Last month I taught a songwriting class to first graders at Willard South Elementary School with teaching artist Julie Jones. The students had just learned the vocabulary words composer and performer as part of the classroom curriculum. Our goal was to show them the process of becoming composers and performers.
There are four different first grade classes at Willard South. Their music teacher, Michelle
Christensen, arranged for us to meet with each class separately over a four week period. Each class wrote and recorded a couple songs, designed their own album covers, filmed a music video, and performed their songs at a concert with a real live band. Sounds fun, right? Here's how we did it.
- I brought a guitar and drum set with me and showed the class how I use melody, lyrics, and rhythm to write a song.
- We used a familiar melody (“This Little Light of Mine") to help us write lyrics. The class brainstormed and voted for their favorite ideas. It was their first time brainstorming and they did a great job.
Miss Rand's class wanted to sing about the reward system their class uses. They earn tokens for good behavior. Here's a little sample of their lyrics:
We are first graders at Willard South School (3x)
One hundred tokens is our goal
- After practicing it a couple times, I played the song on guitar and recorded everyone singing along. The kids were excited to hear their recording played at the end of class.
-I started the class by explaining different parts of a song:
- the difference between a verse and a chorus
- using rhymes to create lyrical content and patterns
- intros and outros
-Each class wrote a verse and a chorus about their favorite kind of tag (Bear Tag, Shark Tag, Freeze Tag, and one I had never heard of---Toilet Tag. Their PE coach just taught it to them, so it passed the test of being classroom appropriate). We used the melody and structure of a song by Harry and the Potters to help us get started. Once again, we brainstormed as a group and recorded our new song together. We even learned a new vocabulary word when we voted : compromise.
Each song had a fun dance in the outro.
-At the end of the class, we watched a few music videos and made a list of things we wanted to do in our music video.
Here's our list:
- funny dancing
- silly string
- backwards editing
- using a green screen for special effects
- fun costumes/sunglasses
-We brought some materials and supplies to make the music video: a homemade green screen, silly string, a guitar, and crazy sunglasses.
-We divided the class into two groups. One group went outside with Miss
Christensen and Miss Julie. We filmed them shooting silly string, playing tag, and dancing. The other group stayed inside and took turns pretending to play a real guitar in front of the green screen.
-I edited the music video before our final meeting so the class could watch it on the big projector.
Here's the video for Freeze Tag.
-My band (Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin) performed the songs that the class wrote. The kids got to sing and dance along to each song.
-I introduced the band and talked about our instruments (drums, bass, guitar, and piano).
-After the concert, each student was given a CD with their songs and a blank CD case. Everyone got to design their own album cover with markers. Then we all exchanged autographs.
- Connecting classroom concepts (vocabulary words) with real experiences
- Applying concepts to work through the creative process
- Meeting people working in the arts; getting a sense of what a career in the arts entails
- Connecting learning with creativity to provide a creative outlet
- Encouraging artistic expression
- Empowering students to see themselves as creators of art and music and feel more connected to the arts