by Josephine Johnson

The past month took me to Atlanta and Cumming, Georgia, where I worked with 6th, 7th & 8th grade students writing five different sets of lyrics to a piece of music I composed for the ukulele. On Saturday, February 4, I brought the same songwriting lesson to students in grades 4 thru 9 at HSU’s annual Young Writer’s Conference.

How’d we do this?

Well, as a group we talked about parts of songs and collaborated on ideas and motifs—super important that as a group we decided together what the song would be about to focus our imagery and hone the point of what we wanted to express. In some ways writing a song is sort of like tackling a five paragraph essay. A song needs an intro, a main theme & conclusion. Think about it. At least, I think there are similarities between these seemingly disparate genres—the students, though, were thoroughly nonplussed by this comparison.  After we agreed on unifying theme, concept and imagery, we broke into small groups where students came up with three verses, a chorus and a lyric-driven bridge.

Below is a video from Bob Doran that he filmed and edited at the 2012 Young Writer’s Conference.

Below are videos of songs that I collaborated with students at Little Mill Middle School in Cumming, Georgia. Many, many thanks to Beth Faris and all the kind folks at Little Mill. I had a great time. And I think the students had fun, too, though it all may have been more work than we bargained for! *Unfortunately, we spent all of our time writing and editing—we didn’t get around to titles for these. Dang.

This last one is my favorite song from the students at Little Mill. To write this one, I experimented with a different process in which I asked the students to listen twice to the music I composed and then do a free write about what the piece made them think or feel. I then collected the students’ written exercises and edited together the song. Not all of the students’ words were used, but all of the words—save for adding/ removing an -ing or -ed ending—are the kids’ own work. 🙂 They made more than one nice turn of phrase!

This last song was written collaboratively at the 2012 Young Writer’s Conference on Saturday, February 4, on the campus of Humboldt State University. We sure had a blast! I’d like to teach this lesson over the course of a week so that students could better understand the importance of stepping away from a song to let it breathe. Writing a song in an hour and fifteen minutes does not leave much time for editing and/or close scrutiny of word options. Next time! Hopefully this summer I will be teaching at Young Writer’s Academy 🙂