A few months ago we received a music video that had been created by the songwriting club at Broadwood Primary School. The song, Eco warriors, had been written by the pupils with an educational message. It was witty and clever and pulled together the pupils' Science, English and Musical knowledge. We spoke to the group's teacher, Music Co-ordinator Susan Sinclair, about creating a musical club that could help to enrich children's wider learning.
What singing happens at Broadwood Primary school?
I no longer work there but when I was the Music Co-ordinator, I led singing assemblies, choir and Pop Shop Songwriters club after school.
Can you tell us about how your songwriting club got started?
I wanted to encourage children to write songs and gain confidence without formal assessment by using their English skills for a purpose. It ended up being a free after school club to allow all KS2 pupils to attend. I use pop music in the schools I teach, as it's a ‘safe’ and comfortable genre that they are familiar with, taking away any barriers to their creativity.
How does the songwriting club support the wider curriculum?
In everyway, it gives children the opportunity to learn what they want and not what the ‘teacher’s plan’ says. It engages and inspires children to think ‘outside the box’ and discuss issues important to them.
What does the club involve?
The club had approximately 20 children from years 4-6. We discussed topical issues important to the children – it could be a world issue like Eco warriors or something closer to home like friendship. In the case of Eco warriors, we actually got asked by the Environmental education officer from Newcastle City Council to write a song for The Allotment Show.
I like to let the children choose whether they want to sing or rap and slowly build their singing confidence within the group. The children feel empowered and have ownership over their lyrics. I only facilitate by asking "big questions" and offering guidance. Children work in ‘verse’ teams and research the topic using an ipad, they then mind-map ideas and then write a phrase that summarises their research (not an easy task!). At that point we learn or recap about beats in a bar and rhyming. I'm always clear to point out it is ok to draft and improve. We pull the song/rap together with dance moves and practice over and over again. To be able to perform at 100% the children need to know the song and moves inside out to combat any nerves.
The icing on the cake for my club is the mobile recording studio which my very generous husband Adam Sinclair (he happens to be a Music Producer) provides. We set up a little recording studio in the corner of a classroom and children record their song. It is high pressured and exhilarating for them as they get to feel like real pop-stars and it is amazing the amount of camaraderie there is among the children recording. In one recording a girl who had been a selective mute in the company of adults and teachers, spoke for the first time in front of me and Adam – a truly inspiring day which proves to me how important music and singing is for children.
What about turning the song into a music video?
For Eco Warriors I went a step further and made a music video using a professional film studio in Gateshead. It was the first time we had done it so it was a crazy experiment and so much fun! I edited the film footage using iMovie and then taught the children how to use iMovie for themselves. We went on to upload it to YouTube, performed the song to the Newcastle upon Tyne Mayor at The Allotment Show and appearing in the local press. To top it all off the children wrote to Blue Peter and earned themselves a green Blue Peter badge!
Do you use any Sing Up resources for your songwriting club?
The Sing Up resources have been great to use. The songwriting articles gave me teaching tips and ideas I otherwise might not have thought of and the backing tracks help me and the children to perfect our rhymes. In one school I used the lesson plan for writing a song for younger children about washing their hands. They listened to the different style backing tracks: Shanty, Pop, Hip Hop and Rock n’Roll, and they chose what genre would be best for younger children.
What hits can we expect to hear in the future from your songwriting club?
We've just released another song on YouTube about how important music is and my not-for-profit company musicwonders.org have won Big Lottery Funding for a Summer School Pop Shop at Bridgewater Primary School this August. We are so excited! Pop Shop will not only focus on singing and songwriting (although this is the essence) but on production skills, including using Pro-Tools, Film editing software Premier Pro and using enterprise skills. I am also in the process of facilitating a pop song for Beavers which I am looking forward to!
Where can we hear more songs that your pupils have written?
On our YouTube channel. The GIMME THAT MUSIC group will be performing on Saturday 24 June at Heaton Festival, and the song will soon be available on iTunes.