Childrens Music Portal
Articles : Marla Lewis : Let's Write A Song
sharing knowledge,
cultivating resources

Find Music

Cool CDs

Listening Room

Classic Songs





Early Childhood


For Artists

How To Partner
With Us

About Us


Writing music with kids                                                         15 February 05

Music Teacher Workshop 
Creativity in the Classroom: Let’s Write a Song!
by mlewis on Feb 09, 2005

How many of us elementary school teachers have classes filled with kids who are eager to write? Bursting with ideas? Willing to revise and edit until they are proud of their work? Can’t wait to share their writing with the other kids?

Hmm…not too many of us have raised our hands, have we? During my 16 years of teaching literacy, music, and English as a Second Language in the New York City School System, I’ve been working on ways to motivate children to express themselves creatively. My favorite method, which follows, is still a “work in progress” – I call it “Let’s Write a Song!”
My main objective is to get the children to think creatively. This comes in handy in meeting all challenges in one’s life, not just in composing or choosing lyrics! Thinking creatively means:
* Mental flexibility; i.e., trying out many possible solutions to a problem;
* Freedom of thought and image; non-judgmental flow of ideas;
* Use of the right brain as well as the left (The right brain is intuitive and imaginative; the left brain is logical and practical…we need to develop both to be successful); and
* Persistence and perseverance! Creativity definitely IS 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration! (I like to acquaint children with some of the great creative thinkers of civilization; i.e., Einstein, Marie Curie, Edison)
Here’s how it works:
1. Pre-writing session, Part 1: What is a song? A song is made up of lyrics (the words, a form of poetry) and melody (the musical notes – try humming “Happy Birthday” without the words, to illustrate). The chorus is the main idea of the song – what the song is about -- that repeats at least twice or more. Often, but not always, the first or last line of the chorus is also the title of the song.
2. Pre-Writing Session, Part 2: Examples of songs with strong choruses. I hand out lyrics for songs like “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood or “The Rhythm is Gonna Get Ya” by Gloria Estefan. (You can probably think of many more great examples!) We first read the lyrics together; then we listen to the song. Students are always able to sing the chorus after hearing the song once. For review, we listen to another tune or two and identify the chorus. Homework: Hey, kids! Identify the choruses of your favorite songs on the radio!
3. Writing Session, Part 1: Brainstorming. The class will be writing about either a field trip they just took or a unit of study they completed. Together they will brainstorm about ideas, vocabulary, and events they found most interesting, using words or phrases only. Take notes on chart paper. No idea is “good” or “bad” – we want a flow of ideas here. Review this list with the class. Go over every item and ask the children, “Can you tell me any more about that?” Get the children’s energy and understanding of the topic.
4. Writing Session, Part 2: Ideas for the First Draft and Chorus. Have each student write a sentence about the most interesting aspect of what the class has studied. Read their sentences and choose one or two that grab you. This should be your chorus or “main idea.” EXAMPLE: Building bridges is fun. Then ask the class, “What rhymes with fun?? The class will come up with a rhyme (for example: done, upon which we will write the next line. Then together we form a chorus like:
Building bridges is fun
Building bridges is fun
Walk from one side to the other when your work is done
Building bridges is fun.
This is a very simple chorus; the title is in the first line and the last, just like lots of songs on the radio!
5. Writing Session, Part 3: Putting it to Music. We have two main options here:

·  Create your own melody or

·  Write to an existing melody
If you are a songwriter as well as a teacher, you will probably prefer the first option. In that case, bring in your guitar or play the piano! Ask the class, “Is this a sad idea?” as you play minor chords. Try reciting or singing your chorus to different styles of accompaniment – rock, rap, ballad, pop, blues, whatever occurs to you. Get the kids’ input. If your chosen lyrics have an easily accessible meter, you should be able to come up with many different possibilities. The kids will tell you what they like the best.
If you would rather write to an existing melody, make sure that your new lyrics are easy to sing with the melody. Don’t add syllables if you can help it, and don’t put an unaccented syllable on an accented beat! In fact, those two principles apply to all songwriting. The finished product should sound like a five year old could have written it! Ever heard of K.I.S.S.? It means, “Keep it simple, silly!”
Another tip: “Almost rhymes” are perfectly fine in my book! I’d rather have an imperfect rhyme that sounds perfectly natural than a perfect rhyme that sounds stilted any day! Here’s clichéd example of an almost rhyme:
Thinkin’ ‘bout you all the time
Honey, wontcha please be mine?
6. Writing Session, Part 4: Refinement and Rehearsal. Play the chorus several times, or sing a line at a time and have the class repeat. Then sing two lines and the kids repeat, etc., until the class knows the chorus. At this time, you or the children might come up with improvements o-n your work. That is fantastic! Most great writing is re-writing, anyway! Go for it! When you are satisfied with the chorus, rehearse. When you feel ready, record the chorus and listen back. Finally, put the songs away for several days before you come back to it and decide if this is IT.

Marla Lewis

(Marla is one of our select artists with a cd in The Portal Store and songs in the Listening Room)