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What activities would you suggest for a songwriting workshop? What activities have been successful with you in the past?

Kim Such
A singer/songwriter from Ontario, Canada, writes:
I attended a SAC workshop late last year.... they had a couple of very effective exercises .. One was where they had a lyric (no music) and asked everyone to take it home and put it too music... the next day we all played our versions and everyone's was different but all were done well... it kind of broadened how we perceived the lyric and gave us other alternatives... The second exercise was to create a brief melody to reflect a certain mood or feeling... then everyone would have to tell you what they thought the melody was reflecting to them... it gave us a really good idea of how well we were communicating through our melody choices.... how effective they really were We also worked with one of our own songs... we would get feedback from the facilitators and other participants on what they thought of the song.. they emphasized certain elements such as simplicity (too many words can distract) , use of the 5 senses (meaning does your song paint a picture for the listener that involves their senses, things we relate to in real life), does the melody match the lyric and mood of the song?, is it a complete story with a beginning, build, climax and end?, does it answer all your questions ie. where, why, how etc.... each person brought a song they wanted to work on and played it at the beginning... then at the end of the workshop we played our reworked material.... (what a difference in everyone's songs....) The workshop broadened our creative process and taught us to try different techniques and sounds for our songs. hope this helps ... best of luck to you with your workshop....
Duncan Roberts
An ASCAP writer from Paris France, writes:
Have you ever worked out a song you really love only to find that it's written over 3 first position chords like D, A and Em?, then wonder why you'd never found that stunning melody despite having played that chord sequence about a million times already? The answer (Ok, one of the answers!) lies in the rhythm of the lyrics, but that's another topic entirely. Back to workshop ideas… I have always thought that the best exercise would be to give people the same chord sequence, something simple like the one above, then ask them to write a song containing only those chords (This would make a great songwriting competition!). Basically any exercise that already limits your songwriting choices makes you work much harder on the few elements you have left to play with. It's a very simple philosophy: work on Melody alone, then on Chord sequences, then Lyrics etc…At a workshop you could focus on one element at a time by giving people the chords and the lyrics but leaving the melody up to them, then giving them the melody and the lyrics but leaving the chords up to them etc… It would be very interesting to hear the variety in each set of results. This can seem like rather a scientific approach but one that could greatly benefit your mastery of each area of songwriting.
Donnie Ficzere
An Unsigned Singer/Songwriter/Recording Artist from Ottawa, Canada, writes:
If your question is intended for a one-day type of event there are lots of activities you can plan. I have attended a number of workshops and one of the activities included "Date with a tape," whereby local music industry types are invited to spend an afternoon and critique (as a panel discussion) one song from each songwriter. All entries would require a cassette with your best song, a lyric sheet, publishing, and contact info. Depending on who you can get to critique, your song just might end up in the right hands, and at the least, each songwriter in attendance will gain valueable information, and a positive learning experience. On another note, I would also like to reccomend that all you songwriters out there take it upon yourselves to organize a weekly "Songwriters circle" in your locale. Find a place to go and meet every weekend for 4-5 hours. Once you're up and running, you can draw on each other as a group, on a regular basis. The sky is the limit when you pool your local songwriting resources together. Once your Collaborator's Circle grows, Book a night to play somewhere so everyone in the group can have a chance to bounce their material off the public. Do this a few times and you can possibly raise enough cash for everyone in the Circle to record a demo of their best song. (A weekly dues will help too) If you can get to this point, mix it all together on a compilation CD. There is strength in numbers so shopping a compilation to record execs. may be far more benificial and will hold more weight than doing a demo unsolicited by yourself. I have been involved with one of these ventures back home in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. It was highly productive and helped alot of local songwriters become more active in the art of songwriting, in the community, and in the industry.
Warren Wagner
The most unused songwriting resource in Missouri, writes:
I've always liked songwriting assignments that have a specific goal. Such as "write a hook for a song about unrequited love" or " write one verse of a song with this line... in it." Stuff that makes you work hard to be original and learn the craft.
Valerie DeLaCruz
An award-winning recording artist/singer-songwriter from NY, writes:
I attended song Camp 201 offered by NSAI and some of the activitied offered that were very helpful were "free-writing," where you take an idea and just write three full pages about it without stopping, disregarding grammar, syntax, etc. After the free-write, re-reading and circling "power" words or phrases that strike you. Another great part of the retreat was breaking up into small groups with an instructor (each was a major-cut songwriter) and having the group critique a song for each member of the small group (up to 6 people).
Koenraad De Roo
A guitar player - singer - songwriter from Belgium, writes:
- Writing down the music you play
- Harmony techniques
- Classical influences in all kinds of music

Successful with me in the past:
- Bulletin Boards
- Composing techniques in general

Jeremy Greenway
A singer/songwriter from London, Ontario, writes:
I would suggest more of a focus on the creative side of songwriting. While I agree that songwriting is 50% business and 50% writing, I think a lot of writers get bogged down by the business aspect..."I HAVE to write a hit...I've got THIS in mind." In my personal experience, I have now realized - in hindsight - that the low points in terms of "good material" I was writing were specifically due to my struggle to write a hit. Yes, I write radio-friendly material. It is aimed towards an audience. A lot of it is built on hooks, clichés, and common themes. But I lost sight of my creativity when I urged myself to put so many ingredients into a song. I have been to workshops that put an emphasis on the business of songwriting, and while I am totally in agreement with the principle and feel that all songwriters should be aware of the business side, I also feel too much emphasis on it hinders the creative side. It's one thing to write with a formula in mind - it's another to rely on it to produce songs.
Brent Benton
A BMI songwriter from Texas, writes:
It depends on the writing level of the students. Assuming they are relative beginners (a mentoring program in a school sounds like that) then I suggest first reviewing the basics of songwriting - the structures, the rhyme schemes etc. In general how songs are put together. Next I would have them write a song - there is nothing like direct experience. Critique these, but cut them some slack since they are only beginners, and try to encourage them. Point out the big possibilities - you can work on the little ones later.

If the group is advanced I would get into more advanced techniques - things like power points, accents versus counting syllables, working with a melodic figure / motif, and developing and focusing on the concept. Again write songs and critique but on a more thorough basis. I'd be a little tougher with these students since they should know the fundamentals.

Most of all have fun in the sessions and keep it loose (a guitar pull is a great thing to do also).

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