I had never taught songwriting to anyone, nor had I ever received instruction on how to write songs. So when the Rock n Roll Camp for Girls asked me to teach songwriting at their summer camp, my first reaction was “how exciting!” And my second reaction was “I’ve never done this!”
In the weeks before teaching my first songwriting class I did a lot of research on songwriting. I read articles about it, watched YouTube videos, and even signed up for a songwriting class. I put together a course agenda outlining what I would talk about. Then in the last few days before the class, I changed my approach. I would not talk about songwriting. I decided that I would show them how I write songs, and right then and there in the class we’d all write songs. I didn’t know if this approach would work or not.
I started with a few minutes of background info about myself, and then launched into a short discussion asking “what is a song anyway?” To lubricate our brains we started writing rhyming words on the board. Just lists and lists of words that kinda rhyme. We got pencils and paper to write down our lyrics that rhymed, or not. I walked around with a guitar playing chords and rhythms that the girls might latch on to. Ten minutes later, I asked for volunteers to come up to the front and read their lyrics. The girls came up one by one. I played the guitar and the girls easily fit their lyrics to melodies and rhythms.
Voila! Dozens of songs were created, right there, easily and effortlessly. Lots of the songs were funny, like the song about purple cola and ice cream soda. Some songs were really well-developed. One young woman wrote an entire composition of several verses and a chorus. She sang it flawlessly, as if she was the next up-and-coming Pink. Most of the girls were enthusiastic to share, except for one girl, maybe 8 years old. She shielded her song from view, even though she had written a full page. She said her song didn’t rhyme and that she didn’t like it. I let her know she was fine and there was no pressure to share.
The class was almost over, and nearly everyone had shared, when the little girl raised her hand to indicate that she was now ready. She came to the front, said her name, and shared her song. It had lots of sound words in it, like crash and smash, and then words about a bridge and water and something about 99. It was really emotional. I listened closely and when she finished sharing I slowly asked her, “were you in a car crash on hwy 99?” She looked down and said yes, it had just happened recently. Her song was her way of processing a recent experience that was still on her mind.
I recognized that feeling of songwriting metamorphosis- a song can help us heal and recover from the pain and see it from a different view. That’s where songs come from.
At Rock Camp the girls don’t learn cover songs, they learn to write their own original songs. Then they form bands, and by the end of the week, each band performs an original song. I think the songwriting aspect is really important for the girls. They express themselves as unique individuals who have something to say. They don’t copy or try to be someone else. They use their own words.
It’s what rock music is all about, it’s about sharing experiences and emotions. It’s about speaking up for what we believe in, it’s about expressing ourselves. If a girl can speak up, write a song, and perform it in front of audience, she can do anything.