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16 Dec

Learning the Art of Songwriting

By Jane Sherrat

What kind of person signs up for a workshop on the Basics of Songwriting? This was a question I was nervously asking myself before the first taster session held at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio back in July.

Although I have been taught to play classical piano and violin, and can easily read music and ‘follow the dots’ I felt bound by the printed page. I was looking for ways to venture into a musical world of self-expression rather than simply playing back what was written. Just like someone who’s always been a reader and wants to learn to write.

I nearly walked past the door without venturing in, terrified of being exposed as an imposter in a group of multi-talented strangers. However, as the first one to arrive, I was immediately put at my ease by the wonderful Abi Moore – local singer-songwriter and the songwriting workshop leader.

Gradually the rest of the participants arrived. They turned out to be a gloriously eclectic group of people from all kinds of backgrounds: poets looking to expand into lyric-writing and melody; guitarists wanting to move on from playing covers; singers with an urge to create their own songs; young; middle-aged; semi-retired; some who had been writing songs every day; others who had never written a song in their life.

We were united by one common aim: a craving to find ways to express ourselves creatively through the medium of song. Who hasn’t been moved by the power of a great song and secretly harboured a desire to craft their own three-minute epic?

The taster workshop was only 2 hours in length, but we covered so much ground. Abi structured the session with a series of tasks aimed at making us think about our motivation for songwriting and get the creative juices flowing. By the end of the session a few collaborations had already been formed, new friendships established, and some people even had finished songs to perform.

It was clear that many of us had a thirst for more, this initial session had only scratched the surface. So Abi and the lovely people at NWS got together and proposed a more detailed series of 4 workshops on Developing Your Songwriting.

And over the 4 subsequent sessions we covered a lot of ground. We delved into:

  • Focussing on structure and ‘being the architect’
  • Editing and experimentation
  • Basic chord sequences and a brief overview of some music theory (which proved to be a bit of a headscratcher for some!)
  • Rhythm, rhyme and developing your lyrics
  • More theory … time signatures and melodic phrasing
  • Moving on to think about recording, marketing and promotion

Circle of Trust

For me, the overriding takeaway from this songwriting course has been gaining the confidence to share some of my ideas with other people, and just have a go. Being provided with a forum for doing this has been invaluable, and has helped kick-start my creative journey.

Abi used the phrase ‘circle of trust’ many times, and this is exactly what we had. A supportive space where we could sing, play, create, share ideas and express ourselves knowing there was mutual trust and respect developing between everyone in the group.

I think that at every session Abi was blown away by what the group managed to achieve. She bowled the balls and everyone just picked them up and ran with them.

I’m sure everyone would want me to say a big thank you to Abi Moore. This mini-course was a huge success down to her brilliant structuring of each session with great practical tasks, just enough information to help us along and plenty of encouragement. You can check out her music at www.abimoore.com and find her on iTunes, CD Baby, Spotify, Amazon, Google and Bandcamp. And do look out for her local gigs and collaborations. I heard her playing live at The Maze earlier this year and it was a fabulous set.

Also thanks to the Nottingham Writers’ Studio for providing the venue and administrative support to make it happen. The group is hoping to reconvene in 2017 and hopefully keep on developing.

Jane Sherratt has an MSc in Digital Music Technology and blogs about how to get started with home studio recording. You can read more at www.musicrepo.com

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