Freedom to Create: Songwriting Class Comes to Talawanda

Freedom to Create: Songwriting Class Comes to Talawanda 


Did you notice a new course on your scheduling sheet this year? The Topical Literature class for the 2022-23 school year will be Songwriting, taught by English teacher Mr. Aerni. He’s also a musician an co-advisor for the Talawanda literary arts magazine, “Setting Stone.” For those interested in how a songwriting class would work, Mr. Aerni has provided some insight as to his plan for this course.

What songwriters inspire you? 

There are many, actually. Probably my earliest inspiration came from bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Temple of the Dog…I was inspired early in my life, long before I learned to play an instrument, by Cat Stevens…mostly because my Dad liked his music. Now, one of my biggest influences is Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Those are some.  

I’m also inspired by bands like Spoon who have a unique sound all their own, yet continue to put out music that is new and exciting. And, I’ve recently been listening to a lot of Anaïs Mitchell, a singer/songwriter whose music is absolutely gorgeous and compelling–she wrote the music that became the musical Hadestown.

Have you ever been in a band? 

Yes…several. I guess, technically, the first “band” I was in was 6th grade concert band–I played saxophone. I started playing guitar in 7th grade, and started trying to put a cohesive band together pretty soon thereafter. It wasn’t until high school, really, when I started playing in bands that played events. In college, I played in a few bands–one that played shows every weekend. It’s a really fun, unique experience–especially if you are writing your own songs–which was something I was always interested in doing.

 What was your inspiration for creating this class?

Well, the last time the Topical Literature rotating elective came my way, I taught a screenwriting class. That was really fun, but I wanted to do something a little different–something I am really passionate about. I recently read Jeff Tweedy’s book How to Write One Song, which is such an approachable book on the creative process. I’ve always been interested in creating things–I think it’s something most people want to do–and, sometimes, I think people don’t because either they think they don’t have time, or think they don’t have the talent. Tweedy’s book really encourages the idea that all people have at least one song in them–that all people have the capacity to create–they just don’t often make time to allow themselves the freedom to create. I thought I could use that idea to build a class around, give students time each day to create, and, hopefully, help them develop something they’ll be proud of having created.

 What type of activities would you be doing in the class? Would there be any interesting projects? 

The class is a work in progress right now. But, the basic skeleton right now is to develop a pattern of writing–something done daily–to develop and express original ideas and thoughts. That daily writing will work together with song study, word association exercises, and conversations.

 As far as projects go, the ultimate goal is for all students to come away from the class having written and recorded a song. However, the way I envision that happening is by working together as a class–meaning, just because you wrote the lyrics, doesn’t mean you’ll be the one performing it on the recording–though, of course, you could be. My hope is that the class works together to encourage each other’s creativity, and, from there, developing and creating works together.

 What will students learn in this class? 

Students will learn, well, lots of ways to develop their writing–they will learn the importance of regular writing, and hopefully the value of themselves as creators. 

 Is there a specific genre that students will be focusing on? 


 Will students compose music alongside the lyrics?

There are so many ways to put music together these days–synthesizers, drum machines, keyboard pre-sets, samples–those things in addition to playing actual instruments–I think music composition will work in stride with lyric writing–though, it will really depend on the students who take the course.

Will there be any performances?

I’m not planning any formal performances. I’m designing the class to be more of a workshop–one where students develop ideas. I think it would be cool if some students decided to perform a song they wrote at something like a Setting Stone Coffee House–but, there won’t be formal class performances.

Who should take this class? Do they need musical knowledge? 

I’d say–anyone who loves music should take the class. My hope is that the class will open creative avenues for students–ones they hadn’t maybe known existed before. So, as far as needing musical knowledge goes–I think knowing about music helps–but knowing how to play an instrument, or even how songs are structured–that’s not necessary. 

See your counselor to sign up for Aerni’s songwriting class if you haven’t already done so.