Is Coursera’s “Songwriting” course the most idiotic course of all time? The verdict’s still out, but first impression says: probably.

As usual, there’s so much I want to talk to you about, but…time. I want to talk about different musical discoveries. I want to talk about progress, or lack thereof, with different instruments. I want to tell you that I’m practicing non-stop (not true).  I want to tell you about some cool music discoveries from the PA Renaissance Faire…there’s a lot going on at the moment, really.

But, for now, all I’m going to do is talk about my ‘out of the gate’ impression of “Songwriting” which is one of the online courses offered by Coursera.

Now, let’s go into this with some basic background: I probably don’t really need a songwriting course. But, all information is good information and I figured I might get a kernel or two out of it that would make it worthwhile. I did major in Literature in college, which also is going to play some part in my impressions on any writing course, song or otherwise. I am a writer and poet.  Those things are all going to color my opinion of this course in no small measure.

So we open it up, and it’s just a guy sitting before a black screen. Talking. It looks more like a dramatic presentation than anything instructional. Really, at first glance, it’s pure farce. The point is to illustrate that by writing songs, we are telling stories. No kidding. He tells us that there are things any good song (or story) have. No kidding.

Then, he goes on and on about the different point of views. (First Person, Third Person, Second Person, Direct Address).  And then, you have to take a quiz on point of view.

I’m not sure if you can tell, guys, but my eyebrow is twitching. Understanding that there are different points of view from which songs can be written and that they will affect the intimacy level of the song. Yes, that’s important. Being able to identify those points of view? Nonsensical.  This will NOT make you a better songwriter. This will not help your songwriting AT ALL. EVER.

Having taken several (mandatory – due to issues with college classes not transferring properly…multiple times) creative writing classes, I can tell you very explicitly and with absolute certainty that no creative writing teacher will ever ask you to do this. Why not? Because it’s creative writing, not Lit 101.  Therefore, in songwriting, it should be equally understood that someone who is going to write a song, in theory, actually understands the basic bones of the language they are planning to write it in. (For sake of argument, English, as that’s the language I’m working with.)  If you do not know how to read and write, creative writing, or songwriting, which is a type of creative writing, is just plain going to be beyond your abilities until you’ve learned those basic language fundamentals.

So, out of the gate, the Songwriting course looks like a complete joke. One should assume, in teaching a songwriting course, that while some light discussion on point of view may be helpful, it is not, and should not, be a fundamental point of the course.

So, we’re looking at a very overdone, dramatized instruction, to no purpose, so we can talk about the fundamentals of English usage?  You can’t be serious.

I do hope that as the course goes on, it actually says something that I didn’t learn in elementary school, but if this is where we’re getting started, my expectations are at sea level and sinking.

Until Next Time, will be multitasking my way through this nonsense.

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4 thoughts on “Is Coursera’s “Songwriting” course the most idiotic course of all time? The verdict’s still out, but first impression says: probably.

  1. Just curious, did you end up finishing the course?

    I got a lot out of it. Yeah, the first bit might be a little redundant but I thought the material got better and better as the course went on. Especially since I haven’t had much exposure to rhyming technique and how to create motion with lyrics and structure.

    His section on spotlighting was also enlightening–pardon the pun. It has helped not just in my writing, but also in how I interpret the songs I sing professionally.

    I also recommend buying his books to go along with the course. The Songwriting without Borders has great writing exercises that get the juices flowing and teaches a process for coming up with compelling metaphors.

    What I appreciate most about his philosophy is that you don’t have to wait for creativity to come. He teaches a process that can transport you to that deep place within a few minutes (I don’t remember if he just taught that in his books, or if he goes into it in the course).

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    1. I’m still at it, only just started it a few days ago. Have decided not to do the quizzes because so far it’s a colossal waste of time. That may change later in the course, but realistically, as a poet and storyteller, I have zero problem with creativity, so this class may prove incredibly redundant for someone who is much more adept at writing than playing.

      I am hoping for glimmers of insight into how writing songs is different from writing other things. That’s what made me sign up for the course: insight into specifically writing music, not just writing generally, which having graduated college with a Lit degree, I really don’t need help with at this point. So, my opinion of the course is the opinion of someone who does more creative writing in a year than the average person does in a lifetime. That’s bound to give me some bias, really.

      So far, all I’ve gotten is definitions of words I already know and a lot of common sense to the point of idiocy. It’s mostly background noise until he starts saying something I didn’t learn in elementary school.

      I can’t see myself buying those books, given my literature background, but I am hoping I’ll get something out of the course eventually. I’ll talk more about it either when I’ve come across something of interest, or when I get through it and find my opinion hasn’t changed…whichever comes first. 🙂

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      1. Interesting. I am the total opposite. I have very little formal education especially in the language arts, and when it comes to lyrics I was always more interested in melodies and groove. Then about 5 years ago some friends introduced me to Tom Waits, and some other great song writers–opened the blinds.

        Near the end he gets into synthesizing lyric emphasis with tonal emphasis. I have some background in musical improvisation and harmony, but I’ve always just done what I thought sounded “cool”, not what actually made sense and preserved the shape of the language.

        He workshops some of these ideas with a singer doing her own songs showing the difference when prosody is added to the mix.

        The bottom line is if your melody/rhythm preserves the shape of the language you can sing more honestly, and therefore with more feeling, like, somewhere deep down knows that you’re bullshitting when you sing a lyric without prosody and it gets in the way of singing from your heart. It’s subtle, but having been singing most of my life I noticed the difference immediately.

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      2. I got into literature really young. Partially because of my mother. We had a house rule when I was a kid. I had to be physically in bed at bedtime, but I was allowed to stay awake to read as long as I wanted. Mini-me fell asleep with her face in a lot of books as a result.
        I actually found myself fascinated with the mechanics of language at a really young age, so I don’t think it ever really dawned on me that there was formal education involved. You’re never going to get me to rattle off definitions of parts of speech, but I know how words work. We read stuff every day. We see how those words are being used together and can tell when they’re just not working. I always thought that was a very natural thing. I was always fascinated by both what was happening with words being used, and in the silences between them – the things we don’t actually have words to express, or how the same sentence can take on a completely different meaning based on tone. I guess you can say I was always interested in the mechanics of language, so it kind of became natural for me to “study” literature, but it never felt like studying to me, and it certainly never felt formal. It’s just this thing I’ve always done.

        There is a book called “If You Can Talk, you Can Write” that was one of the books I was assigned to read in college. I always thought that was obvious, so it was kind of vindicating to see it in print, really. But, I won’t pretend the book “taught” me anything that I didn’t already know just from a lifetime of using words.

        But, as a poet, I’m also very aware that writing a poem and writing a song are quite different on a number of levels. I’ve noticed, for example, that where a poem would bomb for being too vague, a song falls apart in those spots if there’s too much minutiae. In a poem, you use tones and silences to create the rhythm, which is just plain not necessary with a song, you don’t need the words to MAKE the rhythm. You have instruments for that and just have to marry the two things together. So far, it’s just a creative writing course to me. I’ve gotten to the lesson where he talks about prosody, and honestly, this also sounds just like a bunch of common sense from where I’m sitting. I’m a total novice when it comes to music, but how to tell a story? I’m just not going to get anything out of that sort of lesson.

        Now that I’m a bit older, I’m learning that not everyone thinks the same way, but when I was younger, I honestly thought that a lot of the stuff you learned in writing courses you would have to be brain-damaged to not understand. As I get older, I learn that not everyone is naturally inclined to see language as a machine, with distinct parts that work together in distinct ways, so this sort of course may very well be very useful to someone who’s wired differently than I am.

        I’m definitely hoping that the latter half of the course gives me something of interest, though.

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