Children Composers - Children Composing For Other Children

You may have landed here from LinkedIn, in which case jump straight to The Song-writing Process below.

Children composing for other children is not something we hear much about. Children say that "Only grown-ups can compose", and "Children can't possibly write a song", or "How can a child have written THAT?!" Well, with guidance and a strong platform of musical fundamentals (a strong sense of pulse, an eye and ear for melodic shapes, courage to improvise, rhythmic drive) and self-awareness (determination, perseverance, risk-taking, collaboration, critical-thinking).

Song-writing by children is a hugely powerful skill that I aim to nurture in the young musicians that I cross paths with.

At this time of year in my school, The Granville School our Year 6 pupils write a Spring song for each group between Reception and Year 5. When they are set the task, they are not told which year group they will write for but they all follow the same process, and end up writing a song, performed by other children while accompanying them in front of a large audience.

It is a hugely enjoyable and rewarding experience for everyone involved and if you want to find a task outside of Music, that ticks a ridiculous number of boxes, look no further (#community, #collaboration, #teamwork, #perseverance, #courage, #tolerance, #empathy, #respectful, #inspirational). I could go on…

Here are some recent examples from a couple of groups of  Year 6 pupils:

The song-writing process:

  1. Begin by writing any words to do with our topic of Spring on a whiteboard.
  2. Choose four words at random and say them over again, shuffling the order until we have generated a rhythmic and catchy groove (ostinato). Play with the stress of certain syllables or words to see how the sound changes.
  3. Make a sentence out of those four words, or choose four new ones. Children can do this in pairs, alone or in small groups. Share the new short sentences and encourage everyone else to join in.
  4. Extend this until we have a four line poem. Talk about rhyming words and stress. Again, share new ideas and illustrate that they have essentially written a chorus or a verse.
  5. Split class into groups of 4-6. Withdraw any instruments for this session to encourage vocal experimentation (and body percussion if necessary). Challenge children to write as many verses as possible. One of these will probably become a chorus. Naturally, melodies will appear and the poems will take the shape of a song.
  6. Volunteer groups to share their ideas. Question how they arrived at certain points and why they may have chosen a particular rhyming pattern etc. Reference any interesting melodic movement and challenge rhythms used that stand out. Are any rhythms syncopated? If so, how can they be tightened? By opening this Q&A to the floor, the group demonstrating will receive useful critical feedback.
  7. Start working with each group for 5 minutes to guide, if necessary and ask them what they will do next.
  8. Pause on the song-writing to demonstrate Structure. At the end, you will want your pupils to be thinking about the shape of their song; long or short intro, how will it begin (with a verse or chorus?), how many verses does it need? How many verses do I have? How many more do I need to write? Does my chorus fit around the verses well? Do I need a semi-chorus or a bridge? Encourage colour-coding (use Lego bricks or Multilink, or crayons etc. to identify each section). Mapping out the structure is key plotting any dynamic and tempo changes and your pupils will see their song really taking shape.
  9. By now, you will have a good idea of the key, melody, tempo and structure. Work with each group to check all melodies 'work' the way they intended, and ensure the key fits young voices for them to perform (this should work naturally as they will have written this using their voices in the first instance). Remind pupils that changing anything at this stage is fully acceptable and that the process is organic.
  10. Once song-writers are happy with their current finished product (Version 1), play and sing it through to check for the flow and that any short instrumental interludes, including the introduction are clear. At this stage, pupils should also be thinking about what sort of light percussion could be added.
  11. Now that the groups are happy with their songs, invite the children who will perform it. Make a really big deal of this. It's super exciting as a child in Year 2, for example to have had a song written by a small group of Year 6 children, someone they look up to and admire. "The Year 6s are composers who have written a very special song JUST FOR YOU!"
  12. Song-writers to take the lead and teach the song, one line at a time, ensuring the melody is accurate. Build on this and put it all together. Don't rush the process. It should be fun, challenging and rewarding. Try to record the session or a final run-through.
  13. Song-writers to constantly question if there are any changes to make. Could I add a harmony (for older performers)? Shall we repeat the chorus at the end? Can we add a small solo line at the very end? Can we try it a bit faster/slower? etc. Are all the words clear? If not, why not - is it too wordy and should we remove a word or two?
  14. Make sure the performers are happy with what they are going to go away and memorise. Aim for another couple of rehearsals before showing it to an audience. It will be a proud moment for many children.
  15. Encourage pupils to notate their melodies (and any harmonies, and additional percussion if applicable). These can be printed out and kept as fond memories.

If you try this, let me know how you get on. Spread the word! It is such a rewarding experience for your young musicians. MMM

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