Actually, I’m going to talk about reworking an existing song for kids to help get done whatever it is that needs doing/learning/teaching.
Why is this so natural and why does it work to well? A partial answer is that singing phrases involves both hemispheres of the brain. Music is whole brain- more parts of the brain are stimulated and light up when a direction or concept is sung rather than spoken. It makes the job more interesting and less of a put-upon demand. You can watch music, hear it and feel it
My first premise is that anyone can do this. People can get nervous about doing this. You don’t need to get nervous. You CAN do this. Also, I must say that there are very few people who really “can’t” sing or who are really “tone-deaf.”And then there are the kids who even as toddlers tell their parents “NO SING.!!!” Ok, I’ve known two ex-voice majors whose babies said “Don’t SING.” Sing anyway. If you’re still resistant, then I bet you had a bad chorus teacher or choir director who told you to just whisper the words…. They should have just helped you learn to focus your ears rather than turn you off to the joy of singing. Naughty teachers.
This is what you do: You take an easy, familiar, traditional little kid song and you stick words into it. That’s it.
You do not need to be clever. You do not need to rhyme. Just stick in the words. Take the song “Wheels on the bus” for example. To help kids clean up, you can sing “Play time is over and it’s time to clean, time to clean, time to clean. Play time is over it’s time to clean. Clean up the toys.” If you’re teaching body parts to toddlers, sing “Put the beanbag on your head, on your head, on your head. Put the bean bag on your head. Put it on your head.” It really is that simple and mundane. As Nike says, “Just do it.” To help peers learn names and to help foster awareness of syllables sing “Let’s sing hi to Monica (while clapping the syllables Mo-ni-ca) Monica, Monica. Let’s sing hi to Monica. Hmmm who’s next?” You can use this for social skills, daily routines, new experiences, pre-academics /academics, language concepts, math, pre-reading, colors, vocabulary and more.
All of this grabs our attention and makes us want to listen. This opens us up to foster new understandings of the world around us, of concepts, of ourselves, and of other people.
Here’s a bit more about writing or adapting songs to help teach kids what they need to know. This can include transitions, sound articulation, motor skills, body parts, eye contact…..
Most of the songs on the radio have a formula. Many songs are comprised of alternating verses and choruses. All the verses of a song are quite similar to each other but are different from the chorus. The chorus is usually the same each time it is heard. The bridge section usually comes near the end of the songs and is a notably different but returns to the chorus and everybody says “ahhhh, back to our familiar reference section.” A song on the radio often follows a pattern similar to verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus.
Back to kids songs. There are two main types: one has three repetitious lines (either lyrically and/or melodically) and a final contrasting phrase that is the same from verse to verse. The other has two repetitious lines, a consistent third phrase and a return to the first or repetitious line. The contrasting line in both these cases can consist of a general phrase that describes the purpose of the song, or a commonality within all the verses.
Examples of a same -same -same -different song include: Mary had a little lamb, This little light of mine, Kumbaya, the Wheels on the Bus and London Bridges.
Examples of a same -same -different -same song include: The farmer in the dell, Old Mac Donald, Oh my darling Clemontine and Oh Susanna.
How does this matter to you? It’s simply a frame work in which to insert your lesson material/objectives. You may never have contemplated the musical structure of Kumbaya, but that melody can help your kids do anything from wash behind their ears to learn math. There is a reason that song has lasted the test of time. I suspect these song formulas sit well with the human psyche with our need to push into what is new, but come home to what’s familiar. (The different phrases and new, contrasting bridges as well as the consistent, familiar choruses that we all are happy to return to join in on…..) If you are feeling confident in this, I want to point out that you want to be aware of the syllabic inflection of what you are singing and make sure your syllables have correct emphasis.
For older kids who learn through song, you can use melodies from verses and choruses of more current songs. Try to notice which tunes have you tapping your foot and have a repetitious quality to them either through the words (“She loves you yeah yeah yeah. She loves you yeah yeah yeah. She loves you yeah yeah yeah. She loves you) and/or the melody. Try to notice the patterns of repetition and newness. By the way, “I’m Yours,” by Jason Mraz is a great song to insert new lyrics. Now go sing!
Margie La Bella has worked as a music therapist serving young children with special needs for more than 25 years. Her website, http://www.MusicTherapyTunes.com is full of useful information (music, videos, blogs, lessons plans…) for parents, therapists, and teachers and just about everyone else.