Explore + Learn: Songwriting Workshop with Melissa Ferrick
What a terrific class. Melissa is an excellent teacher who speaks plainly, frankly, and openly with her students. She began by asking the names of each student and what is his or her primary instrument. She then explained that the class was to be a judgment-free zone and that only positive feedback would come from her—and she would expect the same in return. She explained that writing can and should be a very personal experience, but one that inevitably should be shared—and that the class was a safe place for sharing. She also said that artists and young people tend to feel different. “You are,” she said. “Embrace that, honor that. It’s a gift.”
We then got into an exercise. We began by one student choosing a noun for us all to write in the center of a piece of 8.5 x 11” paper. We then wrote four lines emanating from that starter word, ‘Clock.’ The four first words that came to mind in association with ‘clock’ were written at the ends of those four lines—then two lines from each of those new words, and then further associated words written, eventually developing into a page-wide web of words. Then, we flipped over the paper and wrote all those web-words in a column down the left side of the paper. The remainder of the page was for a 10 minute free-write which, Melissa explained, could be entirely related or unrelated to the words from the left-hand column. She explained that she often does this exercise when she is in a coffee shop or really anywhere, especially when she is feeling blocked. “Keep your hand on the paper and try to write continuously, with no sense of ‘writing lyrics,’ just a stream of consciousness going wherever the mind wants to go. If you get stuck, feel free to look at the web-words on the left in order to jump-start the process.”
After 10 minutes of writing we stopped and Melissa asked the students to read what they had written, one by one. While they read, she jotted down some lines that stood out to her. Following each student’s reading she would say something like, “I LOVED ‘the rain was upside-down!’ I really hope you will use that to develop a song—maybe it’s the title of the song or maybe the start of the chorus…” Another example: “I think that ‘perhaps I’m a sad pony, too’ is really brilliant! You kids are amazing. You are at an age when there is so much inside that can fuel good writing and you all seem to be very insightful— it’s so good to see!’
I can easily picture Melissa leading classes at Berklee School of Music, as she does. She shared just enough about herself to carefully establish rapport, she spoke clearly, and she gave plenty of chances for questions or requests for clarification. In the end, there was not enough time for all students to read their free-writes. Melissa gave out her email address and said that anyone who hadn’t had the chance could send their words to her, which she would look at and give feedback. She also said that those who have any original MP3s could send them to her for feedback and she’d be happy to give a listen. VERY generous. A truly inspiring class!