Feedback: not just squealing noises from loudspeakers

Several years ago, in a sciencesongs listserv discussion of songwriting, Monty Harper wrote the following:

It seems to me that often those folks most motivated to write science songs are science teachers, who understand the need for such things. There is nothing wrong with this in theory, however, songwriting is both an art and a craft and it takes a bit of talent and much study and experience in order to be able to write them well. Science songs (or any kind of “teaching” songs) are particularly challenging to write well…. I’m not a snob about this, really – there is value in any creative effort. But, when I hear a beginner’s mistake in a song that somebody spent a lot of time and money to record and distribute, I always cringe. It seems to me that the songwriting often gets overlooked in the process, when it should be the first consideration.

Monty wasn’t saying that songwriting should always be left to the professionals; rather, teachers and other amateurs should be aware of their limitations and get help in addressing them. Informal “song circles” are often a good place to get such help, as I was reminded last night. I was at a neighborhood songwriters’ meeting, hoping to find someone to arrange and record a song I had written for the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s song contest, whose deadline of July 31 is approaching fast. But since this was a gathering of songwriters rather than producers, we mostly discussed the composition itself rather than recording options.

One old-timer spoke up about syllable counts and positions of accents. I thought I had hidden these irregularities fairly well in my singing, but he had noticed anyway. Perhaps most egregiously, I had accented the word “into” in two different ways within a single line.

In previous conversations with myself, I had brushed aside worries about different lines and verses having different numbers of syllables: “It’s just a pop song — nobody really pays attention to that stuff.” But some people DO pay attention, and I had been lazy in not imposing more regularity on my words.

I may not get the song recorded in time to enter it into the contest, but maybe that’s OK — maybe I could use some extra time to revise it.

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2 Responses to Feedback: not just squealing noises from loudspeakers

  1. I go to a monthly song-writing workshop. It has been my experience that people at those workshops are generally “too nice” in their critiques of works presented, for a variety of reasons, but mostly it is art, and in art different things will appeal to different people. My son plays bass guitar in the rock band Lexigram, and while I have tried real hard to like their music, it is difficult for me. But they are popular in Denver because there are folks who like their music. I just wrote a song about Henrietta Lacks for an event coming up in September because the 3 songs I found on the internet about her I didn’t like; but they all had reviews praising them. Nonetheless, I have visited with Monty in Stillwater OK a few times and got his feedback on songs I was working on, and his critiques are a lot more useful than most of what I get at the song-writers workshops (which I now view as more of a performance practicing opportunity and not necessarily for improvement [unless I have a specific question like “I need a good rhyme here”]. And as my grandfather (a university president at one time) used to say: “In education a good joke or song is worth a thousand words—-and a bad joke or song is worth 10,000 words.” Because oftentimes when students get home, the thing they are most likely to remember is the stupidest thing that happened at school that day.

  2. Pingback: The anatomy of a science song | Sing About Science & Math Blog

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