Arturs and I decided to try and write a song with the 4th graders as our first project. Writing lyrics, particularly rhymed couplets, was a good reinforcement of their language skills, especially for ESL students, and something that called upon my experience as a singer-actor (and occasionally published writer!). We decided that we would complement Arturs’ curriculum by teaching the students the aural and theoretical difference between major and minor tonalities, then asking them to assign tonalities appropriately to the lyrics. We thought that the older classes could set the lyrics to rhythm and music to complete the project. The 4th graders suggested “charity” as the theme. We gave them all a pre-survey asking questions such as: What is charity? How does it feel when you don’t have what you need? How do you write a song? How will this help people? The students thought they might be able to sell their song to raise money. We were surprised they suggested the charitable theme, with absolutely no prompting from us. We had discussed as well that we thought that children in general could use more “empathy” literacy. The lyrics they gradually developed surprised us.
"Do you think you can write a song?" "I don't know."
I chose responses from the pre-surveys and asked the children to read them on camera in the hall. Some of them were quite moving and profound. One child said that, when you don’t have what you need, “it feels like your heart is broken, and you are hungry.”
"Are we going to be able to raise money with this song? "Maybe."
"It's not easy. I know that. I really want to help others."
We took lyrics from the kids (their answers to the pre-survey reflections on charity, songwriting, need, etc.) and put them on the board in groups by theme: What do people need? How does it feel when you don’t have what you need? How can we help? Why should we care? There were gaps in each of these themes, and additional lyrics were brainstormed in class. First, we came up with words that would rhyme with the last word in the chosen sentences, such as “You are not left OUT”; grout doubt trout pout. Kids love that process and participated enthusiastically. Then, we tried to come up with sentences that used a rhyming word and fit the idea: “Do not POUT.” We introduced major and minor tonalities to them using handbells to demonstrate the different sounds, which most people hear as happy and sad. Then Art played different examples for them on his viola while also reinforcing the mechanical way to change a chord (raising or lowering the third by a half step. The students were working on melodic notation at this point, but strictly on paper). Before we had written all the lyrics, we asked the students to choose appropriate potential tonalities for the lyrics. They enjoyed that as well, using red marker to indicate minor, green, major. Later in the process, we finished the song as a class.
Arrows indicate gaps that need to be filled by rhyming, thematically appropriate sentences
The students suggested potential sentences to rhyme with "cold"
Making progress, but song is still incomplete lyrically and thematically
We began the process by taking reflections from the students’ pre-surveys. I grouped them into four themes: What do people need? How does it feel when you don’t have what you need? How can we help? Why should we care? Many of these statements lacked partner sentences to form rhyming couplets, though some rhymed organically. Next, we brainstormed words that would rhyme with the ending word in the chosen single sentences. Example: “You are not left OUT” doubt grout trout POUT Kids loved this and experienced it as a game. Then, we brainstormed sentences using the most appropriate word for the theme–not just random silly statements, but thematically related ideas. On another day, we played major and minor chords on handbells for the kids. They experienced the tonalities, like most people do, as “happy” and “sad”. Then Arturs showed them how to notate this difference (by raising and lowering the third by a half-step. This mechanical literacy was part of his curriculum at the time). The kids assigned tonalities to our partially finished song at mid-way through the process, using red markers for minor, or sad, statements and green for major, or happy, ideas.
Students chose major and minor tonalities for the text
Sentences brainstormed to rhyme with "cold"
Teaching students how to notate raised and lowered third