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Songwriters School Faculty include:

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Steve Seskin,

Director

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Kerrville Folk Festival has offered Songwriters School for over 40 years. Held in the Kennedy Outdoor Theater with plenty of room for break-out sessions, the intimate setting of Quiet Valley Ranch on weekdays, paired with the quality of the faculty and the synergy of creative collaboration, have given KFF Songwriters School a solid reputation for helping writers move up to the next level. Registrants vary from experienced songwriter performers to lawyers who really want to be songsmiths. Songwriters School is limited to 50 registrants to maximize the opportunities for each student to get feedback and receive coaching on their work. Depending on enrollment, additional instructors could be added at a later time.

Pre-paid registration is required, prices increase after April 15, 2023.

Your registration fee includes a KFF hat, 4 days of songwriting classes, lunches on class days, and depending on the registration option you choose, may or may not include admission to the festival (and campground) for the 4 class days. (You must have festival tickets for each of the 4 class days in order to register for Songwriter School. The Songwriter School registration option that does not include festival tickets is designed for those who already possess festival tickets for those 4 days.)

 

Registration including festival tickets: $640  (beginning 4/16/23: $700)

Registration without festival tickets: $540  (beginning 4/16/23: $600)

Until the 2024 Songwriter School Schedule is released, the 2023 Schedule will continue to be published below as an example of what to expect.

Be aware that the class topics will change for 2024.

 

2023 KFF SONGWRITERS SCHOOL SCHEDULE 

 

​MONDAY
9 am   Welcome to Song School Steve Seskin and Thomas Chapmond


9:15 am till 10:30 opening Master Class

​Steve Seskin will open with a talk on Inspiration: Where do songs come from? Picasso once said “ Inspiration does exist, but it likes to find you working”.

This workshop explores ways to empower you to write about more than just your own life and to use emotional moments as catalysts to inspire you. It’s important to build some discipline into your creative process. We’ll also delve into the power of fiction and examine what’s really important in songs — emotional truth. My friend Allen Shamblin always says “A great writer never lets the facts get in the way of the truth.”

10:30 till 10:45 - Break


10:45 till 12noon:  Master Class with Mary Gauthier


Accessing the Universal

The work of an artist is to transcend the self, the personal, and hit the vein of gold that I call “the universal” the deeply personal place that all humans share. As a songwriter, I try to go past navel-gazing and self conscious fear, past the terror of vulnerability and emotional exposure, and reach for that sweet inclusive world of “we”, where the human condition resides. When songwriters aim for something bigger and more important than self, amazing things happen. The tricky part is that the only way to get there is to go through the self.


Universal truths are what make songs resonate. Emotional truths will apply to everyone, regardless of cultural differences, age, race, gender, sexuality, political ideology, geographic location, etc. Songs that contain universal truths build bridges that connect people who may believe they have little in common, generating empathy even in these divided times. These are the songs that remind us we are not alone.

We humans are far more alike than different, and universal, emotional truths are true for everyone. They are central to the human condition. Deeper than the personal details of each of our stories and well beyond navel gazing, they remind us of who we are. They are embedded in the deeply personal parts of our self. They are closely held secrets, secrets we may even be keeping from ourselves. Songs are where we discover, then tell, these secrets.


Noon till 1:00pm - Lunch

1:00 till 2:00pm - ​Meet the full-time faculty Steve Seskin, Mary Gauthier, John Smith, Sadie Gustafson-Zook Matt Nakoa, and Bill Nash and talk a bit about the schedule for the week. Tom Prasada Rao may join in as well although he won’t be teaching till Wednesday and Thursday.

2:00pm to 3:30  -  Afternoon Electives

​Bill Nash will offer a class on alternate tunings. He will teach you what they are and how to use them to open a whole new world of possibilities for the musical side of your songwriting.

Mary Gauthier will offer Writing a Singalong-able Chorus

In this workshop, Mary will show you how to write a chorus that will get everyone to sing along, and then you will write your own sing-along-able chorus. There are tricks to, and when you understand them, they will work for you every single time.

Common Traits of a Singalong
Simple melody with notes that everyone can sing.
Long, held out vowels Even better if the held-out vowels are on a verb! Examples: Move, Stand, Love, Born, Torn, Shred…Kiss.
REPEAT a short phrase or single word Don’t worry about it sounding simple, if #4 (Universal Sentiment) is present, the repetition will work, and it will mean more each time it’s sung.

Universal feeling/sentiment/experience -Universal themes are ways to connect, central ideas about the human condition dealing with basic human concerns (love, hope, sorrow, joy, lust, rage, redemption…)
Simple chord progression in a key most everyone can sing in  

Sadie Gustafson-Zook

Lean Into Your Power: Vocal Technique:  Many people are told early on in life that they are not good at singing. This can snowball into a shame spiral that leads people away from truly finding their internal voice and enjoying music! This course is for people who love to sing, but may have a few internal or external roadblocks in their way. Together we will learn to love our voices through gentle singing exercises, technical posture tips, and aural skills exercises to harness the power of our voices! It can be hard to speak up for ourselves if we don't believe our voice is worth listening to, and learning to be comfortable in our voices is an important step, not only musically, but also as whole individuals!  

Matt Nakoa

Breaking the Ice: Dating Tips for Co-writers
Listening: Finding emotional resonance
Role Play: Surrender to imagination
Object Writing: Tapping the seven senses
Mining for Gold: Themes, key phrases, and titles  


3:30 till 3:45 - Break

3:45 till 5:00 -  Afternoon Electives continue

​Steve Seskin and John Smith will offer the 1st of many critique sessions for students. During this session we will look at 4 or 5 songs. Please bring lyric sheets. There will be a lot to learn observing this process so feel free to attend even if you don’t feel ready to look at one of your songs yet. Please bring at least two copies of your lyric.

Bill Nash Multiple capos!

Bill is one of the masters of using two or three or even four capos to create amazing possibilities of sound with his guitar. he will de mystify this process and show you how to use multiple capos to make you sound like an even better guitar player than you are.

Sadie Gustafson-Zook

Intermediate Guitar: I've Got Root Position. Now What?:  Ever listen to a guitar part and wonder, "why can't I do that?" Guitar is such a versatile instrument, but for many people it can be easy to get stuck once you know most of the root position chords and basic strumming patterns. In this course we will dive into opening up the neck, fingerpicking patterns, alternative tunings, and jazz chords to make playing guitar exciting again!

Matt Nakoa

Compositional Concepts for the Songwriter
Discovering your music’s pulse
Organic melody writing (psst: the words have written it for you!)
Melody, Harmony, Rhythm & Register: The musical parts of speech
Dat Bass Line!: Harmony for the non-instrumentalist

5:00 pm till whenever -  SONG CIRCLE on the main stage.



TUESDAY
​In addition to the master classes this morning, there will be private mentoring sessions with, Sadie Gustafson-Zook, John Smith and Bill Nash.

Five 30-minute slots from 10 am till 12:30 pm. Signups for these slots will be at 8:30 am on the main stage. Please sign up for only one per day until everyone has had a chance to take a slot. If there are open slots after that, you may sign up for a 2nd slot on the same day.

9 am till 9:15 Questions?

9:15 till 10:30 Master Class

Steve Seskin on Melody writing.
In focusing on melody writing, I teach from a place of writing melodies for lyrics. Prosody is the marriage of music and lyric. We will explore ways to determine if the overall vibe of the music feels right and look at specific parts of songs in terms of choosing an appropriate melody that milks the emotion that the writer would like the listener to feel from the lyric. I will also talk about phrasing and accents. There is an important word in every sentence. We look at choosing accent places that stress the right syllables and help drive home your point. Music can actually change the meaning of a lyric when used to its fullest potential. We also discuss rhythm and range and how to use them effectively in songs.

10:30 till 10:45 - Break

​10:45 till 12:30 -  Master Class with Matt Nakoa​:​  Writing From a Title

Storyboarding: Crafting a lyric that accrues meaning
Rhyme Family Tree: A sustainable harvest of relevant rhymes
Take It To The Bridge: “What do I have? What’s different from that?”
When Not to Rhyme

12:30 till 1:30 - Lunch

1:30 till 3:00  -  Afternoon Electives

Steve Seskin and Mary Gauthier will offer the 2nd critique session for students. During this session we will take a look at 4 or 5 songs. Please bring lyric sheets. There will be a lot to learn observing this process so feel free to attend even if you don’t feel ready to look at one of your songs yet.

John Smith: Singing through the Fear

"How to be comfortable in your own skin while bearing your soul on stage"  

You've got your songs, now it's time for gathering the skills to deliver them in public with confidence and grace. In this class we will talk about the art of delivery. ‘How to be comfortable in your own skin while bearing your soul on stage’. How to deal with the fear. Staying grounded, connecting with the audience, eye contact, dynamics of your voice and instrument, introductions, pre-show mojo, set lists, and more bits and pieces I've picked up over the years. If time, we will take turns in the classroom critiquing each other's performances.


Sadie Gustafson-Zook: Workshop-a-Song Masterclass

This masterclass will provide folks an opportunity to share a song in front of the group and get some loving and specific feedback from Sadie Gustafson-Zook! If you have a song that you love but know that it needs some loving care, this masterclass is for you! 

Matt Nakoa will offer individual mentoring three 30 minute sessions. Sign up in the morning

3 pm till 3:15 -  Break

3:15 till 5 pm   -  Afternoon Electives

John Smith will offer “partial capo 101” Ever get tired of the same old G, C, D chords? Sometimes the sound of a new chord voicing is just the ticket to jump start our creativity and off to the races with a new song. Learn hands on how to use a partial capo in as many as 8 different positions. Most in standard tuning with simple fingerings. The partial capo has a similar sound as rich open tunings

Mary Gauthier: How to Write a Story Song

Everyone loves a great story song. Songwriters are well served by having a few of these in their arsenal. But upon inspection, these songs are not at all easy to write, they can go wrong is so many ways, losing the listener, creating confusion, or even worse indifference.

This class will teach you the ins and outs of writing story songs, using imagery, metaphor, dialogue, and microscopic detail to move a story forward and keep the listener interested and emotionally invested.

We will discuss the fundamentals of the form:
-The more you wish to describe a universal truth, the more minutely and honestly you must describe a particular. -Creating scenes. Where is your narrator located, what does this place look like? USE PICTURES, think of it as a little movie.
-Building meaning, moving through time, generating empathy and resonance.

Sadie Gustafson-Zook
Vocal Harmony (beginning/intermediate):  Singing with other people is one of the great joys in life, and in times when not much feels unified, harmonizing voices can offer a powerful respite! In this course students will use their ears and a dab of music theory to develop the skills to be a competent harmonizer! We'll use traditional country and folk songs to work through different approaches at harmony singing, as well as learning some practical vocal techniques to help singing come easily and fluidly.

Steve Seskin and Matt Nakoa will offer a critique session for students. During this session we will take a look at 4 or 5 songs. Please bring lyric sheets. There will be a lot to learn observing this process so feel free to attend even if you don’t feel ready to look at one of your songs yet.

5:15 pm till whenever - SONG CIRCLE on the main stage



WEDNESDAY
​In addition to the master classes, there will be individual mentoring offered by Sadie Gustafson-Zoom, Bill Nash, and Steve Seskin 10am till 12:30 five 30-minute slots.

9:30 till 10:45 -  Master class with Tom Prasada Rao 

KISS - Do you know that Temptations song My Girl?  Did you know there are only eight distinct lyric lines in that song? Do you know how many millions of times that song has been played on the radio?  The hallmarks of that song are simplicity and brevity. And if it’s good enough for Smokey Robinson, it should be good enough for any aspiring songwriter.  Together will discuss how it’s done, and try our hand at it.  

10:45 till 11:00 - Break

11:00 till 12:30 - Master Class with John Smith What’s in your songwriting toolbox?

What tools do we have available to us in our writing? This class will talk about the ‘Tools’ in our songwriting toolbox: The use of Metaphor, Rhyming, Object writing. Is our song a journey? Besides verse and chorus do we use bridges, channels, refrains?  Writing from 1st, 2nd, 3rd person. Do we bring out the Zen knife for editing? John will breakdown one of his songs sharing his process and what tools he chose to use.

12:30 till 1:30 Lunch

1:30 till 3 pm -
Steve Seskin and Mary Gauthier will offer a critique session for students. During this session we will take a look at 4 or 5 songs. Please bring lyric sheets. There will be a lot to learn observing this process so feel free to attend even if you don’t feel ready to look at one of your songs yet.

Tom Prasada Rao and John Smith will explore working with a producer on a recording project. They have collaborated on many projects and can offer an inside look into planning, song selection, pacing and many other facets to the recording process.

Sadie Gustafson-Zook

Intermediate Guitar: I've Got Root Position. Now What?:  Ever listen to a guitar part and wonder, "why can't I do that?" Guitar is such a versatile instrument, but for many people it can be easy to get stuck once you know most of the root position chords and basic strumming patterns. In this course we will dive into opening up the neck, finger picking patterns, alternative tunings, and jazz chords to make playing guitar exciting again!

3:00 till 3:15 break

3:15 till 5 pm -  Afternoon Electives

Mary Gauthier will offer Writing a Singalong-able Chorus

In this workshop, Mary will show you how to write a chorus that will get everyone to sing along, and then you will write your own sing-along-able chorus. There are tricks to, and when you understand them, they will work for you every single time.

Sadie Gustafson-Zook

Lean Into Your Power: Vocal Technique:  Many people are told early on in life that they are not good at singing. This can snowball into a shame spiral that leads people away from truly finding their internal voice and enjoying music! This course is for people who love to sing, but may have a few internal or external roadblocks in their way. Together we will learn to love our voices through gentle singing exercises, technical posture tips, and aural skills exercises to harness the power of our voices! It can be hard to speak up for ourselves if we don't believe our voice is worth listening to, and learning to be comfortable in our voices is an important step, not only musically, but also as whole individuals!

Tom Prasada Rao

  COURAGE - If you don’t have honesty in a song, you don’t have a song. It takes courage to be honest, it takes courage to make yourself vulnerable, it takes courage to do your job as a writer - your only job - to take the blinders off, to be true, to be faithful to yourself, while admitting your infidelity.  We’ll discuss how to do that. No great song has ever been written because the writer played it safe.  
   Cowardly Lion: All right, I'll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I'll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I'm going in there. There's only one thing I want you fellows to do.
  Tin Man and Scarecrow: What's that? Cowardly Lion: Talk me out of it!

5:00 pm till whenever - SONG CIRCLE on the main stage.


THURSDAY

​9:30 am till 12 noon  

Mentoring will be offered by Tom Prasada Rao, John Smith, and Bill Nash. Five 30-minute slots will be available for each of them.

9:30 am till 10:45 am

Sadie Gustafson-Zook Master class Crafting an Honest Song:  Have you ever heard a song and been struck by the universality of a message, even though the song is incredibly specific? In this workshop we workshop ways to frame our lives in a reflective way, so they can be honest to us, and also applicable to listeners! We will use a mixture of free-writing exercises, composition techniques, group discussion and hands-on coaching by Sadie to learn the tools necessary to turn life transitions and experiences into meaningful and unique songs.

10:30 till 10:45 - Break

10:45 till 12:00 Master Class

Steve Seskin and Mary Gauthier will talk about rewriting. Writing can more easily come from that dreamy/stream of consciousness place. Rewriting involves considering what you’ve already written and in many ways is a lot more tedious. In this seminar we examine all types of rewriting. Are you rewriting because the content is not serving the moment in the song, or is the problem the tone of how you put forth your idea? We'll also look at how to know when a song is done and the wisdom of sticking to the task versus putting a song away for a while and giving it a rest. Many times, I write more than I need just to give myself choices.

12:00 pm to 1:00 - Lunch

1:00 pm till 2:15 -  

Tom Prasada Rao, Steve Seskin and Mary Gauthier on writing songs for social causes and being of service. We all write songs for cathartic reasons to help heal ourselves. This is a fundamental need that drives our creativity. But why stop there? Let’s use our gift and our awareness of what’s going on in the world to heal it. We will discuss various songs/projects we’ve been a part of where that is our intention…

Bill Nash Multiple capos! Bill is one of the masters of using two or three or even four capos to create amazing possibilities of sound with his guitar. he will de mystify this process and show you how to use multiple capos to make you sound like an even better guitar player than you are.

Sadie Gustafson-Zook Vocal Harmony:  Singing with other people is one of the great joys in life, and in times when not much feels unified, harmonizing voices can offer a powerful respite! In this course students will use their ears and a dab of music theory to develop the skills to be a competent harmonizer! We'll use traditional country and folk songs to work through different approaches at harmony singing, as well as lea

2:15 till 3:45 - Last small group classes

Bill Nash will offer a class on alternate tunings. He will teach you what they are and how to use them to open up a whole new world of possibilities for the musical side of your writing.

3:45 till 4:00 - Break

Mary Gauthier will offer How to Write a Story Song
Everyone loves a great story song. Songwriters are well served by having a few of these in their arsenal. But upon inspection, these songs are not at all easy to write, they can go wrong is so many ways, losing the listener, creating confusion, or even worse indifference.

This class will teach you the ins and outs of writing story songs, using imagery, metaphor, dialogue, and microscopic detail to move a story forward and keep the listener interested and emotionally invested.

We will discuss the fundamentals of the form:
The more you wish to describe a universal truth, the more minutely and honestly you must describe a particular. 


Creating scenes. Where is your narrator located, what does this place look like? USE PICTURES, think of it as a little movie.

Building meaning, moving through time, generating empathy and resonance.

 


John Smith will offer
"How to be comfortable in your own skin while bearing your soul on stage"  - Singing through the Fear.

You've got your songs, now it's time for gathering the skills to deliver them in public with confidence and grace. In this class we will talk about the art of delivery. ‘How to be comfortable in your own skin while bearing your soul on stage’. How to deal with the fear. Staying grounded, connecting with the audience, eye contact, dynamics of your voice and instrument, introductions, pre-show mojo, set lists, and more bits and pieces I've picked up over the years. If time, we will take turns in the classroom critiquing each other's performances.

Tom Prasada Rao REPETITION - When I get stuck, when I can’t figure out the next line, especially when it follows the most important line, or the most brilliant; when I can’t figure out how to start the chorus or how to end the verse, I sometimes remember my favorite songwriting mantra: when in doubt, repeat. Do you know how many great songs do this? Do you know how many great writers use this often overlooked technique?  We’ll identify patterns of repetition in songwriting, and try our hand at it as well.

4:00 till 5 pm -- Closing session. Q and A comments and a general catch all session with most of the instructors. 5 pm big hugs and goodbyes

The Kerrville Folk Festival is happy to provide a scholarship opportunity for a songwriter

to attend the 2024 Kerrville Folk Festival Songwriters School free of charge. 

This scholarship is bestowed in memory of Doug Fesler.  To learn about the scholarship, how to apply, and about Doug Fesler, visit this website:  http://dougfeslerscholarshipfund.com/   The deadline to apply is May 8th.  Scholarship recipients will be notified by May 10th.

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"You know how it is when you discover something so cool that you want to share it with all of your friends? That's the Kerrville Songwriters School. The faculty is first rate and the student-teacher ratio is the best of any songwriting program that I have attended. Highlights included receiving a constructive song critique (and spontaneous harmony accompaniment) from Kathy Mattea, Steve Seskin, and Bonnie Hayes (head of the songwriting department at Berklee School of Music) and a demo recording session with Lloyd Maines. I'm so glad that I finally gave myself the gift of attending."

Lisa Fancher, Kerrville New Folk award-winning songwriter, lawyer, and performer with Clyde, Gal Dangit!, and Firewater.

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