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Songwriting as an out-of-hours activity
"I also reaped the benefits of extra-curricular things which were provided in my local community for free."
In this recent BBC news piece, Wolf Alice, winners of the UK Mercury Prize 2018 drew attention to how important it is that students have the opportunity to form bands and make use of music department spaces and equipment in schools and in local communities outside formal lesson time. This is such a positive aspect of school music and one that is too easily forgotten when discussion is often focussed on classroom music and exams and of course many young bands don't just want to cover songs, but also to write their own!
Although music teachers are notoriously generous with their time and sharing their teaching spaces for students to learn informally at break, lunchtime and after school, time pressures mean it's often hard to help students who come in to pursue their own musical interests. One way to address this is to invite older students in to help, perhaps by running some songwriting workshops. But how do they get started and what support might they need in order for it to be a success?
In the pathfinder phase of Musical Futures in the UK, the 'Writers Unblocked' project followed the journey taken by a group of students working with ‘Pixel’ (four young, trendy, talented, experienced and approachable professional musicians), to setting up and running their own out-of-hours songwriting club for younger pupils.
So why not bring songwriting out of the classroom and look at how is might form part of an enrichment program or out-of-hours opportunity for students building on informal learning within the more formal school environment?
If you have music leaders in your school, this is a great model for getting older students supporting younger ones with their music.
5 tips for music leaders to get started with songwriting workshops
Space: The space you work in will really affect how much you and the participants can achieve. Make sure it is big enough for you to work in and that you have enough rooms if you want to do small group work.
Resources: Access to resources is very important. Who is providing the equipment? Will it be you, the school/venue or the participants themselves? Make it clear at the planning stage what you are willing to provide and what you want others to bring.
Communication: This is very obvious but essential to the smooth running of a project. Being able to contact people you need to speak to and being willing to be flexible is a necessity. Do the participants know exactly what is expected of them? Can they contact you between workshops? If not have you provided them with resources to help them continue their work? Is there a person within the group or organisational team apart from yourself that they can ask for help or information?
Time: The most popular time for workshops is after school. This can be a tiring time of day for all involved, especially if the participants are coming straight from lessons to you. Food is often a useful incentive for completing tasks but also really boosts energy half way through a session.
Preparation: You must have a clear idea of what you want to achieve in the project, even if it is as broad as getting young people to play together in time. Getting the balance between preparation and flexibility is the skill. You need to have a plan of activities, both long and short term, but also be ready to adapt them. If somebody starts to develop ideas not originally in your plan, but you feel it’s helping them develop as musicians, then respond. You will find a way to make it fit within the general aims of the project. How prepared you want to be is a very personal issue. You need to find what works best for you, but our advice is that you have a long term plan for the project which you review, adjust and adapt after each session.
Faith: There are always low points in a project as well as the highs. You as the practitioner must keep positive and be as constructive as possible through these harder times. Frustration (the participants’ and yours) will rear its ugly head as new skills are tackled, but keep encouraging and they will come through in the end.
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