Five Tips to get your Students Songwriting

By Helen Perris

Five Tips to get your Students Songwriting

By Helen Perris

Songwriting is an accessible gateway to composition. The familiarity of the pop song genre in particular is highly engaging. Writing pop songs can help students move from the known to the unknown, deepening their musical understanding and developing skills that may not be covered when the focus of lessons is on learning repertoire. Songwriting explores melody writing, harmony, chord theory, modal tonalities, syncopation and complex rhythms, word setting and scansion (the natural flow of lyrics and how they fit rhythmically into a melody), and self-accompaniment. It also gets the students willingly singing!

If you’d like to try songwriting with your students, here’s five tips to help you on your way.

1. Write what you know

Lyric writing can be daunting, but it’s easier if you’re writing about familiar things. Try asking your students to write about what they saw on the way to school, their favourite meal or a funny moment with a friend. Brainstorm all the ideas before arranging the words into lines and sections.

2. Boundaries are freeing

Too many choices can be paralysing. By setting boundaries or guidelines for the students to follow, you reduce the number of choices and help the scaffold the learning without stifling creativity. Try challenging the student to write limited to only three chords, or without employing the dominant, or in compound triple time, or using mixolydian mode - just not all at once.

3. All roads lead to Rome

A myriad of approaches are not just acceptable but incredibly useful. Try incorporating improvisation, creating a groove and top-lining, or writing a melody and fitting words to it instead of a lyrics-first approach if the student is stuck or needing to come at the task from a different angle.

4. There are no wrong answers

Songs don’t need to rhyme. A chorus doesn’t have to appear after a verse. Time signatures don’t need to stay the same throughout. As long as there is internal consistency, there are no hard and fast rules for songwriting. Listen to a variety of song styles and structures with your students so they can be inspired to play with form, line lengths, poetic devices, rhyme schemes and rhythm. Ask your students what is it they like about their favourite songs and encourage them to use those elements in their own songwriting.

5. Done is better than good

Perfection is the enemy of creativity. While feedback is useful to help students to see what is and isn’t working, it is just one of many tools to improve songwriting skills. Students learn more by doing more, not by spending months crafting one work. Effective lessons are learned through constant experimentation with continuous refinement. The best songwriters are prolific songwriters!

Helen teaches piano, voice and songwriting in her Western Sydney studio and has released two EPs and three singles, with a full album in post production awaiting release. She has written hundreds of songs, some of which have been shortlisted for awards.