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.)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.