Songwriting for Kids: How Kids Express Themselves Through Music

We sat down with Brooklyn Music Factory co-founder and veteran songwriter Peira Moinester to talk about songwriting for kids and how the songwriting process is an important form of personal expression for even the youngest musician, regardless of experience level. Peira’s personal experience with songwriting, both on her own and with her kids, has fueled her passion for giving kids the tools they need to write their own songs—through a songwriting curriculum and music games at our Brooklyn music school, and at BMF’s songwriting camps for kids.

Songwriting as a Refuge

Starting around age 12, songwriting was where I put everything—my feelings, the thoughts in my head, all of it. I didn’t write in a journal; I still don’t. I would just write songs, and there were piles of them. I still have a song writing journal that I use. Now, working as a teacher and writing songs with kids every week, I see firsthand how songwriting can help kids express themselves and give them an important refuge.

There’s something about taking what you are feeling on the inside—which can be nebulous and hard to pin down—and turning it into something concrete. You are taking the thoughts in your head and turning them into something you can hear, play, hold, and be proud of. That is straight-up magic if you ask me.

This doesn’t mean that everything you write needs to be some deep expression from your soul. It can just be a simple idea, a passing thought, a story, or a concept…You can write a song about your breakfast! (When I teach songwriting skills to kids, we often start with breakfast. It’s a great icebreaker.)

Songwriting is about taking any idea and turning it into art. 

kids songwriting

Writing Songs with Kids

So how we do that in our classes for kids—taking ideas and weaving in some musical concepts to turn them into art—is where the teaching juju comes in. 

The subject matter can be anything kids can relate to. I had a class where we were writing quite literally about what the kids ate for breakfast. First, we discussed what everyone ate that day. Then we talked about the senses: how did their breakfast taste, smell, and feel? Next, we created four lines of lyrics with the first lyric on beat one, and the last lyrics in an A-B rhyme scheme.

Before we knew it, we had a complete verse about breakfast and, along the way, the kids learned about song structure, telling stories, creating descriptive lyrics, identifying beat one, and working with a rhyme scheme. We took a mundane activity, eating breakfast, and turned the kids’ experiences and ideas about this thing they do every day… into a song!

This music game not only opened their minds to what songwriting could be, but also opened their minds to WHO songwriters could be. With just this one basic song, these kids realized that THEY were the songwriters. And they started to recognize that the things in their heads—literally, ANYTHING that was in their heads—could become a song.

It’s moments like this that show how truly powerful songwriting for kids can be.

songwriting camp with peira
Peira writing a song with a group of kids at our songwriting camp

At What Age Can Kids Start Writing Songs? 

A lot of people assume that a person needs to be in the music business or a professional songwriter—or at least have a lot of musical skill and know some music theory—to write their own songs. That’s not true! Kids can start writing songs at literally any age! After all, most toddlers aren’t in music lessons, and they write songs on a daily basis. They just don’t know that’s what they’re doing. They’ll be playing with their cars or with blocks, and they’ll sing about what they’re doing. That’s the songwriting process in action.

When my son was three he sang this song repeatedly about something being in his pocket. It was one line, on repeat, and it’s still my family’s favorite song. We sing it to this day. It’s never too early to start creating songs and playing music games with kids!

songwriting with toddlers
Peira leading a music class for toddlers

Can Kids Write Songs Without an Instrument?

I can tell you that the Pocket Song was not written with an instrument! If you’ve got a pen, some paper, and a voice, you can write a song. There are so many ways to be creative with songwriting for kids, even with zero instruments involved. You can always write song lyrics and tell a story. You can use found objects in the house and the yard for percussion instruments. Or you can use body percussion—clapping, tapping, stomping—and make it a fun physical thing.

songwriting camp for kids
Kids writing a song together at our songwriting camp

How Does Songwriting Help Kids—Musically?

Songwriting gives kids ownership over their music. A song is not something they’re just learning how to play from a book; it’s something they created. That feeling of ownership doesn’t happen when playing someone else’s song. The art of songwriting is a valuable tool for teaching specific musical fluencies. When teaching kids to play a cover song, we have to work around the constructs in that song to incorporate specific musical concepts, learning the notes, the chords, etc.

But if you write a song, you can write it with a particular musical concept in mind. For example, if you want to teach a student about major and minor, you can write a song together alternating between major and minor chords. Or, if you are learning about quarter notes and half notes, you can find creative ways to add them to your song. Songwriting for kids is an effective—and fun—way to learn music concepts and put them into practice.

songwriting for kids in private lessons
A private lesson student writing an original song in her piano lesson at BMF

How Does Songwriting Help Kids—Emotionally?

Writing songs helps kids move the stuff on the inside—all those feelings and ideas—to the outside. Not only do kids get to express their ideas and feelings, but they get to be heard. There’s nothing more valuable for kids emotionally than having their feelings heard. And what better way to have them be heard, than through music? I’ve seen kids as young as four express themselves through songwriting. Saying goodbye at school drop off or loving your pet are examples of subjects that kids have feelings about that they can and should express. Songs like this can also help with the tough situations life throws at all of us, kids included.

Finally, any sort of creating builds confidence. Kids are so often amazed that they actually have the ability to write songs. You don’t have to be a pop star on the radio to create original music. YOU can do it too. Realizing that is always a big breakthrough for children (and adults too).

Cool! Can You Tell Us More?

I love writing songs with kids at birthday parties. At BMF birthday parties, we write a song about the birthday child as a group. What we love about them, and why they are special. Watching the kids come up with musical ideas is beautiful. And man does it make that birthday kid feel special. It’s pretty awesome to witness!

Kids also transform and come alive at our songwriting camps. Some feel shy and unsure on day one of camp, but they blossom over the course of camp as they share ideas with their band, have their voices heard, and take ownership of a song that THEY write as a team. The confidence and creativity we get to behold at camp keep us all doing what we’re doing, and is a huge part of WHY we do what we do at BMF. The experience is so meaningful for the kids and, as music teachers, we NEVER tire of the incredible songs our students create together. It’s magic.

Kids are so often amazed that they actually have the ability to write songs. You don’t have to be a pop star on the radio to create original music!

YOU can do it too.

songwriting for kids community room
Impromptu songwriting session in our community room!

What Opportunities Does BMF Have for Songwriting?

Songwriting is truly a part of everything we do at BMF, and everybody is working on the essentials of songwriting together. We do songwriting for kids in our bands, private lessons, and camps, as well as casually in our buzzing community room. Private lesson students join “Songwriting Parties” twice a year to collaborate on their chosen instruments and create songs with other musicians. And our bands are all about writing original songs together and sharing them with friends and family. They are all learning about music performance and the older kids are learning music recording. We even have songwriting classes for adults. They never cease to amaze us with their original ideas.

I mentioned songwriting camps earlier, but I can’t say enough about how much kids grow, build confidence, and learn during these weeks! Using songwriting and the music games we play at BMF, campers strengthen their skills in melody, harmony and rhythm—all while creating original songs together.

Thank you, Peira!

Whatever your experience level and whether you write songs on your own at home, with friends for fun, or have been to our songwriting camps summer after summer, I hope these stories and ideas about songwriting for kids inspired you!

Learn more about our songwriting camps here.

7 Tips to Kickstart Your Songwriting

Have you ever had an idea for a song, but weren’t sure how to start songwriting? Or, have you written a song—or a lot of songs—but don’t know how to finish? How about that thing that happens… where you have a lot of parts to a song, but can’t figure out how to tie them all together? You’re not alone. In this blog post, we’ll cover how to start songwriting, including 7 tips for songwriting to help you begin right away.

All songwriters—experienced and newbies alike—face challenges. But we’ve taught songwriting for years, including how to start songwriting, to musicians of all ages and experience levels—and have learned a lot along the way.

Here, BMF co-founder Nate Shaw shares his tips for songwriting, breaking through and getting started on your path as a songwriter.

1. Just start.

I was in my 40s when I decided I wanted to become a songwriter. (Before that I had written lots of instrumental music for film and television, as well as modern jazz music for bands. You know horns and rhythm section or big bands.) So I was brand-new to writing lyrics and how to start songwriting. I finally started by getting a stack of little cards. I’d give myself a 10-minute challenge to write a verse, a chorus, verse, a chorus. I didn’t care if it was any good, but each morning I was going to get up and write words on cards. For others, it might be that you own a guitar and you know a few chords. So start with the chord progression. Start by strumming chords that you love and then ask yourself, “Okay, now that I’ve started a new original song, are there any ideas that come to me around the lyrics, or around what this song could be about.” It sounds so simple because, in fact, it is pretty simple. 

2. Get a journal

Kaitlin, one of the creators and teachers of Song Lab—our songwriting class for adults—has some really great jumpstarts for writing lyrics, coming up with chord progressions, even deciding on a style of music that you might want to write in if you’re not clear on that. One of the simplest and most effective things you can do to get started is to get a writing journal. Dedicate that journal to your songwriting dreams and start writing in it immediately. Keep the journal close to you, not tucked away in a drawer, and where you can see it. Having that journal dedicated to one purpose and one purpose only, your aspirations as a songwriter, is a really, really great first step in how to start songwriting.

3. Make a goal

Create a daily intention or goal for writing and stick with it. For example, set a timer for five minutes and spend that time free writing in your journal. Free writing—no rules or agenda—is a great way to get out of a rut and into writing. And I promise… If you do nothing but write in your journal for five minutes every morning for 30 days, you’ll start to view yourself as a songwriter. You’ll move away from the mindset of thinking you don’t belong and into the mindset of being impressed with all you’ve done in the last 30 days. Once that happens, you can start asking yourself what’s next. “What can I do with this writing? Can I organize these words into lyrics? Can I start accompanying this free writing?” These are all really important next steps in your journey as a songwriter.

“I promise… If you do nothing but write in your journal for five minutes every morning for 30 days, you’ll start to view yourself as a songwriter.”

4. Learn from others

You can always learn from other songwriters, no matter what kind of experience you have. We have had students in Song Lab who attended music conservatory, and we’ve had musicians who are 100% self taught. All of them benefitted from listening to each other’s songs, discussing everybody’s individual process and hearing how others broke through their songwriting resistance points. Everyone seems to be universal in their appreciation for what the others in the group have taught them.

5. Rethink the rules

There are so many different types of songwriters out there, and we’ve seen a lot of them in Song Lab. One story that jumps out to me is a musician who came to BMF untrained in the traditional sense, but he wrote a lot of songs. He’s a high school teacher, and he wrote songs to teach his science curriculum. For him, songs were all about telling a story with a specific message and purpose. Telling stories about plants through songs was a really valuable tool for him to teach lessons, but it had never occurred to him that he could actually approach songwriting from a much more abstract point of view. Through free writing exercises, he learned that words don’t need to be linear, moving from point A to B to C to D. He learned that a song can be curvy, that sometimes a song needs to take a sharp left before it finally comes back around to the right, and gets to the finish. That idea transformed his writing.

6. Connect with other musicians

We’ve heard time and again from people who have attended Song Lab that sharing their work with a community of other aspiring songwriters was a major breakthrough. Why? Because the community helped them with one of the most common resistance points for any creative person: imposter syndrome. Songwriters—just like painters, poets and other creatives—frequently doubt that they are worthy of this form of expression. We ask ourselves, “Am I really worthy of sharing a song? Does the world actually want to hear what I create?” The answer is “yes”. The world desperately needs to hear your creation. It wants to hear what’s uniquely yours, because unique voices energize us. Your community of songwriters is there to remind you regularly that the world will benefit from hearing what you have to say.

The world desperately needs to hear your creation. It wants to hear what’s uniquely yours, because unique voices energize us.

7. Stay connected

This might be my biggest tip for songwriting: Whether you start a songwriting group, join a Song Lab cohort, or simply play for friends or family, stay connected to a community and above all else, keep going!

When students finish the three-month Song Lab program at BMF, they always ask what happens next. More than anything, they now consider themselves songwriters and want to stay connected with other songwriters. We hold monthly open mic nights and community hangs, so Song Lab graduates can come back to share what they’re working on. They offer a built-in fan base to one another and come together to offer support and encouragement. This community is what keeps them writing.

What will you write a song about next?

Are you looking to connect with other like-minded songwriters?
Learn more about Song Lab and how to start songwriting here.

Song Lab is a three-month course chock full of tips for songwriting that will ignite your songwriting process and connect you with others who are on the same creative path. Join for one, two or all three months.