Todd Durrant’s Random Thoughts
Follow the efforts of a creative, crazed entrepreneur.

Songwriting School – First Report

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I was going to begin a “school of pop” where I would teach kids (ages 8 to 18) about songwriting and recording pop music.   As the summer vacation months concluded and kids fell back into a school schedule, I began teaching my first students.  So far, the experience has been quite rewarding on a personal level.

Student A is an 8-year-old (almost 9) girl with a lot of energy and excitement.  As soon as her mother told her she’d be taking lessons to write and record her own music, the girl was giddy with anticipation and already began writing her song ideas.   She has writing a couple of songs that we’ve looked over in our lessons and she is still working to get the structure concept figured out.  She thinks of what she wants to sing (melody and words) in her head, but doesn’t quite fit those into a standard verse / chorus structure.   Now, I’m a fan of breaking the rules of standard pop structure, but for the purpose of teaching “pop music” I encourage her to work within the familiar forms.  That way she can learn how to make a “hit” that fits right in with everything else she hears on the radio.  Once she has that mastered, then she can choose to pull away from the norm, and she can do it artistically and intentionally, if you know what I mean.

Her last song had some thoughtful lyrics, but what she called “verse 1” had it’s own melody and rhyme scheme, while her “verse 2” had the same melody and non-rhyme-scheme as her chorus, so it didn’t stand out as a new verse.   So, her song would basically be verse-chorus-chorus 2-chorus-bridge-chorus, at least to the listener. There wouldn’t seem to be much variation.

Anyway, I pointed out these things to her and she says she’ll work on it for the “next song” but she isn’t interested in changing what she has already done because in her head it is finished.   Well, I can understand that, since it’s the way I often feel about my own songs.  If I figure I’ve said what I want to say, then I may not be interested in making changes, though it might actually help if I did.  Some of us are stubborn.

Student B is a very intelligent 13-year-old boy.  He is very quiet, so at first I was wondering if he was really interested in what was going.  I wasn’t sure if he was motivated enough to actually DO anything with these lessons.  But I was wrong wrong wrong.  He picks up pretty much anything I show him on the keyboard instantly.   He needs to practice a bit to get things running fluidly, but if I show him chords and patterns, etc. he can play them right back.   And his first song that he brought to me was very well written.  It had an easily recognized rhyme-scheme and the verses were consistent with one-another while the chorus stood out on it’s own.   I think we added two words to the entire song for the sake of fitting the lyrics with the rhythm he wanted to use.   I’ve already taken him to the computer where he has laid out the drum sequences for his verses and chorus.   Basically, this is one of those shy, quiet, small kids at school that has a LOT going on inside his head.  He’s one of those kids that would be very popular if people got to know him.   He reminds me a bit of myself as an early teen, quietly minding my own business at school, then going home and writing songs nonstop about everything I was thinking.

I will begin with a pair of sisters (students C and D) tomorrow.  I’ve only talked to their mother so far, and she is very excited about them having a chance to take this kind of music lessons.   She signed up one of her daughters for voice lessons last year and had a bad experience with it because the teacher wanted to push her into a more “classical” approach, but that’s not what the girl wanted to do.  These two sisters already like to make up their own songs and sing duets.   So, I look forward to helping them develop their own voice and get those songs recorded and improve their skills.  Fun stuff!

I’m still looking for more students, hoping for a dozen by the beginning of 2010.   I think this is a great way to work with music and not stress out about SELLING music in a market where the general public is so slow to buy.  Music is still an important part of individual lives– maybe not buying as a consumer, but in creating as a participant and using it as a form of self-expression.  Maybe finding our own inner artist is ultimately more important.

-Todd

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4 Responses to “Songwriting School – First Report”

  1. Wow, what a fascinating experience. You can probably learn as much from them as they learn from you. Pop music does tend to have a rather rigid structure, it’s nice to have it questioned now and then. I guess the challenge is knowing when and how much to steer the student towards traditional rigidness and when to let them go down their own personal and potentially (more) interesting musical path, which may not be pop. Or finding a way to integrate the two paths if they would like to do that.

  2. I used to do the same sort of thing with some of my advanced piano students, and eventually took on songwriting students. It’s always fun and rewarding. I highly suggest using Jason Blume’s “Six Steps to Songwriting Success” as a textbook. It has exercises and examples, and saves you from improvising each lesson plan.

  3. Awesome idea! I don’t know of anyone else in Utah doing it so you may have the monopoly here.

    If there is one sure way to make money in the music business, it’s teaching and selling gear!

    Monty

  4. Todd,

    This is an interesting post. I think you’re on to something.

    Back in 1986-1988, my mom was frustrated b/c she paid some guy to give me guitar lessons, yet I never really learned how to play guitar.

    That’s b/c what he did was teach me how to think about songs, how to compose them better, and ultimately a bit about how to record them.

    I still somewhat regret never really learning to play guitar–I still strum the same 3 chords I learned my first semester–but I value the composition and recording experience, which I use to record my own songs two decades on.

    Music isn’t only valuable insofar as one can perform it flawlessly. It’s also a way to create, and to engage in creative problem solving.

    Again, good work with School of Pop! I hope it goes well.


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