Songwriting with the English learners

Lospalos, Tuesday, day 96

For the last couple of weeks, Tony, Sarah and I have been making fairly regular visits to the local English language classes that are on everyday after school. I suggested to the teacher that we could come in one day as a group and do a songwriting project with everyone. That’s what we did today.

We were a group of 6 – Tony, Sarah and I, and the three ANAM students. About 30 students took part in the workshop. We started with a name song which goes around the circle with each person singing their name, and it being repeated in unison by the rest of the group.

Then, as a rhythmic warm-up, we created word-strings, and clapped these. First I asked each person in the circle to volunteer one English word that they liked. Then as a group we invented three strings of four or more words each. We said these out loud, exaggerating the rhythm of the syllables, and then clapping the rhythms in unison, and then in three separate groups. I conducted groups in and out of the texture to create some variations in the layers, and then cued a tight stop.

Now that we were warmed-up (we taught them the word ‘warm-up), we discussed ideas for a song. Each group discussed their preferences, then we shared these and looked for common threads between the three groups. There were several themes that emerged:

  • A sad song, expressing sad feelings
  • A happy song, thinking about things that make you happy
  • A love song

From here, we chose a narrative arc for the song, with verse one describing a broken-hearted, lost love situation. The chorus needed to emphasise a determination to move on in life. The second verse continued the story into one of new happiness, with the narrator finding a new love and all being well again.

I am sad, but I’m not broken

I am strong

I’m okay with you

Broken heart – no way

Broken heart – away

Tony and Lina worked with the chorus group and once their words were locked in, I sent them outside with the guitar to develop a way to sing their chorus with a good hook or catchy melody. They delivered with a very funky chorus. Meanwhile, the other two groups were developing the narrative focus of the verses.

I love someone but they love another

I cry all day and can’t sleep at night

I try to forget but when I close my eyes

I always see your face.

With the harmony for the chorus, it didn’t take long to find the melody for the verses. A bit of tempo adjustment was needed as initially the lyrics suggested quite a different feel.

I’m happy again because I’ve found another love

We met at the market, buying some bananas

My new love is smart, and has a good heart.

The love of my life!

Excellent lyrics for English language students who have only been learning English (in a remote part of East Timor) for three or six months, don’t you think? We set ourselves up to do a full performance of the song and record it. The performance was great! But in all the excitement we forgot to press ‘Record’ on the recording machine, so have no record of our great song, other than in our memories.

Still, we hope to revise it for this Saturday’s TOKA BOOT so we may be able to get a recording of it there.

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2 comments so far

  1. […] out the kinds of projects we want to offer the students this year. After their much-talked-about participation in my work in East Timor in January, hopefully similar work in other challenging environments can be part of the 2011 […]

  2. […] place to chat up a new love interest than at the banana stall? You can read more about this project here – it’s the post I wrote at the time of doing the […]


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