Although you can't tell from my photo, which is from my 30s, when I was busy reading and writing poetry, after falling in love and having my life ruined, repeatedly).

Some Words From My Austin Music Studio Families:
(who know me, since you probably don't, yet!)

Hollie is an absolute genius with all ages.
She understands deeply pedagogy, technique, theory, child development, art, craft, discipline and fun.
She mixes all these elements together into an experience that draws forth pure magic

Chelsea Smock
Austin, Texas

Louis would sit at the piano for several hours a day tinkering with how different notes and chords sounded. 

Because of Hollie, Louis will grow up not only knowing how to play beautiful music, but what it looks like to be a creator and a lover of music for the rest of his life. 

Sarah Teale, Mom of Louis 
San Marcos, Texas

I met Hollie when she joined my band Future Clouds and Radar in 2006,
and straight away she set the standard for what I wanted henceforth in collaborators. 

Her knowledge of music is surpassed only by her enthusiasm for it. 
I doubt I’ve met anyone in my life who loves music more--or is more the committed to sharing it.

Robert Harrison
Songwriter/Performer/Producer | Cotton Mather | Future Clouds and Radar

I invite you on this creative musical journey through






Includes these fun features:

  • Daily Easter Eggs for¬†learning each song by ear
  • Chord/Key practice & review class¬†in each new key using the Number System (8 different keys!) Self Study (at your own pace)
  • Daily Song Study & Spark with piano patterns and prompts for creative music making
  • Lyrics & songwriting discussions and your chord/music questions¬†answered in our own TTPD Private FB Group
  • More music making sparks¬†as they arise! The materials in this challenge will be¬†created live each day of the month in response to your creativity, connections, and insights into the songs.¬† All input¬†is valued and invited!



Here a recap of the ways your musicianship can grow!  Yay!

Tortured by Questions?

If you've got a question that isn't answered here or want to say hi or share anything at all, write me!   
I'm at:¬† [email protected]