We’d been looking forward to our first class for so long, and finally, on Monday, Feb.1, we taught our very first songwriting workshop to a group of 13 students – 12 girls, and 1 boy (!) – aged 9 through 14.
Instruments, notebooks, pens, and granola bars in hand, we headed into the classroom. The music room at Feinberg-Fisher K-8 is nestled into its own corner of the school, where we can make as much noise as we want. We started off by performing “She Sometimes Forgets,” an original song by Nathaniel. As soon as we finished playing, one of the students, Emily, called out “You guys are good! This is going to be gooood!!!!” We laughed, but all three of us breathed a sigh of relief in that moment: this was going to be good.
Our plan for the workshop was to bring in an unfinished song and work on it with the class. We quickly gathered some crucial info: several of the students play guitar or drums, and almost all of them like to sing. Now we could start.
Nathaniel played a chord progression on his guitar, looping it, while the rest of us listened and hummed along. Dave prompted the class to write down their thoughts: What is the mood? The style? What could this song be about? We got an outpouring of responses, but the overall feeling consensus was that the song was happy and warm, a song about friendship, or about being confident. The next part was a bit trickier: we asked if anyone would make up a melody and sing it along with the guitar. The students fell silent for a few minutes, looking down at their notebooks shyly. The three of us looked at each other, not sure what would happen next ourselves! Finally Dave suggested that I start us off. So I improvised a cheerful melody, with just a twinge of nostalgia, to show how simple melodies can still have depth.
Dave went next, giving his solo voice debut with The alt Default (!!). Nathaniel went last, singing a longer, more developed tune, with a few melodic leaps thrown in, to add some complexity. Once the melody had stuck with everyone, we all sang along. The class was incredibly quick to pick it up and to match the tune exactly. With one verse at hand, we were ready to break into small groups and get beyond the melody.
Dave, Nathaniel, and I each mentored a group of 4 students for the final part of the workshop. Each group had a guitar player, and they learned the progression that Nathaniel had played. In our groups, we prompted the students to create a rhythm and a countermelody. In my group, we had a long, legato countermelody on “ooh,” and one of the girls sang up a third, making a sweet and beautiful harmonization. Once we added our rhythm, guitar part, and melody, we had a complete verse and we were ready to share it.
The groups reunited, and we had a mini-showcase. We performed what we had come up with, and found that while there was some overlap, each group had a slightly different take on the song. One group even featured some vocal improv over the melody!
We came up with a homework assignment for the class, and the three of us are going to do it as well. We welcome others to do it along with us, and feel free to share it in the comments section of our blog!!
Assignment: Come up with a lyric of your own, OR a short melody.
Here are ours :)
Nathaniel - Nothin makes me think of you like smiling and looking up at the stars
Hannah - The light would wake her/it’d wake them both/from what must have been/and could only have been/a dream
Dave - I just want to sleep. Sleep. Dream and fly away between these sheets.