Stellar Songwriting in Class 8

Stellar Songwriting in Class 8

On a recent “I” Day, Class 8 students were spread out across the serene 9th floor, tucked away in Chapin’s soundproof music rooms. Inside, in groups of 3-4, the students were busy collaborating on their very own songs.

In Class 8, students commence Chapin’s two-year “InterArts” program, through which they explore the four arts disciplines – music, visual arts, drama and dance – through specific skill building and interdisciplinary work. Once in Class 10, students can choose from an array of arts FOCUS courses to further delve into areas of interest.

On this particular spring day, students were flexing their creative muscles in music. “We began by delving into storytelling in song,” Upper School Music Teacher Elizabeth Adler explained, noting that they examined Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” for inspiration. The students also discussed chords and chord progressions as well as typical structures of songs (verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge).

Equipped with this knowledge, and building off of their choral skills and singing they practiced during the fall and winter terms, the Class 8 students embarked on a project to write their own unique song using a diatonic chord progression in the key of C major.

Fortifying her students to be self-directed and courageous musicians, Ms. Adler provided ample freedom in this project and support along the way. The only requirements were that the songs needed to have lyrics, two contrasting sections and an instrumental accompaniment (piano, guitar or ukulele).

“How’s it going in here?” asked Ms. Adler as she popped into one of the practice rooms.

“We’ve finished our lyrics and now we’re working on our melodies,” one 8th grader replied. When asked to share their progress, the students happily obliged with one playing a beautiful tune on the piano as other two members sang.

“I love the arpeggiation!” remarked their teacher, referring to the musical technique of playing the notes of chord one by one rather than all at the same time. “And I love the octave change for your pre-chorus.”

When checking in on the next room, those group members were considering how to make their lyrics fit the desired melody in their heads. While working with the students on their tempo, Ms. Adler encouraged them to think outside the box. “You can have repetition in a chorus,” she said. “What about ‘eyes closed,’ ‘eyes closed,’ and continue to the next line?” The students, clearly satisfied with this suggestion, smiled brightly and scribbled the addition on their sheets.

In the third room, a group of four was fleshing out their lyrics. “Let me hear what you’ve got so far!” their teacher encouraged.

As they sang, Ms. Adler tested some chords on the keyboard to aid the group in translating pitch to melody. One student, the designated piano player, observed from the side before taking her spot at the keys and repeating Ms. Adler’s suggested series of D minor, F major and back to D minor. “You’ve got something here!” their teacher cheered.

“I want them to focus on the creative and generative work,” Ms. Adler commented, praising her students’ steadfast efforts.

“Great job, today,” their teacher said as the class period came to its end. “See you next week!”