photos / India Sleem
story / Madge
I’ve always written songs. When I was in kindergarten I would spend my afternoons writing imaginary jingles for household products or pop hits for my Barbies to dance to. Sometimes I waxed epic and wrote multipart ballads recounting the adventures of pirate mice and aliens disguised as vegetables. Years later when my teen feelings (and skin) erupted I often found solace in the piano room of my parents’ house. Yes, there was a piano room. And it had mossy green carpet that I would lay on and curse the cruel world around me for forcing me to learn calculus.
After high school some of my teen feelings evolved into something less fleeting, something harder and colder. It became difficult for me to cope. I stopped writing songs. I moved to the city. I think I found some identity in struggling.
Then for some reason I started writing songs again. I’m not sure how or why. My journaling turned to poetry and my poetry found a home in the piano room. Words and notes collided again into a simple and tangible expression. I recognized that songwriting had always been this for me – my simplest interface for processing events into a coherent piece of understanding about the world and my place in it. It was something I had used to understand the vegetables on my dinner plate as well as something that had transformed emotional trauma into self-acceptance. If anything, it eased the suffering in my struggle.
And I don’t think my experience is unique. I think that many artists consciously and unconsciously use songwriting as a therapeutic tool. I also think that anyone can and should try it out.
Considering my penchant for simple interfaces, I’d like to propose a sort-of guide for how to use songwriting as a tangible, therapeutic exercise for understanding trauma.
-Start with your story
Be honest about your experiences. What happened? Put it in words. Being literal can be cathartic.
-Begin to abstract
Start to explore the feelings around the events. What imagery does this evoke? Write it down as a metaphor. This is my comfort zone right here. This is a good time to hum some melodies that seem to flow with the words.
Open up to someone else about your story. Or don’t. Maybe just show them the words and melodies. This can help you gain objectivity or even a new perspective on your experience. Sometimes collaboration can take your song to the next level artistically.
-Or don’t collaborate
Sometimes you don’t have to share. Sometimes it’s better to do it yourself! I find immense satisfaction in being able to process the events and feelings on my own. And I am always proud of the insight I gain from the process. I love feeling ownership of my art.
-Share what you’ve done
Record your song – even just a demo of the lyrics and melody! You can record at a friend’s bedroom studio, on your own computer, or on your phone. If you feel ready, share it with friends or family. If you’re feeling brave, put it up online.
-Seek other kinds of support too
Sometimes trauma needs a bigger outlet than a three-minute song. Some feelings need to be nurtured through other forms of expression like a conversation, exercise, journaling, traveling – the list is endless. And don’t forget that there is always professional help out there.
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