Arlen Roth on Writing with Students
It’s been for quite some time now that I have been helping my students not only learn all aspects of the guitar, but also helping them with the ultimate, which is to actually help them to write their songs. In many cases, this actually meant writing their entire songs, and it can be a fascinating journey! I even go way back to 1982-83 when I was teaching Paul Simon, and each one-hour lesson would often turn into a 2 to 3-hour songwriting marathon, whereby I would come up with all kinds of ideas for his songs. Paul is a brilliant writer, but he’s also a brilliant user of other people’s ideas, and how he can incorporate them into his own tunes. In fact,, when we were rehearsing for albums and tours together, he would often pick the brains of all the members of the band in order to come up with a cohesive song idea.
There have also been band members who I mentored into the band after teaching, but who continued taking lessons from me, because I was basically writing their songs for them! It was and is always lots of fun as an exercise, but sometimes it does get a bit tedious, and leaves me with an intense feeling of having been used! I mean, what they take advantage of is the fact that I am so giving, and that the ideas flow so readily from me. One student who later joined my band only was into instrumentals, and those would sometimes take merely seconds to flow out of me!
Today I worked with this little girl, only 7 years old, who already has a very strong idea about how she wants to write, and how to present her songs. She can be a little head-strong, but that’s okay and actually commendable, since it’s so rare to see someone so young be so creative in such a meaningful way! Of course, things are rough around the edges still, but all the right intentions are there and she will certainly put together a great bunch of songs that we can eventually record! Her playing has actually gotten good enough so that she can play rhythm and I play lead, and it all really holds together nicely!
But I must say that you just don’t want to feel too “taken advantage of” when doing these sorts of things, and always make sure that you get credit where credit’s due, because more often than not, you won’t get it!! Teach, pass it on, inspire too, but if one day one of those songs you help out a student with turns out to be a million seller, you better have your “credits” covered, so there is no legal or personal trouble down the road!! Enjoy!!
Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.