“It all begins with a song” is a pretty famous saying. It’s an album title, a song lyric, and it’s the The Nashville Songwriter’s Association’s famous slogan. To what does it refer? What, exactly, begins with a song?
Let me answer this question by telling a story.
I know a little girl. Well, she’s not that little anymore. She’s as tall as me, if not taller! Her name is Madison.
Madison is a special girl. She’s radiant. Her smile is genuine, and her heart is pure. Her personality, bright and beautiful! The light of her life shines brilliantly, and it’s infectious. So is her gift.
You ought to hear this girl sing and play the piano. She’s not a flashy musician. But what captures you and speaks to your soul is the sincerity of her heart and the simple truth of her message. She has something important to say. A message for the world. You hear it in every note she plays and sings.
I first met Madison several years ago. She was one of the choristers in my children’s choir at Kennesaw United Methodist Church. It was evident from the start that this girl loved (and I mean loved) to sing! Her eyes widened at just the introduction of a new song. Music filled her with ecstatic joy, and it was evident.
Long story short, she began studying the piano with me and quickly became interested in composing songs. It was delightful teaching her how to structure her songs and helping her find sources of inspiration to serve as the subject matter for her music.
I’ll never forget it. One day, Madison came into my studio wide-eyed and grinning ear-to-ear. She excitedly proclaimed,
“Mr. Chris, I’ve composed a song.”
“Sit down,” I said, eagerly. “Show me.”
She sat, she played, and began to cry.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
She paused for a second, took a deep breath, and said, “There are so many hurting people in my school, at my church, and in other places. They need to know that God loves them and that they are perfect in his eyes.”
“It all begins with a song.”
Madison got it then, and she gets it now. She knows that her gift is powerful enough to effect the world in a deep and meaningful way, and she’s using her gift to change the world. She’s touched many hearts with that particular song – singing it for friends, family members, and strangers.
Her simple, yet profound words moved me deeply on that day. This twelve-year-old girl spoke truth into the atmosphere with such simplicity and sincerity, rivaling the weighty statements made by the most influential men and women of our time.
Students first become interested in composition through the music with which they’re most familiar. Most often, this is the music they hear on the radio. Instead of shoving a bunch of complicated music theory down their throats, the wise teacher will slowly begin to feed her students information by way of familiar channels that they can understand and with which they connect.
I’ve taken this approach with many students and experienced great results!
Songs are great teaching tools for several reasons –
- Song structures are often straightforward and easy for students to grasp.
- A great melody is the number one ingredient for a song, so students are forced think about how to craft strong melodies using music theory principles.
- Harmony is an integral part of a song, so students must learn how to pick effective harmony to accompany their melodies. Again, this forces them to employ music theory principles.
To reiterate, don’t try to force-feed complex information. Rather, look for opportunities to teach using a framework familiar to the student.
Madison is excelling as a composer because she’s learning the craft via a context she’s familiar with. Songs inspire her. She understands how they’re structured. And she’s learning how to apply music theory principles (often the most difficult musical principles to learn) in an unintimidating way.
“It all begins with a song.”