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 Songwriting Lessons at my studio in Ashville NC or over Skype  

I've spent more time writing songs than any other single activity in my life and I've been teaching it now for 25 years. Phew!!!

Many good songwriters don't like to teach songwriting and for good reason: it's an excruciatingly difficult thing to teach. But I really enjoy it! I love the songwriting process and I love thinking about it and I love teaching it. With all due respect to the fiercely inarticulate angels who guard these particular artistic gates, here are some random notes to try to give form to a formless process.

There are many books and articles on songwriting but I’ve never come across anything that tells you how to get to a state of being where writing happens easily and naturally. In my arrogance, I’m going to try to do just that in these lessons. 

The zone?
Where does inspiration come from and can we get to that place at will? This is the first step in my approach. Later, we’ll get to the nuts and bolts of how to develop your idea, the craft and the critique. But first we need to find a way to get into what some people like to call the “zone.” To get past the struggle of efforting and into the flow of images and insights where meaning crystallizes into words. This is the threshold of the conscious and subconscious minds—where all the goodies are! Over the years I’ve developed some practices—mostly meditation and contemplation—which really help here.

Intensity
First thing to consider before attempting to write is ; do you feel intensely about your subject matter? If you don’t, it will soon become boring to you—even though you my not admit it to yourself. You really have feel that your subject has some gravitas, some deep core of emotional or intellectual or insightful compulsion. Otherwise it won’t be crucial to you to pursue it. And you will need to pursue it with great determination. You won’t be able to do that if the subject isn’t crucial to you and the process isn’t fun.

Some questions we’ll explore
Can we consciously get to the subconscious or unconscious? Is our subconscious mind trying to tell us something through our lyrics? What is it? Can we increase the odds that the subconscious will come through in a coherent way in our writing? Can we get past the linear---read predictable--- tendencies that rule language and learn to move laterally and freely? Again with certain techniques, I know we can, at least for short spells.

Learning to look at things in a new way.
Just a tiny shift of perspective can change everything in a startling way. Check out the diagram at the bottom of this paragraph.  This is the famous Necker Cube. The cube can be interpreted as being oriented in two different directions or planes. We can train ourselves to look at things in a whole new way. Simply recognizing that this kind of duality can exist in our words and everyday lives can imbue our thinking with a certain humility and agility, a kind of hesitant grace which lends beauty to our writing. Just a hint of this ambivalence can turn an ‘ordinary sentence’ into poetry.  
  
 
Explicit versus Implicit
When something is very explicit it leaves little to the imagination of the listener. But when it is merely implied, the listener's mind becomes aware of infinite possibilities, all of his/her own choosing. This makes the listener a co-creator with you and as such they become more invested in the material. So we'll constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to imply rather than explain. Once your brain starts to think along these lines you'll be surprised how much more depth your lyrics carry. 

Surprise yourself
The human brain needs constant twists and irregularities to keep it focused. There has to be some surprises otherwise the brain quickly “gets” where things are going and turns off. Of course, In songwriting, we do need linear development to keep our audience’s interest. But we also need tensions and turns to sustain that interest over time. This can be done musically, rhythmically or lyrically. We'll check out all three.

Melody
We’ll look at how melodies work and how to better craft them. It has been said that music is the architecture of the soul and when we look at how intervals and tensions work on a piano keyboard, we get an insight into why that statement isn't exaggerated. The relationship and ratios between the intervals and notes of our western scale seem to correspond to certain emotions. These ratios are universal archetypes that run all through nature. We can learn how to use them to support or underplay an emotion, how to craft them to add elements that words can’t express or are better left unsaid. 

I've taught songwriting at the Swannanoa Gathering for the last two years. Here's a workshop brief below for the 2012 gathering;

Growing your Song.

Language is so magical that, almost on its own, a few words can grow into a compelling story, a rollicking rant or subtle understanding. It’s almost as if something inside wants to express itself and will grow itself no matter what language seeds we plant. The trick is to allow it to find its own shape and support it. In this class we will divide the lesson between collectively writing a complete song and discussing individual students compositions. We’ll take a look at the “why” of songwriting and see if it can lead us to the “how”: Why do certain phrases send our hearts fluttering or shivers down or spine or make us go - Aha! We all have an amazing power within us to appreciate and we’ll explore ways to turn this passive virtue into an active one; how to persuade the very power that appreciates art to create it. It's a big step but it can be done. We can feel when something is “right” or “wrong” about someone else’s writing and we’ll look at ways to put that to work within our own creations—a very important skill if you’re not a collaborator. We’ll look at how to become aware of how our minds are working as we write, where our ideas are springing from—the Head, the Heart, the Gut—and how knowing this can guide and add dimensionality to our writing. 


Please contact me here if you're interested in  Songwriting classes 
 
 
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