Lessons on songwriting from The Accidentals

MANISTEE – “If you are feeling like it’s impossible to express what you’re feeling, start writing it down,” said Sav Buist, of the three-piece band The Accidentals. “… Just think of different ways to express how you’re feeling and I promise you, as you start to write it down, that weight will lift and you’ll start to feel a little bit better about it and you’ll feel less alone once you start putting those thoughts out there. “

Buist was speaking to around 15 Manistee County students gathered in the music room of the Armory Youth Project in Manistee for a songwriting workshop Thursday.

The students learned tips, tricks and methods to help them create their own songs, and enjoyed a few songs and stories from the band along the way.

The Accidentals – comprised of Buist, Katie Larson and Michael Dause – formed in 2012 in Traverse City. The band has released four full-length albums, three EPs and two live albums, and tours the nation performing at shows and festivals, and leading workshops to help inspire young musicians.

The band started a nonprofit in 2020 called Play It Forward, Again and Again, to help provide access to instruments, lessons and mentors for all aspiring musicians.

Buist told students Thursday the best way to get over any creative roadblocks was to simply sit down and force themselves to write anything and everything that came to mind.

“What I started doing … was I would set a 10-minute timer and I would make sure my pencil never stopped writing across the page – and it did not have to make sense,” she said. “… Every once in a while I would get a little snippet that I thought was really kind of nice or kind of pretty, so I would take that and I would do the first line of a song. … You might be surprised what you find. “

Thursday’s songwriting workshop was free to students thanks to a sponsorship from Randy Myers, creator of MIFLAG, a clothing brand in Manistee.

The Accidentals shared stories and inspiration which led to some of the band’s songs. To guide the students in composing a verse collaboratively, the band passed out books and asked them to share sentences that stood out to them. Together they looked for a theme, words that rhymed, combined sentences and before long, they had their lyrics.

“As you can see, we’re kind of building a story,” Buist said. “It has nothing to do with us and we took 10 different books to get there, but we’re coming up with something. And it’s real.”

Lyrics are only half the battle, and The Accidentals also showed the kids a few methods and techniques to create chord progressions.

Larson said even the classical music of yesteryear can inspire the rock songs of today.

“When we were playing this one piece in our orchestra class, I loved the chord progression,” she said. “I used my ear and kind of picked out the chords on my guitar that I was playing on the cello and I wrote a whole song based on that chord progression.”

Dause shared a method he picked up in a rock music camp when he was in middle school in which random three- or four-letter words could be used to come up with chord progressions.

“The director of the camp, Mike Gentry, he’s an awesome acoustic guitar player in the Ann Arbor area,” Dause said. “He taught us this method of just writing a song no matter what, and that has stuck with me ever since.”

With musical accompaniment from The Accidentals, the students sang their newly crafted verse and were encouraged to finish the rest of the song at home.

Every attendee of Thursday’s workshop was given tickets to The Accidentals’ April 8 performance at the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts.

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