Christmas Songs. Love them or hate them, this is the season where you begin to hear them endlessly and everywhere. Shops, lifts, in the street, at work. There's no escaping them. And writing a new Christmas song can be a fun and worthwhile lesson activity, improving multiple skills such as literacy, group work, independence, resilience and creativity as well as musical skills.
So you decide you want your class to write a Christmas song. But what next?
Maybe you are foreseeing some issues. Could it be that....
1. You are not a trained music teacher and don't feel very confident in your ability to do this?
2. Your students are not exactly gifted or are just inexperienced in the musical/creative fields?
3. You are short of lesson time but really want them to do this
4. You don't have access to a lot of musical equipment
Well, don't worry. Follow this simple 5 step system and you should have a Christmas song at the end of it!
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What is the song going to be about? Here are 3 major brackets into which all Christmas songs fall:
You could choose this or allow the students to decide. If students are working in pairs or independently why not put topics in a hat and make it a pot luck choice?
Brainstorm key words to go with the chosen topic, then put them into rhyming pairs
eg Snow + Ho ho ho
Then create rhyming couplets out of the pairs.
Put pairs of couplets together to create 4 line verses and a chorus.
Chant the lyrics to get a feel of how many beats are in a bar. Try doing it along with these drum beats. As a general rule.....
Lay down a very simple chord sequence. Depending on the musical ability of yourself and your students, you could just start with 2 chords. A 4 or 8 bar sequence usually works best.
Here are some typical chord sequences (each chord lasts for a bar):
Super simple (2 chords):
C - G - C - G - C - C - G - C
Moderate ( 3 chords):
C - G - C - F - C - F - G - C
Bit trickier ( 4 chords):
C - G - Am - F - Am - F - G - C
Practise playing them with the drum tracks above.
These could be played on keyboard, guitar, ukulele or xylophones. If you don't have class instruments then you could play it on a piano whilst the class sings and uses percussion, or create a backing track on Garageband to use.
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Deciding how your song will sound is best done by singing the lyrics along with the chords and seeing what comes out. It is likely that your students will have an idea already of how they want their song to sound.
If you do want them to write down the melody they will then have to work out the keys on a keyboard, which many students will find tricky. If you are doing this project with higher ability or KS4 students, this is, however, an excellent way to add in an element of theory to the project. To notate the melody accurately they must use knowledge of pitch and rhythm.
If you want a lasting memory of the song, particularly if you want to continue working on it in the next lesson, then making an audio recording is the simplest thing to do.
Now all the students must do is decide on how the song should sound overall. This might include:
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This is a simple project that focusses on the enjoyment of creating and playing music, rather than any in depth theoretical knowledge, and therefore can be taught effectively to any age range. This could be done independently, in pairs or small groups. You could teach it as a whole class project, with some students writing lyrics whilst others learn instrumental parts, or by each pair creating a rhyming couplet and then putting the whole thing together.
For primary age it is a great way to end the term and could be performed in assembly or end of term celebrations. It could be extended by adding some dance or a dramatic introduction, whilst students could also design a backdrop for their performance. Students could write a story about the characters in your song for literacy or research the places in your song for geography. If you are studying a particular historical period you could ensure the song links to that too.
Again, this could be linked to prior learning by using genre techniques that have been learnt. For instance, a reggae Christmas song is always great, as is a Rock 'n' Roll 12 bar sequence. Bring in knowledge of rhythm for a funky bass line, and any instruments that have been taught so far. Run it as a competition to be performed in the Christmas concert of end of term or in a celebration assembly. If you have technology available, treat it as a recording project and students could mix it down and create a ringtone or MP3 to take home.
So I hope this helps make the last couple of weeks of term fly be in a pleasant song-writing haze! Let me know how you got on. If Christmas songs aren't for you, have a look at these other Christmas Lesson Ideas.