Rising to the Challenge: North Easton Lets Go of the Lap Bar

Some rights reserved by flatluigi (Flickr) under Creative Commons license.
Some rights reserved by flatluigi (Flickr) under Creative Commons license.

Throughout our Songwriting & Blogging Challenge 2013 – one of our participants really stood out from the crowd.  He was able to turn out well written fully produced recordings week after week as the assignments from Pat Pattison seemed to pile higher and faster.  North Easton is not only the winner of this year’s challenge, but also our current Featured Member.  We asked him to blog about his experience participating in this year’s challenge.  Here’s what he had to say…

In His Words…

My feet ache as I shift my weight from one leg to the other. I patiently stand there in the hot summer sun, staring at the backs of people heads who are staring at the backs of peoples heads. A lineup, a waiting game for the next ride that will send me soaring up and down, left and right, over and over as my heart battles my voicebox for room in my throat. 60 minutes traded for 2. Seems fair! The climb up the clickety clack tracks, the rush in the final seconds before we inch over the top and scream down the other side. My hands clenching the bar at first, mind racing against the thoughts of peril vs pure adrenaline bliss. Stomach tightens as it swirls back and forth against the force of gravity, eyes watering, cheeks pressed back and a smile carved into my face like words in stone…and then in the blur of peripheral vision, my tightly clenched fingers begin to relax…my eyes open wide as I lift my arms to the sky and truly soak in the roller coaster ride before me. I become one with the speeding cart across the rails and the adventure truly is one I own…forever.

According to Albert, the only source of knowledge is experience. So when I took on the great journey into the mind of Mr. Pat Pattison, (the songwriting guru who walked 63,000 songwriters through the 6 week course offered through Coursera)…I was completely captivated. As a father of 6, a music teacher, and the husband of a wife finishing up law school, I was slightly intimidated by not only the course, but the idea of a weekly blog inspired by the Songwriters Association of Canada. But why not…let the roller-coaster ride begin.

Rusty fingers and tongue tied words fought to keep up with the concepts dangled before us all. The simplicity of Box thinking and the new revelations of all the parts of your song intensifying and strengthening the chorus. A bunch of new friends we made, all asking the questions that help bring the point of the song to the surface.

Diving into the unstable waters of week 2, I happily held my breath and tried to stay under as long as possible. Gathering new tricks of the trade before coming up for air. As an avid movie watcher, I often pull emotions, camera angles, intense situations into my songs, and with Pat holding a cheat sheet up at the spelling Bee…it became so much easier to bridge these two mediums together.

Like most songwriters, I thrive on rhyming. The dance of the language and sound that twists and turns as it burns a picture in the listeners mind. The rhymes they link the words, make us think that what we heard is not only important but real, phrases that make us feel resolve as we solve the story line, the state of mind, the point of view or just something new that no one else has said. I fed on week 3, and got caught up in the free thought of perfect vs family, additive, subtractive, assonance, and consonance and will probably never again write a lyric without the chance to hear it in another way.

The windows into the minds of my fellow songwriters in Canada and beyond was my favourite part of the entire adventure. Reading conversations, reviews, ideas on direction…hearing the doubt shared by others, the hopes, the desire and passion as it came out and seemed to inspire everyone I chatted with. I learned more from you guys, than from Pat himself. I throw my thanks into the ring and if you could see my smile upon reflection of these past weeks…you would know!

I am not the songwriter I was at the beginning of this course. I think most of the other writers would agree with me that we have all changed the way we look at writing, and every day that passes by I personally realize how little I know about everything on this planet…and that kind of excites me for the journey ahead. So let go of the “lapbar” put your hands in the sky and scream.

In closing, and to sum things up with a quote from a very famous Doctor.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
                                                                                              -Dr. Seuss
Take a listen to some of his songs…

And the winner is…(Songwriting Course and Blogging Challenge)

northeastonSeveral weeks ago over 50 S.A.C. members signed on, not only to complete Berklee Professor Pat Pattison‘s online songwriting course offered by Coursera, but also to blog about their experience in the 2013 S.A.C. Songwriting Course & Blogging Challenge.  From the get go, the private Facebook group was a flurry of activity as people shared song snippets, inspiration and things they had learned from Pat.

Fast forward several weeks later, and not everyone made it to the finish line.  The course proved more intense than many people anticipated.  But everyone benefited from participating.  Unbeknownst to participants, a winner was selected to receive a FREE ONE YEAR S.A.C. MEMBERSHIP to be added to their existing membership.

It was difficult to choose because, those who did make it to the end, really put their heart and soul into the process.  In the end, North Easton was selected for his display of inventiveness, creativity, and personality.

Over the next few weeks we will be posting highlight blogs from each week, to give you an example of what people were learning along the way.

In the mean time, CONGRATULATIONS to North Easton.  And congratulations to all who took part and walked away with a new set of songwriting tools and skills.  Here is North Easton’s final song submission:

Special thanks to Debra Alexander for helping us to blog about the course along with facilitating the online discussion.  And here are some tracks from other participants that made it to the finish line. ENJOY!

Ember Swift



Ross Douglas

Michael Holland

Dawn Schumilas

Jennifer Potter

Songwriting for Survival – Inviting Your Audience to “Follow the Lion”

by Debra Alexander

The Final, Sixth Week of the SAC Songwriting & Blogging Challenge 2013 is upon us. Our relatively small (50/65,000) but extremely dedicated and talented group of Coursera Songwriting Class Participants has braved jungle-like entanglements of song form, plot development, point of view, number of lines, lengths of lines, rhyme schemes, rhyme types, melodic and harmonic rhythms, and song structure. In short, we’ve been asked to climb the highest tree in the forest and have a look around in order to make decisions on how to support our lyrics with prosodic choices for every syllable, word, phrase, line, and section contained in our songs. And we have emerged from the jungle a new and upright-walking species of survivors.

Berklee College Professor of Songwriting Pat Pattison brings us full circle in the last lesson and reminds us that the reason we set out on this journey was because we, as songwriters, have ideas that we want to express. Our ability to translate to an audience how we feel about our subject will either bring our audience closer and intensify the feeling, or distance our audience and dissipate the feeling. The tools we have developed during this course are now at our disposal to aid us in our endeavour to create emotional resonance.

Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed the development of one of Pat’s songs, starting from the initial idea to a fully realized lyric and melody. The final decisions required in writing the song concern phrasing, which Pat calls the “body language” of communication. In every day communication, it turns out that our actual words account for much less meaning than our tone of voice and our body language. So phrasing, in songwriting, is an extremely important skill to cultivate. We learn how to write front heavy vs. back heavy, and strong bar vs. weak bar phrasing to create stability or instability. Additionally, tone of voice can be equated to certain melodic intervals, and our awareness of these relationships can help us intensify the feelings we’re trying to express.

One of the most fascinating segments of Lesson Six was, for this writer, the part where Pat describes the work done by ethno/evolutionary musicologist by Joseph Jordania in his book, Why Do People Sing? Music In Evolution. Jordania posits that our tree-dwelling hominid ancestors, over the millennia, learned how to drive lions off their kill by making noise together, and that this skill fed the entire tribe. For 2.5 million years, we were scavengers who followed the lion; we were coming down from the trees, learning to raise our voices together, “singing” to get our supper! Singing is actually linked to survival, and predates language. So remember, Pat says, “when you write a song…invite your audience in, let them sing with you, let them bond with you. Let them be your tribe.” He goes on to say that songwriting “is really a lifetime of fun, a lifetime of exploration, a lifetime of growth…”

I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to the Songwriters Association of Canada for inviting me to participate in the SAC Blogging Challenge 2013 as mentor and guest blogger. And now, I have to go after a few of those lions I’ve been trailing.

All ye hunters, please post:

1. How you feel you have used front heavy, back heavy, and/or weak bar phrasing tools to assist the expression of your stable and unstable ideas.

2. The URL to your Week 6 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)

The Muse is Not King in Songwriting (i.e. You Need Skills)

by Debra Alexander

Those participating in the S.A.C. Community Songwriting & Blogging Challenge have their hands full this week with Lesson Five, the penultimate in the series. Our fearless leader, Berklee College of Music Songwriting Professor Pat Pattison, makes a case for working efficiently on writing your song, as opposed to writing whatever comes along, letting the muse strike as you hum or strum or what have you. He is careful to say that spontaneous, inspired writing has a legitimate place, but he contends that involving your head as well as your heart engages your whole self; therefore producing a better end product.

This whole head / heart thing is examined in the book The Rhythms Of The Game, by former major league baseball player and Latin Grammy Nominated jazz musician Bernie Williams.  The Rhythms of The Game draws a parallel between ‘being in the flow’ in playing the game of baseball and in the playing of a musical instrument. Being in the flow, in the context of baseball, is the ability to execute something that looks deceptively simple— but in reality it’s the result of a great deal of applied knowledge and experience along with a wonderful blend of athleticism and instinct. And so it is with songwriting. The dexterity required to manipulate those accented syllables is astounding!

So, “involving your head” means applying all the elements that have been presented since Week One, filtering them through the lens of prosody, and evaluating all the concepts in terms of stability and instability. In addition, this week you’re also considering how to create melodies and melodic rhythms by employing your knowledge of stressed and unstressed syllables. Embracing methods that allow for efficient work include the use of a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary, as well as constructing what Pat calls a “worksheet” of rhyming words—before you ever write a line. Learning to use these structures is not meant to curb your freedom of expression, but rather to set you free. You can cure writers block and make sure your writing process keeps flowing if you rely on “informed instinct.”  Thinking, in an organized way, through the choices you have at every step should contribute to how well you’ve invited your listener to participate in your song.

Hence although the muse is important in guiding our songwriting, Pat Pattison would argue that effective use of the tools and skills he teaches is a way to lead and guide our muse.

SAC Bloggers, please post the following for Week Five:

1. The title to your Week 5 Assignment, along with a list of the 4-6 keywords you used to make your worksheet.

2. The URL to your Week 5 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)

Stressing the right syllables in songwriting

by Debra Alexander

As Week Four unfolds for the participants of Challenge 2013, some who were on the scene of Canadian Music Week in Toronto found themselves juggling the demands of their Songwriting course assignments with those of the CMW Conference, and used events like the Songwriter’s Association of Canada’s Words and Music: Songwriters’ Listening Session and the S.A.C. Songwriters’ Green Room mentoring sessions to put their songwriting chops to the test. Songwriters hoping to earn an income from the fruits of their labour know that writing great songs is only half their job, and that the other 50% of the job involves networking, in all the myriad forms networking now takes.

Many panelists at the Conference repeatedly pointed out the importance of writing a great song, and noted that everything begins with an undeniable, somewhat undefinable combination of words and music, delivered in an appropriate production package. Our Coursera class is surely putting themselves at the head of the pack by making the effort to improve their writing skills.

Songwriting Professor Pat Pattison begins this week’s lesson by stating that the English language uses pitch and rhythm in a smooth and connected way to make the communication of ideas efficient. Meaning is conveyed through the use of stressed syllables, and stressed syllables have a higher pitch than non-stressed syllables. When we listen to speech, we actually hear little melodies. Songwriters who write the lines that have the greatest impact on an audience have learned how to organize their lines in patterns of rhythm and melody that maintain the rise and fall and accents of natural speech. Every time a songwriter “sets” a lyric so that the melody or musical phrase is not in sync with the words found in natural speech, a little bit of emotion and meaning is lost. Mis-setting even the smallest, seemingly insignificant word can have a profound effect on a song.

The average listener is typically not be able to articulate the reasons why some songs hit home for them more than others. Meanwhile, songwriters spend lifetimes perfecting their craft on a microscopic syllabic level in order to make songwriting seem easy. But anyone who has ever been in a Songwriter’s Listening Session at an event like Canadian Music Week knows that crafting a truly great song that lasts through the ages is a gift that involves an incredible amount of know-how, dedication, and out-and-out luck.

SAC Bloggers, please post the following for Week Four:

1. The link to your Assignment #4 recording on Soundcloud.

2. The URL to your Week 4 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)

Scheming with Rhymes for Better Songwriting – Challenge 2013, Week 3

by Debra Alexander

Over 50 Songwriters Association of Canada members from across the country are meeting regularly in an exclusive Facebook Group to discuss new concepts and homework for the free Songwriting Class they signed up for at Coursera. The group is supportive and friendly, forging new ties, networking like crazy; realizing that they make up a fraction of the 63,000 folks taking this class worldwide!

Navigating the course and extracurricular activities has required time and dedication. Watching Pat Pattison’s instructional videos, taking notes and quizzes, writing and recording songs for weekly due dates, providing peer feedback, participating in Coursera forums and Meetups, and submitting personal blogs means everyone is super busy, and super motivated. Everyone now has a good understanding of why the S.A.C. calls this “Challenge 2013”!

Week Three builds on foundations presented in the first two weeks, and invites a deeper examination of the craft of songwriting in order to support a song’s meaning and intent. Meaning is reinforced by drawing attention to certain ideas. This is accomplished in a lyric by setting up sonic expectations… and then by either jolting those expectations or satisfying them.

Pat makes the point in one of his lectures that most songwriters understand how chord choices lend different emotional resonances, but perhaps not as many understand (until now!) that rhymes work in exactly the same way. It’s a subtle and sophisticated art, because it can be done with varying degrees of intensity. In addition to the length of lines and the number of lines in a lyric, we now must consider how rhyme schemes and rhyme types can work to enhance those elements, creating even more of a certain desired effect.

Different emotional resonances are achieved by choosing different rhyme types (perfect, family, additive, subtractive, assonance, and consonance), as well as different rhyme schemes (abab, aabb, abba, etc.), in order to create varying degrees of resolution. All of a song’s compositional elements work in tandem, and the skill with which a writer can manipulate them adds up to the Art of songwriting.

Challenged Ones! Please post the following for Week Three:

1. Your stable verse idea, and the rhyme scheme and/or rhyme types you chose to support it, OR your unstable chorus idea, and the rhyme scheme and/or rhyme types you chose to support it.

2. The URL to your Week 3 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)

The Adventure of Prosody – Week 2 – Challenge 2013

by Debra Alexander

Week One is nearly water under the bridge, and S.A.C. Bloggers are now swimming in the currents of prosody with Pat Pattison, as he guides us through his free Songwriting Course. It’s not too late to register through Coursera as long as class is still in session, and we’ve got 5 whole weeks to go. Catch up with the details here:S.A.C. Community Songwriting & Blogging Challenge.

Prosody, in simple terms, is how everything works together in the words and music you write to express the central emotion, idea, and purpose of your song. You can make choices in how you communicate that reinforce your ideas and deliver your messages more effectively. Elements like melody, harmony, tone of voice, and harmonic rhythm combine to create unity, and these are just a few of the areas that a conscientious songwriter makes decisions about.

Pat argues that the most effective vehicles for expressing prosody in a lyric revolve around terms of stability and instability. He explains how the number of lines and the length of lines contribute to create emotion. An even number of lines feels stable, resolved, and balanced; an odd number of lines feels unstable, incomplete, and unbalanced. Number and length of lines can also be manipulated to spotlight important ideas, stop or create motion, and create contrast between song sections.

So bloggers, pull up the chair of your choice, sit square or on the edge of your seat, and please post the following for Week Two:

1.  The idea you chose for a verse with an unstable structure, and the idea you chose for a chorus with a stable structure.
2.  The URL to your Week 2 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog.)

Challenge 2013 – Week 1 – Building the Foundation for a Song

by Debra Alexander

songwritingThe S.A.C. Songwriting and Blogging Challenge 2013 is underway, and a dedicated group of songwriters from all across Canada is taking part in the Coursera Songwriting Class with Pat Pattison over the next six weeks. Every week our blog will be full of  posts  recounting experiences with the weekly songwriting lesson. Songwriters at various stages of development from beginner to veteran have already spoken in their first blogs about their passion for the craft of songwriting, the desire to improve their craft, and the importance of developing community as they answered questions about their relationship to songwriting and what they hope to gain from the class.

Throughout six instructional videos in Lesson One, Berklee College of Music professor and world-renowned songwriting teacher Pat Pattison demonstrates why top songwriters like John Mayer and Gillian Welch have expressed their appreciation for his instruction. Pat uses everyday situations and parables that are amusing and easy to understand in order to illustrate the basic songwriting concepts of Point of View, Song Development, and Song Form. He relates everything in an entertaining, conversational style so the amount of material he’s covering won’t seem overwhelming or difficult, yet he covers all the bases needed to get a song off the ground in Lesson One.

For our first assignment, we’ve been asked to use the concept of ‘boxes’ to demonstrate how we would develop a song title. Boxes are the equivalent of Storyboards in the movie business: they outline plot. It’s also helpful to think of the classic graph used in teaching the short story, otherwise known as the dramatic arc, which basically consists of a beginning, middle, and an end, along with a rising action and a falling action. A songwriter needs to be aware of pacing, in order to maintain a listener’s constant interest. Pat points out that there should be a parallel between a producer’s build of a mix and a songwriter’s build of a lyric. Time to think inside, outside, and everywhere around the box as we plot the development of our songs.

Participants, please post the following:

1.  Which song title you chose to develop, and why.
2.  The URL to your Week 1 blog. (NOTE:  please post the exact URL to the entry and not just the general URL to your blog)

A New Challenge Begins

challengeLast year the S.A.C. launched the Canadian Songwriters Social Media Challenge.  It sent dozens of songwriters into an online frenzy as participants blogged, tweeted and Facebooked their way to a more focused social media strategy.  This year, we are encouraging songwriters to focus on our raison d’être – songwriting.  Over the next 6 weeks, S.A.C. members from across the country are taking part in a free online songwriting course provided by esteemed Songwriting teacher from Berklee, Pat Pattison.  We call it the S.A.C. Songwriting and Blogging Challenge 2013…or Challenge 2013.

So,where does the challenge part fit into this?  Like last year, participants are asked to check in on a weekly basis with a blog that encapsulates what they have learned or wrestled with.  We hope that even those in the sidelines will benefit from this discourse.

So, for those of you who have signed up here:  http://www.songwriters.ca/events/446/challenge2013.aspx please do the following:

1.  Please make sure you are part of the exclusive Facebook group:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/506631312722262/
2.  Write your first blog answering the following questions:  Where are you in your songwriting journey?  What do you hope to gain from participating in this challenge?

3.  Post the link to your blog below.  If you do not have a blog, you can also choose to post it as a note in Facebook and share the respective link.  (Type “Notes” in the search area of Facebook to find the appropriate place to post).

NOTE:  This initiative is not officially related to the Coursera Songwriting Course.  Participants are responsible for their own course material.