Get pupils to write their own songs!

Jackie Schneider

Born 1962, qualified as a teacher in 1990. Lived and worked in Merton ever since. I led a successful parent campaign to improve school food in 2005, which resulted in me winning a Sheila McKechnie award and being appointed to the School Food Trust. From 2006 I combined teaching with a campaigning job for Children’s Food Campaign. I helped set up Merton Welcomes Refugees. I teach Music at St Teresa’s and for the remarkable music education charity Merton Music Foundation.

Follow @jackieschneider

Website: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Originally published 18th July 2017. Originally published 18th July 2017.

By the time children finish at Primary school they will have written stories, poems, factual accounts, autobiographies essays and plays. But their own song? Hmm, possibly not. It just seems too difficult, too personal and, for many years, way beyond my comfort zone! And yet I’m aware children know hundreds and hundreds of songs. Their whole lives are wrapped in sound, from early nursery rhymes to the latest chart hits. Access to YouTube means that they don’t have to step outside to access songs and music from the whole world over.

These experiences are from my current work teaching Music two days a week at St Teresa’s Primary School, and another two days for my local hub organisation, Merton Music Foundation.

Every year I ask my Year 6 classes to write their own song as a gift to the school. Before we start, I ask the children to bring in a song that they like. The only caveat is that it must be a radio edit (ie something that radio stations could safely play during the day). This usually kick starts an interesting debate about the nature of language, cursing and school.

We listen to a song and identify its component parts. We try to identify its ‘hook’ – ie what gets stuck in our brain? We look at how the song is built. We look at the use of “Pupils are eventually able to analyse the songs they have brought in.” patterns and language. We try to trace the melodic patterns. Once children can do this, they are then able to analyse the songs they have brought in. Being able to compare and contrast songs really helps demystify the process of composition, and gives the children a better understanding of how songs work.

I start by asking the children to come up with one strong idea for their song. They then refine this into one strong line. Of course there are many different ways to write songs, but I start with the idea and the lyric because I find it easier. This can be tough, and to the casual observer it looks like not much going on, with 30 kids stretched out on the floor of the Music room with very little evidence of writing. Once they have got the all-too-difficult first line right, the second line is usually easier. The children then start to explore musical ideas for the melody and style of song they want – still working individually.

We eventually share these song fragments with the whole class. At this point alliances begin to form. Some children want to abandon their own idea and are attracted to work on someone else’s idea. Some groups start to amalgamate. It has been different with every class I work with. At the end of each lesson I make an audio recording of the song scraps. This is invaluable, as the children can sometimes forget what they did the lesson before. I would like to say I keep them neatly date-stamped and annotated as evidence of their progression, but I would be lying!

Not all of the children are successful. Sometimes the most exciting ideas collapse and fizzle out. Occasionally a group having the most bitter disagreements suddenly find a perfect solution to a musical difference and flourish. By the end of the process I ask teaching staff to help me select the strongest songs that we like and think the rest of the school will enjoy singing.

YouTube link

We have built up a great relationship with a local recording studio, Crown Lane Studio. We then spend a day recording the songs. Once we have the recordings we share them “I make an audio recording of the song scraps.” on the school music blog, St Teresa’s Music Matters, so that our whole school community can enjoy them. What I would really like to do is get them shared far and wide, so that other Year 6 children can give us their feedback. So if you are a teacher reading this, please play the songs to your classes and ask them for their thoughts. I mercilessly track down musicians and music education experts on Twitter and ask them to leave feedback for my young composers. I think that having a blog platform is vital for this sort of project. It provides a giant stage for my young composers to safely share their music with the entire world!

Find the full collection at:

So, my top tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to let go! It can look messy and unstructured, but remain hands off and don’t provide solutions unless children specifically ask for help. It has to be their song and not your own!
  • If you aren’t up with contemporary music, find someone who is and who can listen to the song fragments. It is really easy to just channel the latest song you have heard!
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect! The only way to learn is to get stuck in.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from musicians you don’t even.
  • Make sure you have a blog or an online platform to safely share their work.
  • Good luck. Please visit St Teresa’s music matters blog.

Want to receive cutting-edge insights from leading educators each week? Sign up to our Community Update and be part of the action!

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

Get the best of Innovate My School, straight to your inbox.

What are you interested in?

By signing up you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

1,300+ guest writers.
ideas & stories. 
Share yours.

In order to make our website better for you, we use cookies!

Some firefox users may experience missing content, to fix this, click the shield in the top left and "disable tracking protection"