Writing Songs with Kids: Get Inspired!

Parts of this piece were originally published on The Children’s Music Network Blog.

One of my early inspirations for songwriting with kids was hearing about a residency that Steve Roslonek (SteveSongs) did at an elementary school years ago. After spending a week gathering ideas and brainstorming with the students, he wrote a whole musical called “The King, the Mice and the Cheese.” He got some professional musicians to come join him when the students performed the musical at their school.

Not everyone can write music like SteveSongs, but I wanted to give it a try. I started offering collaborative songwriting in several classes where I worked, and the results were really fun! Several songs on my CD, “Singing All the Way Home,” were inspired by class songwriting projects, including “The Three Piggy Opera,” my take on the Three Little Pigs story, which a Pre-K class was studying at the time and helped me compose.

The children in that Pre-K class – at Boston’s Gardner Pilot Academy – also helped me come up with a movement activity for the song, which has been hugely popular ever since. You can see a video of some older kids acting out this song here.

 I’ve just finished my third year of songwriting residencies with first-grade students at the Condon School in South Boston. This work was also inspired by two teaching artists whose work I admire.  Victor Cockburn of Troubadour, Inc., has been working for more than 30 years on integrating music and songwriting into the English Language Arts curriculum in the greater Boston area.  By visiting schools with Victor, I saw how he teaches children about rhyming couplets, ballad form, and using expressive language, among many topics.

I also got some valuable tools from the work of Paul Reisler, who runs a Virginia-based organization called Kid Pan Alley.  Paul does songwriting residencies in schools, and often asks well-known musicians to record the final products.  In a workshop with Paul at the Rocky Mountain Song School, I learned about brainstorming techniques that can produce imaginative song topics and well-developed musical products.

I am very excited that Paul will be a workshop leader at The Children’s Music Network Conference this fall on September 19-21, 2014 in Leesburg, VA. This conference is going to be awesome for people who already write songs for kids, or want to learn more about becoming songwriters. These conferences are great for teachers and librarians who love music, as well as for professional musicians who work with kids. CMN will have four different workshops on songwriting this fall!

Over the next few weeks, I hope to post more reflections on my songwriting work with students.


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