By Western-Li Summerton
Music students often times spend practice hours glued to the sheet music in front of them. They spend hours trying to identify notes, patterns, and incorporate dynamics to build the beginnings of their own musical language. While building these fundamentals is a necessary part of the musical learning process, it’s often accompanied by frustration and boredom. In fact, students often times miss the larger point of making music; music stirs our fundamental human emotions and inspires the best in us. The effect music has on our students is seen throughout our daily lives: when our students are glued to their favorite Disney movie, or hear the Beatles for the first time. Hours spent practicing can easily be divorced from this natural musical enjoyment. A way that we find a good connection between these concepts is by encouraging our students to write silly songs. In this way, our students not only make their practice time enjoyable, but we help them develop a multitude of skills to become a well rounded musician.
I put emphasis on silly songs because there is a stigma of seriousness surrounding learning and playing music. Our students strive to get every note perfect on the page, and feel embarrassed when they play a wrong note or forget a bar during a recital. This is not the point of learning to play music. Rather, it takes away from natural enjoyment for students. By encouraging a sense of non-formality in addition to songwriting, students are not inhibited by this stigma and are free to produce music in a fun manner.
To further extend this idea of silly singing, encouraging your student to improvise a silly song off the top of their head is an easy way to produce music without feeling overly self conscious. The improvisational aspect provides that students have to think quickly without caring about the content of what they produce. Improvising a song can be done literally anywhere! Simply prompt your student (in the car, at breakfast, etc) to sing a song about a topic of their choice. This helps our students to be quick on their feet, and releases any inhibitions they might have about making mistakes or being embarrassed. Improvising silly songs allows them to enjoy music in a purely fun way.
Encouraging students to create songs helps them to develop and relate a sense of original voice. The initial process of learning to just read and play sheet music develops a way to interpret songs from other composers. But when students start their own compositional processes, they start building a language of music that is highly personal and to their own liking. This starts with building their own melodic phrases, choosing their own harmonic progressions, and getting a feeling for what they like and dislike. When students create songs as well as practice songs from other composers, they begin to see connections between the enjoyment they derive from songwriting and how songs are written. The interpretations they develop from sheet music being to stem with their relation to the composer’s perspective; students can empathize a composer’s musical choices. When students start doing this on a large scale, they often incorporate many elements of their favorite artists and composers.
Writing silly songs takes time to develop. Some students are often shy to produce music in this manner. But soon you will find that your student starts finding a new found appreciation for music. Not only that, you may find you start to write silly songs yourself.