Notes on Napkins

musings for songwriters


Natural Influences in June

“There is nothing more musical than a sunset – Claude Debussy”  

Debussy asserts that musicians “read but too little from the book of Nature.” What sights, sounds, or places in nature do you find musical? Share your thoughts in the comment area.

Thanks to @liveloveFranklin for this photo of my hometown


May the Month of May Make Your Creativity Blossom

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

Each May, I watch in awe as the flowering trees, shrubs and perennials that bloom in abundance here in middle Tennessee magically transform the landscape. Spring renewal – it really does seem to make everyone and everything in life just a little more tolerable. Unfortunately, I do not have a green thumb, but I’m trying (again) to plant and nuture a flower garden in the corner of my yard. I’m finding the task to be very inspiring, sometimes a little frustrating (where’d all those Canna bulbs I planted go?) and hard -yet rewarding- work. It’s pretty much the same way I can describe songwriting as a matter of fact. 

In what ways will you let your creativity blossom this month? Do you have specific goals or are you going to let your muse guide you? Please share your thoughts in the comment area.


Share One Positive Thought About Your Songwriting for April

“3 A.M. is the hour of writers, painters, poets, musicians, silence-seekers. over thinkers and creative people. We know who you are. we can see your light on. Keep on keeping on.”  

Usually at the beginning of each month I ask you to post your goals. But sometimes we can get so caught up in what we STILL WANT TO DO that we forget to acknowledge the GOOD THINGS WE HAVE ALREADY DONE. So instead of posting our goals this month, let’s recognize our achievements.  In the comment section please take a moment to:

Share a positive thing or things you’ve done for your songwriting lately


Share a quote (or saying) that inspires you to keep on keeping on!

Let your light shine, friends.


March Goals (Some Advice from Steve Martin)

“Perseverance is a great substitute for talent.” – Steve Martin, Comedian, Actor, Musician

steve-martin-bookI’m in the middle of reading Steve Martin’s book “Born Standing Up” and have been highlighting lines and paragraphs like crazy (wild and crazy, that is ;-). I relate so much to the joys, setbacks, highs and lows he describes because in any kind of creative pursuit from stand-up comedy to songwriting, there are commonalities: We are starting with nothing and trying to create something tangible with the intention of moving an audience emotionally. We are trying to find our original voice while at the same time being relatable. We are constantly mining our inner resources and confidence to keep moving forward. We continue learning new tricks and developing our skills even as our work is being rejected over and over. But somehow the pursuit is a thing of beauty in itself.

Martin says, “I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success.”

What are some of your objectives to keep learning and refining this month? Statistics show that writing down goals increases the odds of achieving them. Big or small, it doesn’t matter as long as we keep moving in the right direction. Join us in goal-setting this month and post yours in the comment area. 




What Are Your Goals for February 2017?

“In a world full of temporary things you are a perpetual feeling.” – Sanober Khan, Poet


While February is the shortest month of the year, it can sometimes feel like the longest. Between the colder, grayer days, and the New Year’s resolutions slump, and the barage of chocolate-filled hearts weighing us down, our motivation may wane. So in February, let’s try to be extra gentle with ourselves and wake up remembering that every day is a new beginning. Try to find some simple ways to reignite your creative spark and find the song in your heart.

What are some of your songwriting (or other) plans, hopes and objectives for this month? Statistics show that writing down goals increases the odds of achieving them. Big or small, it doesn’t matter as long as we keep moving in the right direction. Join us in goal-setting this month and post yours in the comment area. 




What Was That Idea Again?

The ability to convert ideas to things is the secret of outward success.”  -Henry Ward Beecher

lightbulbIdeas come from all sorts of places. My old “idea books” are filled with song titles, random thoughts and bits of conversations scribbled on napkins, placemats, and sticky notes, along with torn out newspaper and magazine articles. The current version of my idea book is stored on my computer: various emails to myself, screen shots, quotes, mp3’s, links to articles and websites. A necessity of the business of creativity is to grab that idea and keep it or it will elude you in minutes. However, once you’ve captured it, let it simmer in your mind and spirit until you find the perfect opportunity to use it. I can go back twenty years, look at any of my notes on napkins and tell you where I was, who I was with, how I was feeling, and why I was inspired at that moment to write it down.

Take, for example. Back in 2000, my husband Danny Arena and I, who had the combined skills of being teachers, computer programmers, and professional songwriters had, in the immortal words of Oprah, an “aha moment!” We asked ourselves, “Why not combine our particular skill set and create a school online for songwriters providing everything we wished we had access to back in the days when we had to walk barefoot in the snow from Newark to Nashville with no clue? Why not give back to up-and-coming songwriters in the same way that our mentors guided us? Why don’t we provide songwriters around the world with easy access to the same songwriting classes and song coaching that we offer in our on-ground seminar? Why not ask our pro songwriter friends to contribute their skills? Why not call it SongU (as in Song University)?” It was idea whose time had come.

Here’s one of the earliest website headers we sketched out when we were first noodling around with the idea in 2001:


Finally, in July of 2003, in the dark ages before Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube graced the world wide web, we launched, the first online education program for songwriters. Over thirteen years later it’s still humming along.


I know I’m not alone in trying to keep up with the rapid fire growth of technology (can we say iPhone 1, 2, 3, 4, 5…?). By necessity,, has continued to evolve every single year since its launch. We’ve persevered through dial-up to high-speed, through text-based chat rooms to audio/video-enabled meeting rooms, from desktops to tablets, and on and on. Being able to stay current for an international online school with instructor-led web-based classes, song feedback, and community shared over many internet platforms, computers, and browsers has been no small feat. During it all our members stayed true, many of them sticking with us year after year, exceeding our expectations as they achieved their goals, giving us the props and encouragement to carry on. Admittedly, we’re proud of this accomplishment.

Recently we launched the newest iteration of the site yet, completely mobile and tablet-friendly. We’re offering some new membership options to keep up with the Joneses. And we have more ideas on napkins that are turning into realities as we speak. This blog is one of them.


As Danny and I discovered a long time ago, it’s the ability to create –  to turn a random idea into a working reality – that makes all else pale by comparison. I know that any of you who have written your ideas on napkins, that have turned some words into a lyric and some notes into a melody, can most certainly relate.