This is where you’ll find descriptions of the classes being offered at the retreat as well as information about mentor sessions and song salon.
Impact Topical Songwriting
From “No More Auction Block for Me,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “If I Had a Hammer” and
“Change is Gonna Come” to more recent songs like “20 Dollar Bill,” “American Silence” and others that shifted the consciousness of the world (in 2020 and beyond) the topical song is one of the most effective tools of social and global change. Yet its true value in skill and composition is often underplayed or over simplified in songwriting circles. We’ll identify, discuss, and play with the ingredients that go into finding a mix of language, form, passion, and clarity that can lead to creating authentic statements of anger, passion and human empathy that hopefully result in awareness, action, and resolution. Bring your guitar or instrument, voice, and a mind that’s ready to respond to a topic that’s close to your passion by creating an engine for change.
Expanding our Vision in Song!
“The eyes have it” is a term that refers to one of the essential resources in being an artist/songwriter. Writer James Baldwin once said, “The role of the artist is to show that world what they see….” It’s all in the effort to respond to the world around us and to reveal how we live, work, love and prosper. Using video prompts and photo images can be a marvelous vehicle to explore context and to practice image description in song. It can also provide a means to move out of the sameness of our own circular personal narratives. Using short videos, photos or story prompts, we will work at creating short songs that capture feeling , emotion and context and share them with each other. Bring your instrument, a thesaurus, some writing tools, and your eyes as we engage our hearts in finding ways to infuse humanity, truth, and vibrant imagery into our songs and the lives around us.
Composition: Strategies and Practices for Getting Unstuck
What do you do when you find yourself stuck? Drawing on creative strategies for sound designers and composers, this workshop explores how we can get “unstuck” in our creative and professional work. Whether you’re a sound designer or a composer, whether you create with or without notation, are a seasoned professional or new to the industry, delve into the art and science of creativity and discover the habits and practices that generate flow and inventive thinking.
Form & Creative Freedom
How often do you get trapped by feeling like you need to follow conventional musical forms? This session offers a variety of creative strategies for thinking about organization in song form, composition, and sound design through harmonic structure, melodic and rhythmic motifs, and arrangements.
Songwriting: Listening for the words
In this workshop we will look at some tools we can use to tune in to our own deep lyrical voice. In 90 minutes we will each start a song. We will follow a series of steps that I have used to open the door to that quiet voice within. There will be in-class exercises. Bring your instrument and something to write with and a recording device (the voice memo app on your iPhone will work perfectly).
Often we think that a good melody is a gift from the gods. It is true that some melodic hook lines are gifts that seem to appear out of thin air one day. But we can also learn how to build strong melodic shape into our songs. In this workshop we will look at building a verse with strong melodic architecture. Bring your instrument and something to write with and a recording device (the voice memo app on your iPhone will work perfectly).
“Songetry” – Poem to Song
Joe’s “Songetry” connects something most of us have already done (writing a poem). Joe will then provide a template to move it to song. Poems, whether rhyming or not, can tell a story in an accessible form of metered rhythm. We all possess the ability to write such stories, short or long and that is the grist for the mill of songwriting.
There are different ways to approach writing a song; sometimes the music comes first and then the lyrics. In this session, Joe will guide you with the approach of the story first and then the music to serve the written word.
Writing timed and under pressure can bring surprising and often magical kickstarts to new compositions. This class is geared towards entry level songwriting, but seasoned songwriters benefit from the process as well. Have a notebook and pen or, if you’re proficient at typing, your keyboard will do. Have an instrument by your side, although it’s not necessary.
Recognizing Different Rhythms and Forms for Songs
Music is, amongst many things, organized sound. Organization of tones to, and around, a steady pulse, create patterns that we call beats, syncopations or, more simply, rhythms. We respond organically to musical movement and, along with melodies and chords, rhythms make us also feel emotional.
We move, therefore we are rhythmic, but we don’t always know how to search and apply rhythms to the songs we write. Volunteer a set of lyrics in the class and Joe will demonstrate the many different aspects of rhythm and show you how to move through your verses to see how changes in rhythm change the way we connect to our song. You can also extend these rhythmic explorations in a mentoring session with Joe.
One of the most compelling features of a great artist is their ability to be themselves authentically on stage…a total commitment to the song and to its presentation brings possibilities of a transformative experience to an audience and to yourself. How do we achieve this authenticity, this “ease”….? By preparing…. In this class we will focus on how to build your underlying inner support based on very practical procedures….how to get ready for a show, rehearsing, building set lists, working with the stage, the sound system and sound techs…mic usage and stage presence. We will talk about and work through stage fright , and pre performance anxiety . Having set our foundation we will be free to address the most important aspects of performing…our relationship to our spirit, our song , and that lovely audience out there.
Alter Ego Writing
Do you ever fall into a character, a voice, an accent that is sourced from a wholly other part of your usual personality? Did you have fantasized identities as a child? Do you ever occasionally affect a completely different persona for fun with trusted intimate pals? It’s amazing what we might hear ourselves say while “ dressed “in these alternate identities. In this class each one of us will explore and write from one of these alternate personalities…this exercise can be a source of tremendous fun, deep insights and liberating power.
How to Tame (or quiet) Your Inner Critic!
We all have an inner critic at some point in our songwriting journey. It is that voice that expresses self doubt, criticism, and sometimes stops us from writing and performing. In this workshop, we are going to tackle our inner critic with tips and ways to make our critic a “friend” and a valuable part of editing.
Please bring a song or part of a song that you are working on or one that your critic has put on the shelf or garbage can. Let’s turn this around and make your critic a positive part of your songwriting process. Let’s face our fears and fuel our passion. Bring your tricks and thoughts on how to quiet your inner critic, let’s share!
Inner Critic Class (PDF)
As a guitar teacher, the two most common questions that I get asked are ‘What chords should I play?’ and ‘What strumming pattern should I play?’. This makes sense; some well chosen chords played with an interesting rhythm provide the perfect accompaniment to a vocal melody. So, in two classes for the spring 2022 Yosemite Songwriting Retreat, I’m going to teach you how to answer these questions for yourself and compose unique arrangements for your own songs.
Putting chords to work
As songwriters, we use chords to harmonize our melodies and set the mood for our compositions. Just like a movie soundtrack can dramatically affect the feeling of a scene, the chords we choose can support the emotion of our lyrics.
In a given key, each chord has a unique personality. In this class, we’ll get to know the temperament of each chord so we can choose when to use them in a composition. We’ll focus on chords that most guitarists learn in their first year of playing, and introduce a few less common ones to spice things up.
Chord Personalities (PDF)
With its twangs, thrums, clicks, dings and pops, the guitar is an extremely versatile percussion instrument. A well-crafted rhythm guitar part can make a good song great, so it’s worth taking some time to explore the rhythmic possibilities of the instrument.
This class is about the notes you play and the spaces between them. We’ll start by learning how to listen and replicate rhythms, then work on creating original patterns. We’ll focus on strumming the guitar, not fingerpicking (that’s a class for another day!).
YSR Sound Tech Advice
This session was created to answer general questions about using sound technology in performance including sound amplification systems, personal recording, microphone techniques, microphone selection, signal processing, the challenges of using Zoom sound, and more. If participants have very specific or larger scale questions, individual sessions may be arranged after the retreat.
In addition to classes and workshops, our instructors will also be available for mentor sessions throughout the weekend. These sessions are your opportunity to have some one-on-one time with our instructors and get specific advice on something you’re working on.
Song salon is an opportunity for you to present your works-in-progress to the group and get feedback, ideas and encouragement. Bring us your tired, your weak, your half-written, yearning to be finished. Come ready to share, give feedback, and be nice.