SONG WRITING LEVEL “B”
-by Margie La Bella
Here’s a bit more about writing or adapting songs to help teach kids what they need to know. Most of the songs on the radio have a formula. Many songs are about 3 minutes long, have only three chords, and most are comprised alternating verses and choruses.
All the verses of a songs are quite similar to each other but are different from the chorus. The chorus is usually the same each time it is heard. The bridge section usually comes near the end of the songs and is notably different but returns to the chorus and everybody says “ahhhh, back to our familiar reference section.” A song on the radio often follows a pattern similar to verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus.
Back to kids songs: There are two main types-one has three repetitious lines (either lyrically and/or melodically) and a final contrasting phrase that stays the same from verse to verse. The other has two repetitious lines, a consistent third phrase and a return to the first (or repetitious line.) The contrasting line in both these cases can consist of a general phrase that describes the purposeof the song, or a commonality within all the verses. I can make this more clear with examples:
Examples of a same-same-same-different song (SSSD) include: Mary had a little lamb, This little light of mine, Kumbaya, the Wheels on the Bus, London Bridges…
Examples of a same-same-different-same song (SSDS) include: The farmer in the dell, Old Mac Donald, Oh my darling Clementine and Oh Susanna.
Why does this matter to you? It’s simply a frame work in which to insert your lesson material. You may never have contemplated the musical structure of Kumbaya, but that melody can help your kids do anything from wash behind their ears to learn math.
There is a reason that song has lasted the test of time. I suspect these song formulas sit well with the human psyche in our need to push into what is new, but come home to what’s familiar. (The different phrases and new, contrasting bridges as well as the consistent, familiar choruses that we all are happy to return to join in on…..)
For older kids who learn through song, you can use melodies from verses and choruses of more current songs. Try to notice which tunes have you tapping your foot and have a repetitious quality to them either through the words (“She loves you yeah yeah yeah. She loves you yeah yeah yeah. She loves you yeah yeah yeah. She loves you) and/or the melody. Try to notice the patterns of repetition and newness.
As far as any half way new tune, I get lots of mileage with the song “I’m Yours,” by Jason Mraz. Now go sing! – Margie La Bella