MSU Song Writers Take Center Stage

Popular songwriting class taught by College of Music faculty culminates with concert.

Music majors and non-music majors interested in writing songs have the unique opportunity to develop their skills in a compositional setting prevalent in musical culture today but rare in the classroom. Thanks to John Kratus, professor of music education, MSU students explore their creativity and collaborate from day one to the final public concert.  

Kratus teaches a songwriting class, which is designed for music majors and non-majors alike. He started teaching it in 2000, at the request of several students, and now more than a dozen colleges across the country have adopted his model.

The class consists of 20 students seeking experience with songwriting and exploring music creativity in a group setting. Students come from varying backgrounds and interests—from freshmen to seniors, from music education to mechanical engineering majors, from rap to folk music interests, from experienced songwriters to students who have never written a song before.

“The primary aim of the course is to develop and refine the ability of class members to express themselves through songwriting,” Kratus said. “Songs are one of the most powerful means for personal artistic expression. I am struck by the extent to which students pour their hearts out into the songs they share with the class. There have been quite a few times when the personal issues expressed in a student’s song have left the whole class crying. This type of sharing requires a level of trust that is rare in college classrooms.”

Throughout the semester students learn to develop their abilities in lyric and melody writing, performing, and critical thinking. Every week each student performs for the class a new song, a partial song, or a revised song they have written. This begins on day one when they are required to sing a cover tune or a song of their own before the entire class. Through open discussions and critiques, students learn to refine their work. Students are graded on their best six songs, the quality of their comments during discussions, a written critical analysis of a favorite song, and a recording of their “greatest hits.”

More than 100 people attended the concert on December 5 at the MSU Auditorium’s Studio 60. Student solo and group performances took the stage showcasing talented songs on a variety of themes.

Click here to read the article, “They Write the Songs,” from the City Pulse, which also includes an audio recording from the concert.

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