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songwriter workshop help needed

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chordstrangler 16 Jan 03 - 03:09 PM
mg 16 Jan 03 - 03:13 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 16 Jan 03 - 03:45 PM
pattyClink 16 Jan 03 - 03:47 PM
M.Ted 16 Jan 03 - 05:51 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 17 Jan 03 - 12:19 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 17 Jan 03 - 12:43 PM
Thomas the Rhymer 17 Jan 03 - 01:04 PM
Mr Red 17 Jan 03 - 01:46 PM
harvey andrews 17 Jan 03 - 02:42 PM
Stilly River Sage 17 Jan 03 - 03:42 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 17 Jan 03 - 04:19 PM
GUEST 17 Jan 03 - 11:04 PM
georgeward 18 Jan 03 - 01:42 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 18 Jan 03 - 03:00 AM
alanabit 18 Jan 03 - 03:54 AM
Mark Cohen 18 Jan 03 - 04:11 AM
Liz the Squeak 18 Jan 03 - 04:51 AM
GUEST,Frank Hamilton 18 Jan 03 - 01:06 PM
georgeward 19 Jan 03 - 03:07 AM
alanabit 19 Jan 03 - 04:19 AM
Thomas the Rhymer 19 Jan 03 - 04:22 AM
Liz the Squeak 19 Jan 03 - 05:45 AM
Jeri 19 Jan 03 - 11:26 AM
alanabit 19 Jan 03 - 12:31 PM
SlickerBill 19 Jan 03 - 08:32 PM
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Subject: songwriter workshop help needed
From: chordstrangler
Date: 16 Jan 03 - 03:09 PM

I'm in bad need of a bit of advice and I hope that some 'Catters out there might be able to help me.
        A short while back I was invited to host a songwriters workshop at Listowel (Co. Kerry, Ireland) Writers' Week.   This is a major international literary festival featuring major writers and poets.   I was greatly flattered by the invitation – and the dosh – and so accepted without giving the matter much thought.

        I'm now beginning to wonder if I'm the right man for the job. It doesn't help that I'm a self-taught musician and writer and know damn all about music theory and suchlike.   Not being able to read the dots is something of a disadvantage in one way, and perhaps, a blessing in another. Not only that, but I don't have any experience of teaching anybody anything.
        
        Anyway, the workshop will run over three days and would appear to be quite intensive. Is there anybody out there who has attended one of these things and knows of a good format. All suggestions would be greatly appreciated and might help me to get a clear picture in my mind of what I should be doing.

        I'm in your collective hands………….M


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: mg
Date: 16 Jan 03 - 03:13 PM

tell them what you do first of all. Then contact your most favorite songwriters, and others' favorites as well. Find out what they do. Everyone does it differently. mg


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 16 Jan 03 - 03:45 PM

Strangler:

I've participated in and led many sonwriters workshops at folk festivals, but the setting you're going into sounds very different. It would help us Catters to have a better idea what you are expected to accomplish through the workshops. I'ts impossible to lay out a format if you don't know what your goals are.

I've approached the workshops in a variety of ways, from very organized to more of a song swap with whatever commentary the other writers wanted to make. I've even done it alone (once.) Like you, I refuse to be dictated to by them little black squiggles on paper, which has worked fine for me, but is a major limitation in explaining melody and chord progressions.

With the time you have, one thing I'd encourage is to draw upon the people who are attending the workshop and let them talk about and hopefully, sing a song that they've written, or have worked on. That was what I did the one time that I ran a workshop alone. We also took that approach at a songwriters festival in Boston that I participated in. I think that it's very helpful to those who are interested in learning more about songwriting to have a chance to share what they've written and to ask for suggestions or changes. It will draw the whole workshop into an open discussion.

You can also talk about the different ways that people write songs, giving examples and talking about the approach that each way requires. Most songwriters have written at least part of a song in a dream, some write the lyrics first, some write the melody first, some write them as one.

I've done workshops where I've asked the other members to come prepared to talk about and give an example of songs with several different approaches:

Songs written from personal experience
Songs written from historic accounts
Protest songs, personal or political
love songs
humorous songs..

you get the idea.

Most songwriters workshops I've participated in focus almost exclusively on lyrics. That may reflect a limitation in the ability of songwriters to intelligently discuss melody and chord changes and how they came about. I am certainly very limited in that regard.

Finally, I know others who have led workshops that were more "hands on," where the group wrote a song by committee. I couldn't do that intelligently, and don't approach songwriting in collaboration with anyone.

There are two basic questions you have to answer first... What do you hope to accomplish with the workshops? and what can you bring from your own experience? It would help if you could make some comment on those two questions here..

This should be an interesting thread..

Jerry


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: pattyClink
Date: 16 Jan 03 - 03:47 PM

If the audience is mostly going to be book and poetry writers, then work with that. Show them as best you can how YOU adapt prose writing ideas to lyric writing, and how you work out tunes. And show them what goes wrong, and lots of things newbies do that sound bad.   Transcribing things; if you don't write dots then be prepared to advise them what software will help them if they choose to. Show them what you do in lieu of dots; explain about technical stuff like recorders or whatever.

Play some examples of bad stuff that you fixed? Play examples of very bad and very good songwriting.

All most of them want to know is how they might take a whack at it, so show them. Give them a few simple tools they can use.

(Any terribly accomplished composers who show up can be told they are overqualified for your workshop, and can roll up their sleeves and help or leave.)


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: M.Ted
Date: 16 Jan 03 - 05:51 PM

I am not familiar with your festival, but is it possible that the workshop they want you to host is one in which songwriting is discussed by a panel of songwriters, as opposed to being actually practiced by random attendees?


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 17 Jan 03 - 12:19 PM

Sounds exciting! I'm swooning a bit, but I'll try to give you a good answer...

First off, the opportunity sounds great, jump on it! Don't let Mted bring you down... he'll get over it!

Secondly, you must have moved someone with your songwriting, or you wouldn't have been invited... So go with what you've got!

Thirdly, though there are many good pointers in the above threads, some of the suggestions could be distracting to your approach... pick and chose what's right for you... Keep it simple!

It sounds like a very sophisticated group, centering on literary achievements... so I would hint at content, but I'd focus on how easy it is to put poetry to music! Since you will be amoung people of letters, you could even use some existing poetry... one of the class's commpositions, or a classic, and make music with em!

Lastly, making songs is easy. Anyone who leads people to suspect that they probably don't have what it takes, is a turd. Making up songs is for everybody! Oh! and dont leave anyone out, could be that the shy one in the corner will make everyone's day! ttr


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 17 Jan 03 - 12:43 PM

Turning things around, I had a friend who recited song lyrics as poetry. I think his career lasted one performance. He recited the lyrics to a playful song that I'd written and I thought it sounded terrible. Songs aren't just poetry put to music. And rhyming is the easy part of songwriting..

Jerry


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 17 Jan 03 - 01:04 PM

Gosh, Jerry, maybe I should stop writing songs right now! Thanks for reminding me how hard it is, ...now I'm sure I'll never be able to do it...

Just kidding, of course, but your post could level a beginner's confidence... IMHO. ttr


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Mr Red
Date: 17 Jan 03 - 01:46 PM

Martin Ryan ran one in Chippenham a few years back where he had groups of 2 or three people and got them to make lists of words, lists of subjects and talked about the lists for about 1 minute per group and then let us get on with it. The sort of formal entree and the size of the groups were relevant.

Sandra Kerr ran a successful w/s by discussion tactics/methodologies (called "talking") then set a scenario and let us get on with it. I tried to colaborate with a couple of people to no avail - I think it needed the guidance of the workshop host to make that work. FWIW I wrote a complete song in the time left - it was a simple formula but a very worthwhile result nonetheless.

I have done committee songs at w/s and they are not the best - it is the size of the group as much as the personalities.


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: harvey andrews
Date: 17 Jan 03 - 02:42 PM

One thing I like to do is to find a well known song known to all the group and then get them writing their own lyric giving them one word to start with or maybe two or three. This removes any problems with melody and gets them to examine rhyming scheme and scansion also allowing them to work quietly on their own.Generally when the results are seen all the common pitfalls will be exposed and can be dealt with.


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 17 Jan 03 - 03:42 PM

M--
Check out how some other groups have arranged similar sorts of programs. Here is a link for more links from the Seattle Folklore Society. Perhaps you'll find ideas here. I know there are many references to other workshops on the various Mudcat threads. Doing a search with a few well-chosen keywords should bring you lots of useful material.

SRS


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 17 Jan 03 - 04:19 PM

Gee, Mike: I sure didn't mean to be discouraging. I think songwriting is easy. I think talking about songwriting is hard, because it is such a personal pursuit for me. I've also found, talking with other songwriters, that it seems like many of them write songs in all different ways... many have had parts of songs come to them in a dream (which doesn't even qualify as "writing," and even those who usually start with lyrics, or start with the melody first have had some songs come to them differently... melody first for the lyricists, lyrics first for those who start with melody usually. Some songs come out almost whole, and some have to be nurtured along for months, or even years.

I think the advice that you start with yourself is excellent. In the long run, we all end up talking about ourselves(me included.) That's the thing we know best. Sometimes, the only thing we know..
Just sort through all of these ideas and figure out what would be good for you. And then, the people who are attending the workshop will lead you at times as much as you lead them..

Jerry


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Jan 03 - 11:04 PM

Right O Jerry, thanks for not getting miffed, I came on a little stronger than I meant to... sorry. I just reread your first post and found it again to be excellent. Harvey, I like your style... Thanks too to Mr. red... Yeh, I really lke this thread! ttr


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: georgeward
Date: 18 Jan 03 - 01:42 AM

If you are dealing with writers and poets, you might want to take some time to examine (in some challenging and creative way) the differences between song lyrics and poetry. While it is true that some poetry sings beautifully, some does not. And conversely (as Jerry has said), some very effective song lyrics don't make great poetry sans tune. Why so?

And one sometimes-interesting way to explore the relationship between text and tune is to find a text that has been set to different tunes
(or a tune that has been used for different texts) and to ask which setting is more effective and why.


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 18 Jan 03 - 03:00 AM

Good suggestion, George (Hi, George.)Most songwriters have probably experienced at least one time where changing the melody and chord progression or rhythm after a song seems "written" has happened. Sometimes just a subtle change in the chord progression can liven up a song and take it from mundane to interesting..

And, a fairly well known gospel song, He Looked Beyond My Faults And Saw My Needs was written to the tune of Danny Boy.. Both songs work beautifully with the same melody. Greensleeves is another melody with more than one successful set of words.. There have to be endless examples of parodies written to the same melody as the orginal song. Kids are particularly imaginative doing that (and some Catters, too..)

Jerry


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: alanabit
Date: 18 Jan 03 - 03:54 AM

I thoroughly agree with georgeward too. Above all the words have to sound good when you sing them. I have never thought that it was about finding some words to fit a tune or vice versa. They have to wrok off each other. Usually the words and the tune take you in the same direction, but sometimes they are deliberately taken to contradict each other. One example of that is the last verse of Randy Newman's "I think it's going to rain today".
    Right before me signs of glory
    Help me live - show me the way
    Human kindness is overflowing
    And I think it's going to rain today.
When you put that into the context of a great song, the effect is heartbreaking. I think that's the difference between songwriting and poetry.


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Mark Cohen
Date: 18 Jan 03 - 04:11 AM

I once went to a songwriting workshop led by Geof Morgan. He said, "OK, take the next ten minutes and write a song about your shoes." Then whoever wanted to perform their song, did. Then, "Take the next ten minutes and write a song whose first line is, 'When my father called me this morning.'" In other words, just write. Didn't work for everybody, but it sure did for me--I came up with one of my favorite songs, in just ten minutes. Just another idea to think about. I think most of the ideas here are excellent...and you can probably go on and think of half a dozen more. Have fun!

Aloha,
Mark


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 18 Jan 03 - 04:51 AM

From the other side of the fence, as someone who once attended songwriters workshops there are certain things that I wanted to get from the group/experience.

I wanted someone to tell me the truth about what I had written, but in a way that would not discourage me to write more.

I wanted someone to show me how to get through the gaps - those odd lines that are needed to 'stitch' two or more good lines together to make sense of them.

I wanted someone to recognise that my style was mine, and not try to make me write in theirs.

I also wanted someone to tell me the trick of remembering my own songs, and of remembering any new tune I'd written to go with it.

In one session, what I got was a pretentious prig telling us what he had written and how much money it had made him. He was so bloody egotistical I never learned a thing except not to bother seeing him perform again! It basically turned into an 'I wrote this one, listen to it and tell me how brilliant I am' session that only served to boost his already over inflated ego.

The only good advice I got from that session was that songs are either stories or descriptive essays, and like stories should have a beginning, a middle and an end. And a parody should echo the original enough to be recognised.

Something that I learned from somewhere else, as a starting point was to take a well known song and write an opposite or reply to it. My example was 'The Recruited Collier' (What's the matter with you my love, and where's your dashing Jimmy) and that spawned 'the Recruited Colliers' lament' (somewhere in the Mudcat songbook). There are lots of songs from one point of view, so there should be plenty of scope there.

For the 'descriptive essay' song, choose something you feel strongly about, and describe it as poetically as possible.

And for a bit of fun, get everyone to write a 4 line verse (Claire de lune is a good tune for beginners) with a particular word in it (like vestibule, sausage or moose, anything at all!) and see if people collectively come up with a whole song.

Hope it works out OK. Basically if you go to jelly, just be yourself and be honest. Most people go to these workshops because they know that in them they have something that could be good, it's up to you to coax it out with a bit of cheese. They want to know how to write down their feelings and experiences, and how to fit it to a tune. They also want to know if the stuff they've already written has any value to it.

Mind you, you will always get the one who thinks they're the next Sy Kahn just because they got a prize once. These usually want you to listen to their stuff and no-one elses and are best left to get on with being egotistical in a corner somewhere.

LTS


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton
Date: 18 Jan 03 - 01:06 PM

For me, songwriting was hard. If you sing enough songs you begin to realize that there are those that endure for good reasons. Here's what I learned from my association with good songwriters. I'm trying to apply these principles to lyric writing but easier said then done.

1. Specificity. Describe in detail sounds, sights, smells, colors, scenes and people how they look, dress, act........etc.

2. Fresh images. Not "ham and eggs"..."June-spoon" or cliches from other songs. Use something like IE: The winter tree limbs like bony fingers reach to the sky"........

3. Make 'em rhyme if you can otherwise it sounds like lazy writing.

4. Interior rhymes are sometimes effective.

5. Some of the principles of poetry apply. There are "rules".

6. Please don't preach. Disembodied sermons are boring. It's really funny to see some young person who hasn't lived much yet proclaim great philosophical ideas about the "meaning of life".

7. Economy in language. The best most endurable songs are simple. Even the more ostensibly complex ones. Check out "Strunk and White".

8. Keep the focus on the subject matter.

9. Central theme. Keep it in mind. In pop songs they call it the "hook".

Frank


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: georgeward
Date: 19 Jan 03 - 03:07 AM

"I wanted someone to tell me the truth about what I had written, but in a way that would not discourage me to write more."

Did you ever find such a person, Liz? And how did she/he do it?

Wonderful post (one of many in this thread).

And howdy to yerself, Jerry.

-George


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: alanabit
Date: 19 Jan 03 - 04:19 AM

It is quite possible. My excellent writing tutors at Crewe and Alsager College - Geoff Sutton and John Singleton - did just that every week. I still visit Geoff when I get the chance.


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Thomas the Rhymer
Date: 19 Jan 03 - 04:22 AM

Well, it can be easy... and it can be impossible. Ever have one of those times when you can't find any ideas you like, and the rhymes won't come, and the guitar just makes a dolesome raquet? Sure, the little critic a writer's head can become a fearsome tyrant... rejecting every melodic meter... These times can be a trial for anyone. And we all have them, I'm told...

I agree with a lot of LtS's desires... The songwriting 'teacher' must be encouraging, and at all times. There are too many different types of songs to prevent the 'urge' to be judgemental... noone is great at all of 'em... But my feeling about this matter goes even further into the psyche of creative beginnings... It's like many people are turned away at the door, because the doorman is a rude inspector instead of inviting. Personal empowerment is a feeling that has got to be present in any creative outlet, and songwriting is no exception ... In fact, I would venture to assert that instilling confidence could be the finest gift a teacher can give...

...and there are so many ways the ego-centric can spoil a fine creative flow... and tie us up, hopeless and shivering in the shadows of the complexities of freedom...

Here's to the greatness in all of us! ttr


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Liz the Squeak
Date: 19 Jan 03 - 05:45 AM

I did find one person who was completely honest, but also helpful. It sounds corny, but he was a teacher in my first school, many, MANY years ago. However, I guess I was a bit too young then for the advice to sink in properly, but I remembered it. He was the one who told me to write in my style, not to try and copy anyone elses', and he also taught me alliteration and precis. If I wanted to spend a verse describing something, I could, but it would be so much better if I could get it into one or two lines that felt right.

Songs that are remembered best are those that have one or all of these:

a) a catchy tune that you find yourself humming an hour later
b) a phrase or lines that paint such a strong picture that you always remember it, the 'hook' that makes you want to go and learn the rest of the song. Something like 'grey ghostly figures still glide round the floor' (extra brownie points for whoever recognises that song), which was the hook for me.
c) a story specific to an event or person, that has affected you or others, that others can identify with - Green Fields of France, Sorry the day I was married, The Rose, for example.

LTS


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: Jeri
Date: 19 Jan 03 - 11:26 AM

Keith Marsden/Normandy Orchards

I've had trouble finding honest, kind, competent critics. When you do find one, you don't want to ask too much. Well, I always feel like I'm imposing.


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: alanabit
Date: 19 Jan 03 - 12:31 PM

I teach English Jeri - nobody has ever asked me to teach songwriting!
However, I do agree with the comments about teachers needing to be able to make students more confident. I am very careful not to say or do things which could attack someone's confidence. Any damned fool can make people feel stupid or embarrassed - and that just makes it more difficult for the student to learn. Speaking as a teacher, I like people who ask questions. It shows they are interested and trying to get more from the class. That is gratifying for me too. I always encourage students to challenge what I say. If they think I am wrong it may well be that they have not yet grasped a principle (possibly because I have not made it clear enough). On the other hand, it can happen that I am wrong and the student is right. If the student corrects me, they are doing us both a favour!


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Subject: RE: songwriter workshop help needed
From: SlickerBill
Date: 19 Jan 03 - 08:32 PM

We've been running a one day workshop for several years now, inviting different folks from the area to come in. Some common elements:

Some discussion of what makes a good song, along the lines of posts above. I think this is best if it's a combination of your thoughts and thoughts of attendees.

Some discussion of inspiration; where songs come from, and how to get them to come. we've had lots of activity here, and it's usually lots of fun. people can work separately or in pairs or groups.

Participants bring and perform a completed song for the group, followed by discussion and suggestions. Have em bring a lyric sheet you can follow.

Participants bring an incomplete song, one in progress, to work on during the session, while you go round and work individually with folks. People appreciate the one-on-one time.

I don't think you need to feel like you've got the definitive answer on how it's done. If you can get a good supportive vibe going among participants, get em over the fear of sharing something personal like a song and inspire them to keep at it, I think you've done a great job. There are workshops that deal with "How to write a hit song" ie "Making it in the industry" stuff, which is fine, I guess, and then there's "Writing songs is great; period" type of workshopping. I guess you need to figure out what you want to do there. Lots of luck. sb


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