CNMN > Projects > Sounds of Home: Collaborative Songwriting with Newcomer Youth

Samantha Tai

See profile

  • Voice
  • Acoustic instruments
  • Digital devices
  • 13 to 18 years of age

6 1-hour sessions

  • Education
  • Community associations
  • Diversity

Sounds of Home: Collaborative Songwriting with Newcomer Youth


Sounds of Home is a col­lab­o­ra­tive song­writ­ing ini­tia­tive for refugee and new­com­er youth. Over the course of 6 weeks, par­tic­i­pants explore the theme of “home” through group music mak­ing and song­writ­ing. The three main goals of the project are to:

  • Build rela­tion­ships with and among the youth in order to increase their sense of belong­ing in their new community.
  • Increase a sense of empow­er­ment and agency amongst par­tic­i­pants through the skill of songwriting.
  • Allow par­tic­i­pants to devel­op a stronger sense of iden­ti­ty through guid­ed self-reflection.

This project is run in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Heffn­er Stu­dio, an audio dig­i­tal pro­duc­tion lab by Kitch­en­er Pub­lic Library, and a com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tion that offers reset­tle­ment ser­vices and sup­port to refugees and new­com­ers in the Kitch­en­er-Water­loo Region. There is also the pos­si­bil­i­ty for the pro­gram to be deliv­ered vir­tu­al­ly using Zoom for anoth­er video con­fer­enc­ing platform.

Each ses­sion includes an ice­break­er activ­i­ty, group music mak­ing, and song­writ­ing exer­cis­es. Since par­tic­i­pants may not speak Eng­lish as their first lan­guage, they are free to write in what­ev­er lan­guage they choose.


Week 1: Each per­son in the group will have the chance to share their name, pro­nouns, and their favourite song. We’ll lis­ten to the song as a group, and then the shar­er will have a chance to talk about why they like it and what the song means to them. These songs are then added to a playlist which is shared with the group. This is a great first ice­break­er activ­i­ty because it gives par­tic­i­pants a chance to share some­thing about them­selves with­out requir­ing them to step too far out of their com­fort zones. It also acts as a great jump­ing off point to talk about qual­i­ties that make a good song (i.e., a catchy hook) and to talk about song struc­ture. For exam­ple, par­tic­i­pants may be asked to iden­ti­fy what the cho­rus of the song was.

As a group, we’ll cre­ate a mind map of things that remind us of home. Par­tic­i­pants are encour­aged to incor­po­rate their sens­es and think of places, foods, smells, feelings/emotions, etc. It’s impor­tant to note that con­tri­bu­tions may not be hap­py. For exam­ple, par­tic­i­pants may men­tion miss­ing home or oth­er com­pli­cat­ed cir­cum­stances. It’s impor­tant to hold space for all of those realities.

Once the mind map is fin­ished, we’ll review what was writ­ten and pull out key themes. If meet­ing in per­son, this activ­i­ty works well with a white board and/or sticky notes. If meet­ing vir­tu­al­ly, you can use Jam­board or a sim­i­lar mind map­ping program.

Par­tic­i­pants are asked to record at least one sound that reminds them of home and to bring the record­ing with them to the next ses­sion. These will then be incor­po­rat­ed into the final record­ing of the song.

Week 2: At the start of the ses­sion, each par­tic­i­pant will have the chance to share their recording(s) and talk about why it reminds them of home. We will review the mind map and key themes from Week 1, then the group will work togeth­er to write a 4‑line cho­rus. This ses­sion will also include a short dis­cus­sion on the impor­tance of rhyme. When the lyrics are fin­ished, the facil­i­ta­tor will ask the group what they feel the emo­tion or mood of the song is, and then impro­vise a few dif­fer­ent chord pro­gres­sions and melodies and ask the group to choose which one they like best. Depend­ing on the com­fort lev­el and musi­cal expe­ri­ence of the group, par­tic­i­pants may also want to con­tribute chord pro­gres­sions and melody sug­ges­tions. Before the end of the ses­sion, a record­ing of the cho­rus will be made and shared with the par­tic­i­pants so that they can lis­ten to it through­out the week.

Week 3: To start the ses­sion, the facil­i­ta­tor will play the cho­rus and par­tic­i­pants will have the chance to sug­gest changes. Using the prompt, “home is…” par­tic­i­pants will work on their own or with a part­ner to write a 4‑line verse for the song. They will be encour­aged to think about their own unique perspective(s) and can draw on themes or ideas from the mind map from Week 1. The facil­i­ta­tor will check in with individuals/groups to offer feed­back and guid­ance. At the end of the ses­sion, par­tic­i­pants will be encour­aged to share what they wrote with the rest of the group.

Week 4: Dur­ing this ses­sion, the facil­i­ta­tor meets with each indi­vid­ual or pair to edit their verse and set it to music. Some of the vers­es may also be used as a bridge sec­tion. Dur­ing this time, the oth­er par­tic­i­pants can con­tin­ue to work on their vers­es or on anoth­er activ­i­ty. Once the vers­es have been final­ized, the facil­i­ta­tor will make and share a record­ing of the song so that par­tic­i­pants can lis­ten to it dur­ing the week.

Week 5: This ses­sion is focused on get­ting the song ready to record. The facil­i­ta­tor will per­form the whole song for the group and par­tic­i­pants will have anoth­er chance to give feed­back or sug­gest changes. For the rest of the ses­sion, we will con­tin­ue to review the song as a group and final­ize the arrange­ment includ­ing what instru­ments will be used, who will sing what part, etc.

Week 6: In the final ses­sion, par­tic­i­pants will use the record­ing stu­dios in Heffn­er Stu­dio to record their song. The facil­i­ta­tor should record all of their parts before the ses­sion in order to max­i­mize the amount of time the par­tic­i­pants are record­ing. Par­tic­i­pants will take turns record­ing their vers­es or play­ing instru­ments. Fol­low­ing the ses­sion, the facil­i­ta­tor will mix the song and then send the final ver­sion to the participants.

From a par­tic­i­pant: “Because of this work­shop I got to meet new peo­ple and make music, which was some­thing I had nev­er done before. I’m very proud of the song we made together!”

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