Teaching songwriting is about encouraging individual voices to be heard

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

A great songwriter, Charles Jenkins says, is someone “who listens to a wide range of music, across genre and time, and then dissects that music to hear and see how the individual song components are assembled”.

“Someone who loves writing and singing songs, and someone who has a keen interest in the arts in general, which helps them ascertain how other artists get their ideas and individuality across,” he told EducationDaily.

“Someone who enjoys the songwriting process so much that they do it all the time.”

When it comes to teaching songwriting, he believes nurturing the development of each individual voice (“and that is what the public wants – think Beck, Bowie, Bjork, Beatles, etc”, he says) is a critical component.

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“One of the ways to do this is to take on ideas from all artistic fields, and to also attempt to understand what attracts attention, and what rewards that attention and moves people,” Mr Jenkins says.

Listening to diverse musical styles underscores songwriting education

The Melbourne-based songwriter, musician, producer, and performer has honed his understanding of the songwriting process over more than 30 years of experience in the music industry. Sharing that knowledge with Bachelor of Music Industry (Major in Songwriting) degree students at Box Hill Institute seemed like a natural progression.

“I was also delivering workshops for hundreds at various literary festivals, or one-on-one in youth justice centres.”

To teach at a tertiary level, he told EducationDaily, he completed a bachelor’s degree at (what was then) NMIT Fairfield, “thanks to Greg Arnold (Things Of Stone and Wood)”.

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“Then I completed a Masters in Music at University of Tasmania (UTAS).”

After working at UTAS and JMC Academy for many years, Mr Jenkins says he did “guest appearances at most of the tertiary institutions in Melbourne”, before becoming “very happily settled at Box Hill Institute…alongside the brilliant Brooke Russel”.

He also still provides various songwriting workshops throughout Victoria, says he has many private students, plays “lots of gigs” and continues to release “far too many albums“.

To date, there are 21 albums…and counting – and he also makes regular appearances on radio and takes up challenges to write songs prompted by words suggested by the show’s host or listeners. His work as a member of the band Icecream Hands has seen him nominated for two ARIA awards. In addition to his band work – including with musical project Charles Jenkins and The Zhivagos – he has also released eight solo albums.

Nurturing unique voices

To teach songwriting, Mr Jenkins says “we study the components of melody, harmony, lyric and rhythm and all their subsets, and how they can work together to best push the song forward, to realise its potential, and to reveal the individuality of the songwriter”.

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His students, he says, mostly come straight from high school, with a few mature-age students in the mix.

“It’s a wonderful environment at Box Hill – the students are great, and the music teaching fraternity is like a ‘who’s who’ of the Melbourne music scene. I get starstruck when I enter the staff room,” he says.

For people keen to explore some form of higher education as a pathway toward a career in the music industry, his key piece of advice is to “please explore!”.

“You will be exposed to brilliant teachers who have failed and succeeded many times before you and can pass on what they have learned,” he told EducationDaily.

“And you will meet equally brilliant people sitting alongside you, and these friendships are things money can’t buy.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live