Songwriting exercises from Bob Kenward

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Writers’ workout - 2 minute exercises


a) substitute for..... Dirty Old Town (3)

b) substitute for..... Moon River (3)

c) substitute for... Tie A Yellow Ribbon (3)

d) association.... scarlet/ purple/ empty (3 each)

e) opposition... lovely night/ summer heat/ dazzling white (1)



a) 1 syllable.... green/ blue/ red (4)

b) 2 syllable... green/ blue/ red (2)

c) funny... item of clothing then ridiculous rhyme



a) sing 3 notes/ repeat/ sing same 3 backwards/ end note

b) sing 4 but 2 the same/ backwards/ add one

c) sing 3 notes, one above one below the first/ repeat/ reverse /end

d) sing same 3 notes but one longer than others/ repeat process

e) sing 4 notes, 2 shorter than others



a) I’ve been a Wild Rover (3 syllables)

b) Movement - place: From Clare To Here

c) Movement - situation: once I was----------- now I am ------------

d) 3 people - song of conflict (Gypsy Rover/ Lady/ Lord)

e) Incongruous: The Elephant In The Greenhouse



a) The __________________ and the _______________

b) The Foggy Dew (adjective/ noun)

c) change Medway Flow Softly

d) alter Whisky Galore

e) 5 titles you’ve never heard...

Narrative Song Workshop/Broadstairs Folk Festival/Bob Kenward 2008


Narrative Songwriting - Sources


Search engines are fine, finding reliable information less so... too much and most is interpreted by the poster-

but good for weird & wonderful theories! On Google, check the UK sites button first...

Try typing known names/ dates – usually you’ll get a lead which has to be fined down- and very often info is simply repeated without checking from first sources, therefore can be inaccurate.

If no luck, check the spelling of key facts eg names of lifeboats- even museums can mistake this.


Books & Printed sources eg Newspapers -

Same applies, though as most reputably published books have been legally checked the more contentious statements tend not to appear. Interpretations of photographs are often open to question- same photo/ different dates/ names etc. It’s worth comparing accounts and slants- often a song benefits from a deliberately off-balance view, the news from one angle which leaves the listener to decide which side they’re on.


Personal Interviews -

Both interesting & rewarding- reliance on memory means info should be cross-checked if poss.

Nb here you are on your own when you begin to repeat views etc- the laws of libel apply to you if you repeat a falsehood, even unwittingly. The argument of ‘fair comment’ is reasonable, and can be tested by those with good lawyers. Be very careful. Remember that if you are using a real story, real people are involved and you may hurt real people- or they might conceivably hurt you if they don’t appreciate your message. For these reasons it may be preferable to make up a song with a heard storyline using fictional characters. This also gives scope for a more satisfying ending to the song itself, rather than that which happened in real life.


Television/ Radio -

Which is how most of us get our first impressions of breaking news. Experience suggests that the first story to come through rarely has the detail: the most available or most harrowing pictures take precedence. In fact, the real story of the day may be scampered over between faraway wars and the performing dolphins. TV news has the benefit of editing, so tends to tell an unfolding story. It’s useful from our point of view to research how they put shots together to lead to a logical understanding- we can do this with phrases.

Radio is closer to our medium, and we can pick up how to cluster words for their full impact. Word patterns vary between live interview and reported speech- so which should we choose for our songs? This may vary according to whether we use a narrator, peeking over a fence, or have the singer taking part in the action- if so, how does he/she breathe/ paddle/ duck bullets? I’ve often wondered....

Local news eg Meridian is often useful, because it is easier to check- you can, if an idea interests you, go and have a look yourself...


Making it up -

Narrative songs do have to tell stories- but they don’t have to be true.

Keeping a diary of incidents/ snapshots of meetings/ sudden phrases that jump at you out of nowhere is probably more useful than keeping a diary of big events. You never know when you’ll slot them in...

Taking a character from here and a setting from there and a situation from somewhere else can be equally rewarding. Research into period brings up appropriate vocabulary and tune structure. Imho it’s important to

do this thoroughly to avoid incongruities, like a song about the Highland Clearances to a ska beat.

However, here I think I’m in a minority!


But by far the most important thing is the


PYBOTS technique-

I’ll explain if you come to one of my workshops....!


Narrative Song Workshop/Broadstairs Folk Festival/Bob Kenward 2008

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