“One of the most intimidating things about writing songs,” songwriter and Swallow Hill Music Instructor Martin Gilmore says, “is the blank sheet of paper.”
That “blank sheet of paper,” whether literal or metaphorical, is where a lot of songwriters, regardless of their experience, get stuck. Answering the question Where do I start? will be one of the many topics in Songwriters Song Circle, Martin’s new class at Swallow Hill.
Martin invites serious songwriters of all levels to enroll in the class, which runs Thursday evenings this fall from September 5 to October 24, 6 to 7 p.m. at Swallow Hill’s Yale Avenue location. Spaces are limited, early registration is encouraged.
“You’ll get weekly assignments that you will be expected to complete, and come in and share them in a very supportive environment,” Martin says.
He adds this class differs from songwriting classes he’s taught in the past. Those classes provided a more broad overview of the songwriting process, including song structures, terminology, and business aspects. He says “This one’s more about the creative aspect.”
When asked to give an example or two of what the assignments might look like, Martin says he might ask students to write a song in a specific form.
“Maybe one of the assignments will ask you to write a jazz standard in an AABA form, which maybe forces you out of your comfort zone.”
Another example of a potential assignment is being given a specific subject to write about, like a current event or news item.
“A lot of people suffer from writer’s block, and there are lots of different ways to get around it,” he says. “I think the biggest one is learning something new, and exploring something new, and being forced to write something new.”
“I also feel, anytime I’ve gone through writer’s block, just having a deadline has been really helpful.” On this point, Martin feels the weekly assignments and following through on them will help students.
Not all of it will be ‘here’s an assignment go do it.’ We’ll talk about chord progressions and how you make it more interesting.”
Martin hopes students will play their songs in class. “I like to encourage people to play because you might get the emotion a little better in the moment.”
That said, he doesn’t want students to get hung up on the performance aspect in this class. It’s all about songwriting.
Martin is open to a wide array of instruments. “I’m cool with electronic stuff, GarageBand, Ableton, if that’s what you’d like to use,” he says. “If you like to play the piano we can accommodate that. Mandolin, banjo, whatever.”
“It’s hard being a singer-songwriter and playing the saxophone,” he adds with a slight chuckle, “not impossible, but hard.”
Ultimately Songwriters Song Circle is about giving songwriters a chance to practice their craft in new and fun but challenging ways.
“If you want to be a good songwriter,” Martin says, “it’s just like the guitar, you’ve got to practice it.”