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I Went to a Songwriting Course and Now My Brain Feels Funny

Let me preface my first story with this:

I was extremely fortunate to have dedicated, entertaining and impassioned music teachers in Primary School and High School. In Primary School, my Mum was my classroom music teacher which offered me no favours, students were students and I was just one who pushed the boundaries. Regardless of my miniature power trips, the classroom was always so much fun. The true benefit of having my Mum as my teacher, other than her being an engaging and interesting teacher, was that I got to see behind the scenes of how she would prepare for classes, choirs, ensembles and the annual school musicals. Often, I was running around like a good little helper except for every now and then, when a smearing of dirt would spontaneously appear on my outfit.

By the time I was old enough (and tall enough) for High School it was clear that I would be participating in anything and everything music related. My classroom music teacher was Mr Tim Sherlock. He had a phenomenal impact on me and helped shape my opinion of music. Where the groundwork had been laid by my Mum, Tim followed through, pushing forward with more challenging lessons delivered passionately. It was difficult not to be swallowed up by Tim’s enthusiasm and strive to do your best. Granted, I was still a little brat in class, go figure. For five years, I was under the guidance of Tim letting the information fill my porous little brain and then producing a lovely smattering of it across various assignments and exams.

These two teachers and the lessons they taught me were invaluable and I will forever be thankful for their energy and love of music. What I am going on to talk about is more of an overload of music theory, history, technique, instruments, musicals, choirs, ensembles etc combined with my vacant idea of how exactly I could relate to it on a deeper platform.

And so it goes…

When you’ve finished twelve years of educational bombardment focused on a thorough scrubbing with the detergent called Music, the appeal of studying the topic tends to waiver. Music for me, had become a chore instead of something I could do for fun. The thought of approaching music theory with a clinical precision absolutely destroyed any interest I had in pursuing music studies. Fortunately, in my last year at school I was invited by my friend, Matt, to play in his band with his mate, Rohan (now my husband). In grade 12, I had been introduced to songwriting by Tim and with Matt and Rohan I was inducted into a safe space to write music together or bring songs to.

As with everyone, my first songs are ones I look back on fondly if not with a slightly scrunched face and a twitch at the eye. They’re far from perfect, but they got the job done. We played gigs, I wrote obscure hybrid songs and lost my voice a lot. For around 10 years I played with Matt and Rohan writing songs, recording around four EP’s and making three film clips. It was an absolute trip.

Never did I think I should go and study music, unless it was to meet people. The fee however seemed too high to attend merely on a social basis. In late 2018 my friend, Greg Tschernez, tagged me in a post on Facebook regarding a Songwriting Course at USQ Toowoomba with Pat Pattison from Berklee College of Music. Let me clear this up, I live under a rock. It’s beautifully formed, provides full coverage and keeps my place nice and dark. So, I was skeptical to say the least. I jumped online and did some research to answer questions like: Who is Pat Pattison? What does the course entail? How much can they seriously teach you about songwriting anyway? Is this a hoax?

I delved deeper getting lost in the internet’s web and convincing myself that it’s, wait for it, “probably a course worth doing”. Excuse me a moment, my rock is slipping.

I allowed myself a momentary dream where I could go while also convincing myself that it costs too much. How much could they teach me anyway. One night, I sit down opposite Rohan and ask him if I should go but I probably shouldn’t, but it could be good, because Pat looks like he has a lot of experience, because he’s from Berklee, yeah, this could be great but nah, it’s too much, don’t worry about it. Rohan simply replied “just do it” and that’s what I did. Thank fuck for Rohan.

The course blew my mind. Daily. For eight days. Between the hours of 8am and 4pm I was absorbed in everything that leapt from the mouths of Pat Pattison and USQ Lecturer Mark Sholtez. I was worried I would find out how many epiphany’s it would take to kill a person. At this point it seems limitless, I will get back to you on that.

Every single day we broke down the basics of song writing. We talked about how we made a song feel sad and why those steps were important. We went back to studying English and poetry. We discussed rhythm, music and melody. We worked through songs written and performed by our classmates. All the lessons presented an alternative use for the information I already had in such a clear and concise language.

Now, you should know by now that I am a terrible student. A very well documented terrible student. So, to put it simply, Pat took traditional music theory and grammar delivering it like he was in a mobile ice cream truck and we were the neighbourhood kids desperate for a Bubble’o’Bill. This was the most I had ever paid attention in my life. I had pages of notes which I was so hyped about that I typed them all up when I got home so now I have two copies. The entire week was exhausting and absolutely exhilarating. That classroom was my opium. By the end of the week when it was all over I just stood in the room. I couldn’t leave.

The lessons I learned highlighted all the weaknesses in my songs and instead of scaring the shit out of me it has driven me to try harder and to start conversations about it. Conversations that I have now had and continue to have with all my classmates and my new teacher Nathan Seiler (more about that in the next blog post). The experience and the aftermath are still emanating through me and have moved into every song I have written since the course.

There is still so much I need to learn about song writing and so many things I could do better. All I want to do is share the process and encourage you to share it with me and each other.

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