Every year one of the challenges is motivating students after the concert is over. This year our concert was in mid-April, so that’s a long time before the end of school to convince students to keep practicing and learning new things. We are playing for the student body on the last day of school which does help, but spring fever has definitely set in. I ratchet up testing to challenge and push students (not without complaining mind you), but I also try and have a fun class activity to wind things down.
Every year we write our own song as a class. Taking our guitar skills to “creation” level really does insure that all students truly know the content.
We start off by talking about chord progressions. I explain about I,IV, V chords and then we fill in the ii, iii, and vi chords as well (I leave out the diminished seven for my beginning classes). We analyze some of the song we play in class. For instance, I’ll ask them …. in the song “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” what’s the I chord. What would then be the V? Then I ask them, if the Beatles wanted to add another chord that would fit into the song, what could they add? These higher level questions are hopefully getting kids to really put their knowledge into application.
From there we start the song writing process. I have had classes that really run with their song, and finish it in a couple of days. I have had the opposite as well. As the teacher, I am really trying to just facilitate their songwriting. I’ll give suggestions, and help them organize their thoughts, but I really want this to be their song! We start with this form.
We vote on a key. Most classes are quick to pick the key of G which is great because then they sound really good as we really hit the key of G hard all semester. Then we figure out what chords we could can use in our song. We then pick a meter (which I limit to 3/4, 4/4 or 6/8). We are writing lyrics as well, so we then pick a topic for our song.
Next we talk about the almighty “hook”. I tell them their goal is to write a song that you can’t get out of your head. I must say over the years my kids have written some great hooks! We usually start with the chorus and then go back and add the verses and a bridge. This is such a great lesson to use to help kids understand song structure as well!
We have disagreements while we’re writing, all of which we solve by voting. If someone doesn’t like a line they have to suggest an alternative. We vote on that alternative and if it passes we put it in. If you try this activity, don’t expect it to be quiet in your room. It does get chaotic, but the results are worth it.
When we have something worthwhile, we record it. Many times I multi-track the process to teach them about that technology as well by using a free program called Audacity. This year, we just recorded everything in one take (I was having microphone issues with my computer). Many classes want to then make their song into a music video, and we post it on youtube to see how many hits we can get (feel free to share our videos to help us get more views).
Here’s one of last semester’s song/music video: The Ballad of Chuck Norris
One of this semester’s songs we just finished yesterday: Ham Samich Song
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