Real life experience and research findings don’t always agree and that’s an understatement. Some people swear by one food, for another person, it’s poison. Research doesn’t help. Butter is bad, butter is good, milk is healthy, milk is harmful, meat builds a strong constitution, meat builds high cholesterol and so on and so on. Woody Allen’s character in Sleeper came back to find smoking was good for you, mark my words, it’s only a matter of time. So when you get an area of life in which a high level of agreement exists and research backs this up, you have to take notice.

I’m referring to the agreement that exists around the conclusion that, as you get older, you need to keep mentally active. Ward off the Alzheimers and the senility and more. There are many ways in which we can keep mentally active. One of mine was to start taking some courses, learning new skills. There’s a big downside to it but I’ll come to that later, for now let’s keep it positive.

One of the new skill areas was song writing. I haven’t written much about my musical ‘side’ and maybe that’s because it’s been patchy to say the least. I’ll write about that another time for now just let me write about the course I’ve nearly finished. It came about because our friends (although nearly ex-friends after the doggies) but, as far as I know, still friends in Craster introduced us to Coursera ( On-line learning of a very professional nature.

I’d read about these free, on-line courses run by universities and colleges some months ago (lots of universities and colleges take part, mostly American and there are 100s maybe 1000s of courses to choose from) and filed it away under my ‘things to do when I retire’ heading. And there it probably would have remained had our friends not brought it to our attention and, there and then, I signed up for a course of song writing. On nothing more than a whim.

I used to try and write songs when I was in my teens, then a nearly 50 year gap. Nothing. So either my desire has been lying so dormant, well, you know what I’m saying. So that’s how it came about, on a whim. That said the more I thought about it the more I thought what a wholly appropriate activity for a newly retired person although I’m not sure why. I did think it would fit nicely alongside my blog. And here we are.

So to the course itself. I didn’t understand why, if it was an on-line course, I had to wait for the course to start on a specific date. Why couldn’t I just go on line here and now and get on with it? Get on with learning about the gentle art of song writing? Now I know why, it’s interactive with a capital ‘I’. There are 100s maybe 1000s of us doing this course all over the world (some of whom are not ‘English as first language’ speakers and, given the inclusion of grammatical structures – no I’m not joking – this must be difficult, it’s difficult enough if you are a ‘native’ English speaker). It’s a big deal and it’s very, very interactive for many people on the course. The messages have been flying thick and fast and that I suppose is why it has an identified time of running. I’ll come back to these messages later. Oh, and it’s anything but gentle.

First the facts, mam. It’s a six week course, six different weekly modules on aspects of song writing. From the blog I wrote some time ago you will gather I had no idea it (song writing) was so complicated. Of course it could be that the organisers are making it more complicated than it actually is (I’m sure Noel Gallagher or even The Beatles never took this course), but I have to admit it’s been full on with facts about song writing – number of lines; length of line; stressed and unstressed syllables; stable and unstable rhymes – no more cat, mat, sat rhymes – and above all prosody a word I confess I’d never heard of but one of Pat Pattison’s favourites (he’s the course tutor). If I remember rightly, and it was a long time ago that Pat defined the word, it means something like making sure all the components (as above) and of course the words and melody of your song fit together. Maybe synergy fits in there somewhere as well. You know, greater than the sum of its parts. So, anyway, first point to note, there’s a lot of information. A lot to learn about.

It’s run by Berkelee College of Music. In my British naivety I assumed this was Berkeley University in California rather than, as it turned out, Berkelee in New York. Whether this was an attempt to piggy back on the famous name I couldn’t say but the whole set up is very professional – high quality video tapes and Pat did the visual quality justice with his lectures. Each module has a number of quizzes as you go along. These are multiple choice quizzes. I haven’t taken a ‘proper’ exam for many years but I have taken a number of these on-line professional development courses as part of my ex job, so I thought they would be pretty easy. You can take the quiz quite a few times, although I’m not quite sure how many times, so how hard can the quizzes be?  Well my answer is – surprisingly difficult sometimes, and I did cheat wilfully on one occasion. I could not get the idea of an assonant rhyme. You had to be there.

Then there is a weekly assignment with peer marking (grading). I realise something I hadn’t when I sat down to write this blog a couple of hours ago – there’s far more here than I can put in one blog so I’m going to save the rest – the downside to learning new skills, the kind of messages people posted, the anxiety of completing the assignments, the demands not only of writing a song but getting it on to no I’d never heard of it either, read the next blog for all this – and more. How does all this relate to retirement for example? Did I pass the course? What does my song sound like, the one that I promised in my blog several weeks ago and before this course?

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