Getting Inspired to Write Songs with Kids

By Liz Buchanan

One of my early inspirations for songwriting with kids was a project that CMN member Steve Roslonek (SteveSongs) did in a school residency a number of years ago.  The week-long residency resulted in an original musical called “The King, The Mice and the Cheese.”  Steve got some friends who were top-end musicians to come play on the final product, and made a cool CD of it, too.

Inspired by Steve, I invented three or four musicals of my own with kids in various community settings.  Now, every summer, I offer a “drama camp” at the Arlington Center for the Arts in which I invite children in grades 1-3 to help me write an original musical play.  I’ve had campers get so inspired after the first couple of days that they arrive with a fully-written song.  I help them refine their work and it becomes part of our show!

I have also enjoyed writing songs with my students as part of my arts residencies with preschools and elementary schools.  Two songs on my 2010 CD “Singing All the Way Home” came out of classroom writing activities, including the ever-popular “Three Little Pigs” song and drama/movement activity.  It emerged from my work with a classroom of four-year-olds who had voted it their favorite story.

My current work in the first-grade classrooms in Boston is the most extended songwriting work I’ve done to date with students.  This work was 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.

Last summer, I had an opportunity to experience the work of Paul Reisler, who runs a Virginia-based organization called Kid Pan Alley.  Paul also 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 as well as well-developed musical products.  I plan to infuse my current work with things I’ve learned from both Victor and Paul, though I haven’t enlisted any famous musicians to sing the final creations!  My goal is to have a CD with the kids singing their own songs –  a product to share with their fellow students and future classes.

Liz Buchanan is President of The Children’s Music Network.

1 comment

  1. Some of my best ideas come from when I am with the children. Often, I record something; try it with children and then go back to the studio to fix what they showed me wouldn’t work.

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