An Introduction to Songwriting was an all day workshop led my experienced composer and performer Matthew Forbes.
So it was that eleven of us (eight men and three women) gathered to explore what makes a good song and how we might approach the task of songwriting in our own circumstances. The day was relatively unstructured but moved along at a pace, driven by Mathew’s encyclopaedic knowledge of music, boyish enthusiasm, skill and passion for the subject.
An icebreaker session explored our respective expectations and what we individually wanted to achieve for the day. This ranged from those of us who already wrote and played songs and wished to know more (or deal with creative blocks to finishing pieces) to those who had never previously attempted writing songs in any shape or form. There were poets and writers who needed music and musicians who needed lyricists, others just dipping a toe in the waters and intrigued by the title of the session. One of the nice things about a workshop like this is the mutual respect and support that individuals show for each other. We empathised with each other about our individual fears (opening the veins’ as Matthew referred to it) and aspirations.
Throughout the day, Matthew had us jotting down three lines, based on the Japanese ‘Haiku’ model where the first and last lines have 5 syllables and the middle line has 7 syllables. This worked well as a device to generate ideas, and provided the content for some practical exercises later in the day. Most of the morning was spent discussing the what, why and how of great songs, which could best be summarised by the old adage that ‘the rule is, there are no rules’. Using extensive song clips, Matthew talked us through (some of) the elements, such as lyrics, melody and arrangements, pattern and timing, complexity versus simplicity.
The afternoon saw a more interactive approach as Matthew led us through physical rhythm group exercises and games to translate our haiku examples into a tangible, presentable form. This was great fun, liberating and highly entertaining. We learnt the delights of the ukulele, and working first as a group and then individually to take our haikus a step further, into a musical context.
Through it all, Matthew maintained the energy levels and kept us on track, explaining the paradoxical freedom of ‘constraints’ and ‘form’ as a vehicle to drive creativity (for example, end as you begin: to provide a sense of journey and resolution for the listener). The day concluded (aptly) with a discussion about how to ‘finish’ a song and when to draw the creative line.