Writing and Singing Songs with Students

Listen to “I Fall Apart”

We’ve been working on songwriting this week in class. I usually do it right on the tail end of poetry, but I pushed it off and almost did not get to it this year until one particular student kept asking, and asking, and asking until I realized: he really wants to learn about writing songs! So, here we are, working on songwriting.

We analyzed some lyrics this week and listened to music, cranking it up on the whiteboard speakers. I chose Kris Allen’s Live Like We’re Dying and Goo Goo Dolls’ Better Days and Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), which we also sang together with me on my acoustic guitar. These three songs speak well to developing a “theme” and follow a traditional “verse chorus” pattern. I tell my kids to listen closely to their favorite songs and notice the techniques of writing — structurally and also, as a piece of writing.

Yesterday, I shared with them a song that I wrote earlier this year in the aftermath of Haiti. The song — called “I Fall Apart” — is told from the view of a character whose love is trapped in the rubble, and the character is telling them that it will be all right, even as they fear the worst. I then handed out my lyrics, with notes on some ideas that I wanted to draw their attention to, from the writer standpoint. Then, I performed for them. (They mostly seemed appreciative)

We then moved into a song that I wrote a few years ago. This song — “Just Believe” — has a missing verse, and their job is to write it and then, next week, to sing it with me. I have my electric guitar, amps, PA system, and drum machine in the front of the room, and I use all of my cajoling skills to get everyone up there to sing into the microphone, even if they can’t sing. I tell them, this may be your only chance to play with an electric guitarist and sing words you wrote.

Yeah — I wish I had had a teacher who had done that.

Peace (in the muse),

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