My favorite songwriter Carole King is famous for saying “Song Form is Limitless.”
I am famous (among my students anyway...) for adding to that quote in my lectures.“Song form is limitless. BUT…The more you understand about what's been done/happening with different components of song structure in popular music, the more tools you have in your tool box, and the greater ability you have to be intentional with every aspect of your songwriting.”
I know it’s long winded. And truthfully a big part of that quote existing, is that it’s fun to share a quote space with Carole (I like to pretend we are on a first name basis). But I believe that. Yes, music and writing at the end of the day can be whatever you want. You can scream one word for 3 and a half minutes, and rightfully call it a song, or record yourself throwing rocks at a piano keyboard and put it up on Spotify. However, just like learning foundational techniques in painting, such as creating lines, and using certain brush strokes, the more knowledge you have of form and techniques in songwriting, the more you have to draw from to create incredible, compelling, and connecting music of your own. And it is from this perspective that I approach teaching songwriting.
The main things I focus on in my songwriting teaching are the following:
1. Exploring what has been done before in popular music writing, along a variety of topics.
2. Trying new techniques for generating the great song ideas that are inside of you.
Here’s how that breaks down in an actual lesson:
Show and Tell:
I provide space at the beginning of each lesson for ANYTHING a student wants to show me that they are working on. And because songwriting is so subjective, my role is not to judge whether a song is good or bad. Instead I try to provide helpful feedback, and ask questions, (for example: “what’s the main point you are trying to communicate with this song?”) to help the students decide what might be best for moving forward.
After the sharing process, we dive into a slide show and lecture on a more focused topic within songwriting. Topics like “generating ideas,” “the art of writing duets,” “vulnerability in songwriting” etc. tailored to the individual or class level.
Throughout the lecture, there are discussion questions, and song examples (both that I come up with, and the students come up with), and on the last slide, are the assignment options that relate back to that topic, as a chance to explore it further. For example, one of the assignments for “the marriage of lyrics and melody” is a melodic or lyrical switch up, where you take a song’s melody and give it new lyrics, or you take a song’s lyrics and give it a whole new melody, in order to experiment and see how they sound divorced from the original marriage of both.
My goal in teaching songwriting is to provide tools for student to further find their own inspiration and processes for creating original music. The topics break down songwriting into understandable bite-sized components, and the assignments give students the chance to stretch and explore the topic for themselves in a very meaningful creative way. I LOVE teaching songwriting, and watching my students grow in their own unique way through this incredible art form!
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