Why use Songwriting In Schools?

Child-led learning for a creative curriculum

drawing of a recording session by a schoolchildSongwriting provides a truly cross-curricular, child-led learning experience with enormous scope for new assessment strategies and an emphasis on meaningful, measurable achievement.

It reponds to the aims of the national curriculum for key stages 1 & 2 by providing a rich and varied context for pupils to acquire, develop and apply a broad range of knowledge, understanding and skills, whilst promoting their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and boosting their self-esteem and emotional wellbeing.

See below for a more detailed explanation of the many values of songwriting in schools.

The enormous value of fun

Learning is so much easier when it's enjoyable. When I'm asking a group of children for their ideas for lyrics about a particular subject, the very facts and figures they might normally find tedious suddenly become gems of knowledge to be proud of. They can't wait to see their contribution going up on the whiteboard.

Creating something 'real' and 'grown-up' like a pop song gives children a sense of confidence and self-esteem that makes the process feel really fun. The subject matter we're writing about is associated with that good feeling. Future recall of that knowledge is then an enjoyable experience.

Storing facts and figures

Most of us have dozens, if not hundreds, of complete sets of lyrics stored away in our memories that we can access as soon as we hear the beginning of one of those songs.

I can still remember songs in French that we sang in school 25 years ago, despite having seldom spoken that language since then.

Learning a song that contains factual information is a remarkably effective way of committing that information to memory.

Literacy

Songwriting draws on vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and the formation of a meaningful narrative. It is also a way to embed literacy learning into absolutely any topic. Whether the children are learning about numbers, wild animals, Tudor history, the solar system, or anything else, writing a song about it will hone their literacy skills without interrupting the flow of their study.

If the children are reading a particular book or play, writing songs about it gives them a chance to really use their imagination, exploring the text, its characters and their motivations. Children will also use the song to express their personal responses to a story.

Numeracy

I believe music and mathematics are closely related, both in a deep and abstract way, and more transparently (for example the rhythm of the lyrics is essentially mathematics; so is the structure and the number of lines and repeats). I love to demonstrate to children how one of their (often) least favourite subjects is at the core of one of their most fun activities. Mathematics is something that can be felt and known intuitively and this realisation often helps children to take more interest in the subject.

ICT

Children need to be conversant with the latest computer technology, and I bring not only my laptop to the school, but also professional microphones, audio interfaces, and the latest recording software. This is expensive equipment that I trust the children to handle and set up, showing them how music is made by professionals, how various types of connections are made, how levels are adjusted, and how studio protocol is observed. I explain what I'm doing during the recording process, switching between technical terminology and simpler language to introduce the children to the vocabulary of cutting-edge media technology.

Problem-solving and task awareness

Combining the meaning, the rhyme and the rhythm, without compromising any of them excessively, can take patience and a lot of re-working. This helps the children to remain focused on the task and not to expect immediate results. Songwriting is not a simple, linear process. Professional songwriters often have to go back and revise earlier sections, and I believe it's important to incorporate this aspect of the process in the children's experience of writing their songs. To manipulate a song's structural components, whilst keeping track of the material we've gathered and the concept we're attempting to encapsulate, gives the children a sense of the way projects are managed and developed in the adult working world.

Personal key skills (reciprocity, resilience, resourcefulness, building relationships)

Turn-taking, listening and respect

I always stress the importance of listening to each other and allowing everyone to make a contribution - particularly making sure that less confident children are not excluded from the creative process. It's a very exciting activity for the children, but I explain to them that for the final product to be of good quality, the process must be conducted with care. Therefore the school's standards of respectful behaviour must be maintained, even though the lesson is intended to be good fun.

Taking responsibility for decisions and accepting the rejection of an idea

It's not unusual for many more suggestions to be presented than the song can accommodate, and I encourage the children to decide between them which ideas should be used. I tell the children at the beginning of the session that there's no shame in not having your idea used in the final song; it's very likely that your idea prompted someone else to have another which eventually did get used, so your contribution has been a very important part of the process.

Overcoming obstacles along the way

If the direction of a song changes during the writing process, this might make earlier contributions seem less fitting to the finished product than they were at the start. This presents an opportunity for children to demonstrate resilience and not to take the matter personally, while the others can show sensitivity to those whose lines require edits. This strengthens the sense of community and encourages the children to look out for each other's feelings.

Assessment

The songwriting process, the final product, and the children's reflections on the experience all provide rich opportunities for learner-centred assessment. Songwriting immerses children in the acquisition, consolidation and application of skills whilst keeping the whole process very much child-led. It gives teachers a chance to see the children utilising a wide range of measurable abilities in a wholly new context, and is thus an invaluable tool for assessment.

Aspiration and achievement

How many of us will write a song, perform it, record it, and hold a CD of our own work in our hand? Imagine how amazing this feels for a primary school child. It really is one of the most exciting projects that children can be involved in. My experience has shown that children view a recorded song as being an achievement beyond their reach and very much a product of the adult world; they're truly bowled over by the thought of creating one themselves. Look to the right of this page - or scroll down if you're on a mobile - and read some of the children's feedback to find out what kind of impact my songwriting sessions have had on children's self-esteem.

Related pages:

Songwriting in Schools - intro

Songwriting in Schools - examples

Testimonials

From teachers...

"Rob's manner is calm and friendly with mutual respect between himself and the children. It is apparent that this has a positive impact on the children's behaviour and motivation."
Mrs. D.

"Children's opinions were valuable. They thought of a number of new aspects not previously thought of. Their enthusiasm was greater which led to a greater work output. As the project advanced they were 'desperate' to work with Rob and write and compose their own songs."
Mrs. E.

"As a result of watching what the children can achieve, I have greater confidence to have a go at writing songs with the children."
Miss. C.

"The children were highly motivated by the new and exciting experiences. They were also motivated by the possibility of producing the CD and a final product - something which they associated with the adult world. The children have expressed surprise in what they have achieved which suggests that they have done something they might not have though possible."
Mr. W.

"Rob's ability to relate to the children was fantastic across a range of abilities and behaviour."
Mrs. P.

And from children...

"I have learned to work with anyone.  I have learned to be a bit more patient with others.  I have learned anything is possible, when you put your mind to it. "
E-, yr 6

"I have had really good fun with Rob because I have learned a lot by our project.  I have really enjoyed recording the songs because we had to create our own lyrics and our own music.  It was really fun recording our songs and I hope we can do something as fun as this.  I loved working with Rob and I hope I can work with him again!!!!!!"
J-, yr 6

"When we performed the songs I was a bit nervous.  However when we finished I found it quite fun.  I found recording the songs extremely exciting because we had all the right equipment thanks to Rob."
H-, yr 6

"Writing the songs was really fun because we made up our own lyrics and made up the tune.  In my song we all came up with a verse each.  Hearing the CD was AMAZING!  All of our own made songs were on an actual CD!  I can’t believe some of our songs are actually going on the radio."
C-, yr 6

"I really enjoyed writing the random words down and then making them into lyrics.  It made me realise how easy it was to make a song.  It really surprised me to hear that some of our songs are going on the BBC Radio Northants and on two websites. "
H-, yr 6

"I love learning like this it is so exciting."
J-, yr 6

"It feels like I’m a pop star.  It’s fantastic."
O-, yr 6

"I would like to thank Rob making the CD a reality because without him we could not have even been close to what we have achieved!"
M-, yr 6

"We recorded the songs with Rob’s recording equipment.  We turned a room into a recording studio.  It was a really fun experience."
J-, yr 6

"I NEVER KNEW I COULD ACHIEVE THIS.  Working with Rob has been AMAZING.  I wish that I could do this sort of thing every day because you get to laugh and not be quiet and say what you really feel without feeling shy.  Writing the songs was really fun ... we get to say our own ideas and make it our own. "
I-, yr 6

"Rob helped us perform the songs because he sung the first line with you and then if you were unsure he would sing with you until you were confident.  It was really fun performing in front of the class because everyone encouraged each other. "
H-.yr 6

"I like all the ideas Rob had for our song and I like the fact it helped me to think outside of the box and experience different things."
C-, yr 6

"The whole project could change my career and it has been a great experience for me and it has really made me change and realise I can do it.  I have got so much out of it and it is much more fun than normal everyday school lessons."
L-, yr 6

"It’s all been so fun.  Too good to explain!! Thank you teachers!  and.... THANK YOU ROB!!  I hope that other years get to have as much fun as we have when they come up to year six.  I hope the school remembers this.  THANK YOU EVERYONE!"
O-, yr 6

"At first when Rob said “Who thinks it’s possible to make a CD?” only two people put their hands up.  But we have actually finished it.  It only took us a month and a bit.  Next Thursday we get to hear ourselves on the radio.  It’s something that I thought wasn’t possible but it’s actually true.  I’m proud of what me and everyone else can do.  Sometimes you think you can’t do things but if you try then you can do whatever you want. "
A-, yr 6