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Mark Adams (right), with students (from left) Olivia Forney, Emily Fareed, Allison Martin, Elizabeth Vex and
Jamie Wechsler, modeled the class on a songwriting circle, where small groups meet regularly
to share their work and receive feedback.
Tell me about yourself can be a daunting request. What parts of your life do you choose to talk about?
Were told to perfect an elevator pitch a 30-second speech
explaining who we are and what we do. But what if, instead of speech,
you selected a piece of music that expresses who you are?
And what if you could actually write that song yourself the words and music of your own life?
Were all experts in ourselves, says Mark Adams, assistant
professor of instrumental music education at the University of Delaware.
This, he said, is what makes songwriting such a personal and emotional
experience, as well as a musically enriching process.
Last spring, Adams introduced Songwriting Seminar (MUED367), an
experimental course offered to students majoring in music education,
most of whom will go on to teach music anywhere from pre-K through high
The course has attracted attention not only from UD students but also
from other music educators, who have invited Adams to present a series
of talks about it at a national conference in November.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
With student Olivia Forney at the piano, students in the
songwriting seminar led by Mark Adams (far left)
discuss how they hope to craft songs.
The seminar explored how the deeply personal experience of
songwriting connects to the formal musical education and development
music education majors experience at UD.
The 12 students in the seminar started the semester by musically introducing themselves to each other.
They came to class on Day One having already completed the first
assignment select a song they knew and explain why it resonates with
them, or present an original piece. Some played piano or guitar, while
others sang something theyd written themselves.
We got to know everyones individual style, said senior Sophia
DiLeo. Jazz, folk, pop. It set the tone that first day that it was a
safe space to express ourselves.
With 128 required credit hours in the four-year program, music
education majors take the same classes, end up knowing each other well
and make a lot of music together but not in this way.
I liked writing songs a lot when I was younger, DiLeo said, but I had never performed one of my original songs at UD.
Mark Adams seeks to give students a different kind of music-making
experience, focused on a sense of community and more like a
workshop than a traditional classroom.
Adams modeled the class on a songwriting circle, where small groups
meet regularly to share their work and receive feedback. There were
different types of assignments such as taking an existing song and
writing original lyrics, or the opposite, writing new music for existing
text, or working in groups to write a song together but the structure
was the same for each class period: performance followed by discussion.
At the beginning, Adams guided the feedback, but as the semester
progressed, the students started recognizing each others style and
targeting their feedback. Comments focused not on what would make a
better song, but on what might make a better song for a particular
person based on their style.
For me, feedback was the most important part of the class, DiLeo said. Its hard to judge another persons creativity.
Learning how to give targeted feedback to others was just as
beneficial as hearing it about their own work, the students said. The
process increased my awareness and discernment, said junior Emily
Fareed. We learn about form and structure in other classes, but I
listen to all music differently now and can hear whats happening
According to Adams, a class like this has the potential to resonate
with students who might not identify with the traditional, Western music
that is a staple of classical music programs at UD and elsewhere.
Mark Adams watches student Emily Fareed play the piano as others in the songwriting seminar also listen in.
Also, he said, Its about showing our MuEd students a different kind
of classroom experience, first in their role as students and later as
music teachers sharing what theyve learned with their own students.
This opened doors for me, not just the confidence to share my own
art, but techniques to use in exposing my future students to musical
collaboration and the creative process, Fareed said.
Adams came to UD in the fall of 2017. As word got around that he was a
singer/songwriter himself, students began coming to him with questions
and to chat about their own songwriting experiences.
He said he soon realized that there was a pocket of students at UD
who were already creating their own music, writing not for a class
assignment, but creating for their own personal reasons. Music majors learn technical music skills in aural skills, harmony,
sight-reading and pedagogy classes, but Adams sought to give students a
different kind of music-making experience focused on a sense of
community and understanding, more like a workshop setting than a
Despite the busy coursework music students already have, the
department embraced this experimental course as a way to expand
students experiences, and for good reason.
In 2014, the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, an alliance
of national arts and arts education organizations, published the first
revision of national arts standards in 20 years for dance, media arts,
music, theatre and visual arts education. These standards include four
anchors of education: creativity, performing, responding and connecting.
Aimee Pearsall, instructor in music education at UD, explained
that the traditional musical education curriculum has always had a
strong emphasis on performing, connecting and responding, but in recent
years music educators have been working to include more creativity in
As the field of music education continues to progress, UDs music
education faculty seeks to provide experiences that our own students can
take into their future classrooms, she said. Songwriting is an
exemplar of music creativity. It fosters a high level of musical
engagement and facilitates the highest level of musical thinking.
Music educators want to infuse more creative opportunities into our
schools, so we need to provide our music education majors with these
creative learning opportunities.
The National Association for Music Education also recognizes
songwriting as a valuable addition to the curriculum. The organization
has asked Adams to present a series of talks at its 2019 national
conference in November, focusing on the classroom community created
through songwriting as well as methods of songwriting and even lesson
planning for a songwriting class.
Through the course, Adams said he watched the students grow from
being nervous at this new experience to being empowered in their own
musicianship and telling their own stories. Because this music felt more
personal to each student, it didnt feel like work.
Having a creative, emotive outlet actually helps fuel the workload students have in their other classes, Adams said.
Adams final assignment took the students outside the safe space of
their songwriting community by asking them to record and post EPs of the
work they created. Several class members have shared their work here:
Article by Megan Everhart; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson
Published Oct. 21, 2019