Songwriting Games for Jr. Rockerz

songwriting gamesSongwriting Games

Songwriting is the most unique part of Jr. Rockerz. Your band should begin songwriting as soon as they can play a section of the song. The song is perceived as just an exercise until the students have actually written lyrics and giving them a sense of ownership.


Students can feel vulnerable during the songwriting portion of the program. No one wants to feel like they offered a bad idea. Each group of students is different and responds to different approaches. Start off with an approach that provides a tight framework of choices. Loosen up the process if the students respond well and feel safe. Do not start off with “what should our song be about”. Start out with specific questions. (See below) Have students write down their responses so that their efforts are anonymous. Only allow students to shout out their ideas If everyone seems comfortable and eager to write.


Songwriting Timeline

Writing a single song should take 2-3 separate songwriting sessions. Your first objective should be to write a chorus lyric. This will allow you to perform the song in rehearsal with singing for the main refrain of the song.

  1. Songwriting Session 1: Write chorus lyric
  2. Songwriting Session 2: Write verse 1 lyric.
  3. Songwriting Session 3: (optional) Write verse -2 lyrics. Only write an additional verse if the band members are excited about this activity. Repeat the lyrics for verse-1 in verse-2 if this is not the case.


Songwriting should occur in a quiet room. Students should not have instruments in their hands. The melody is already written so the students just need to write the lyrics. You will want to be sensitive to the lyrics matching the mood of the melody. This is something you can talk about before the writing begins. It’s always fun to write funny or silly lyrics but be careful that it’s not so silly that the song loses focus and becomes non-sense. You want to make the song sound like a “real song”. Funny is good if it’s clever and tells a story!


Starting with the Chorus

Write the chorus first since this is the hook of the song. Explain to students what a hook is (the main melodic theme of the song). Ask a student to sing or hum the hook of some famous songs to make your point.


What To Say

“Who here knows the song Yellow Submarine by the Beatles? Can someone sing or hum a part of the song. (most likely they will sing ‘we all live…’) That is the hook of the song. The hook is the main melodic theme that gets stuck in our heads. Can anyone guess why it’s called a hook? (students respond) The hook often is found in the chorus. The chorus of the song sums up what the song is all about. We just sang “we all live in a yellow submarine”. That statement sums up what the song is all about…which is life in a yellow submarine. Since the chorus is the theme, or main idea, of the song let’s first start writing the chorus.“


Writing the Chorus

Play the chorus on guitar or piano and hum the melody before you begin writing any lyrics.


What To Say

“(after singing/humming the chorus melody) Would you describe that melody as happy, sad, sleepy, lively, angry, fun..?”

The band members responses could lead to a lyric idea. They might not respond at all. If no response, move on to the next section. You want to see which approach or tactic they respond to. Their response can be a reference point as you chose one of the songwriting approaches below.


Getting Started

  1. Pick a Word-Multiple Choice
  2. “Pick a category; a color, a place, or an action”
  3. Group votes on category (Let’s use action for this example)
  4. “Everyone write down a single action on your paper. Running, jumping, flying, throwing. Any action”
  5. Band turns in papers
  6. Band director reads all to self and picks a word
  7. “Someone wrote down the word flying. Let’s use the word flying”
  8. I want everyone to write a sentence with the word flying. You have only 60 seconds so you need to focus. This sentence is going to fit over the melody I just sang. You guys said the melody sounded happy or exciting so think happy or exciting as you write your sentence. The melody has 8 different rhythms in it (see below). The sentence you write can have no more than 8 syllables. It can have less than 8 syllables. We can stretch the lyrics over the melody if it has less than 8.
  9. Students turn in paper. Pick a sentence that works. Don’t read them aloud. This could lead to hurt feelings if someone laughs or makes a comment.
  10. “Open up your wings go flying” (write this down in your notes)
  11. Sing and play the melody with these lyrics.

open up your wings go    fly   –   ing

  1. Sing or hum the next melody of the song
  2. There is no need to rhyme with the first sentence since this melody is slightly different. The general rhyming rule is to use rhymes to mark the end of a melodic idea that repeats. The melody below is the end of a 4-bar melody so this new sentence will have to set up a rhyme for the next lyrics.
  3. Teach by asking questions. “Is this melody the same as the first one or is it different?” (different) “How is it different? Is it longer or shorter? Have the notes all changed?” (shorter) The melody is same but has one less note in at. It has 7 rhythms so we need a sentence with 7 or less syllables. If it’s less than 7 we can stretch it across the melody.
  4. Pass paperback out for students to write on. Do not keep track of who turned in which piece of paper. Students will feel more comfortable if authorship is anonymous.
  5. “I want everyone to write down this sentence. ‘Open up your wings go flying’. We now need to come up with a new sentence with 7 or less syllables. (offer suggestions as to what to write about). You can write about what it looks like where you are flying, or where you are flying to. Try using some words that describe what it looks like in the sky.”

These suggestions can help offer direction to the student who is struggling. This last example is a looser approach since the students didn’t have a specific word to include. You can always revert back to the approach used for the first sentence by offering a more specific approach by offering a word to use or a concept to explain. See next step.

  1. “Let’s try a different approach. ‘Open up your wings go flying’ ‘I can see___” fill in the blank. Write about what you can see.”
  2. Students turn in paper
  3. Chose an example you like. Make up your own lyric if none of the lyrics work. The class won’t know that you made it up. You want to be careful about the last word in the sentence since a rhyme is being set up
  4. “Here’s one that works well. ‘Open up your wings go flying. I can see the milky way’
  5. Apply this approach to complete writing the chorus

Final lyrics for the chorus

open up your wings go    flying

I can see the Milkyway

catch a cloud across the ocean

what a way to spend the day


Writing the Verse

Explain to the band what the function of the verse is. The verse tells a story and the chorus summarizes or defines the meaning of the song.

Before writing the verse ask the band how they interpret the chorus. “What is the chorus talking about”. This can lead to a conversation about what the story of the song is. Write down key points the students make as they flesh out the storyline. Hold off on writing any verse lyrics until the storyline is established.

Questions to Ask

  1. Should we interpret the lyrics as a literal statement?
  2. Should we interpret the lyrics as not being literal? If so, define the feeling or idea the lyrics are trying to convey


What to Say

“Let’s review our lyrics and see if we can build a story based on what we’ve written.

Open up your wings go flying

I can see the Milky Way

Catch a cloud across the ocean

What a way to spend the day

Who is talking here? Is the narrator, or storyteller, talking to himself? Is the narrator talking to us the listener? Open up your wings go flying? Do you guys feel like these words are literally talking about flying or are they talking about something else? Flying could be a reference to the feeling of being free or maybe it could be about someone feeling so happy they feel like they’re flying.”


Teaching Tip

Note that the instructor isn’t asking what the lyrics could be implying. The instructor here is stating what the metaphor is. This will help with moving the class along quickly. You want to avoid getting bogged down with these smaller details)

There is no right or wrong answer. If we want this song to literally be about flying then we should tell a story about all the things that happen on this adventure. If the song is going to be about the feeling of freedom then we should focus more on talking about freedom.


Teaching Tip

Younger students will do better with a more literal approach. Students 9 and older can take either approach.



Let’s assume that your band is going to take a literal approach to the lyrics. Spend a few minutes brainstorming. Discuss what the story could be about. Ask lots of questions. Write down in your notes words or concepts that the students say. Your objective is not to write the actual lyrics yet. It’s to establish some language and storyline ideas.


What to Say

“We decided that our verse is going to tell a story about this person flying. In the chorus are we talking about a person actually flying or are they getting ready to fly? (getting ready) Do you feel that the verse should continue with the narrator talking to their friend or should the narrator talk more about his/her story? (His/her story)”


Teaching Tip

Note the process here. The instructor made an observation about the lyrics and then gave the class two options.

What do you guys think about writing a verse about standing on a beach wishing you could fly across the ocean?


Teaching Tip

The instructor is presenting a yes or no question in regards to the subject matter. This helps move the process along quickly. The instructor here is doing more of the creative work. The band will feel a sense of ownership by voting.

Let’s come up with some words to describe this beach and some phrases to about wishing you could travel across the ocean. We have to make sure we avoid words that we use in the chorus (beach, sand, wind, sea, dreaming of another country, sailing in a boat)



The instructor should create the opening lyrics of the verse based on the words and concepts from the brainstorming section. This will give the students focus and direction. The lyrics you create will also set the tone for the rest of the verse.


What to Say

“Before we start putting lyrics together I’m going to play and hum the melody of the verse.

I’m going to take some of your ideas and put them to lyrics. Let’s start off with these lyrics ‘wish that I could sail away’.”

           wish    that     I   could       sail     a – way

Teaching Tip

The instructor didn’t ask if they liked the lyrics. This allows the instructor to move on and focus on the students writing the rest.

The next melody has 6 syllables or rhythms in it. I want everyone to write down a sentence with 6 or less syllables. (offer suggestions if it appears the students need help) You can write about where this person wishes they could sail to. (If no one is coming up with any ideas write a lyric and have the band complete it). Let’s go with ‘wish that I could sail away. To another _’ What? What could we say we are sailing away to? (‘country’) Great. Country will work. Since that melody repeats we could mention another place. For example ‘to another country, to another_’ What? what other place could we say. (Wait a second. If there is no response throw out ideas) how about ‘another land’ or ‘another town’. (‘another land’) I love it. Another land it is.

wish that  I   could       sail    a – way                 to another coun – try          to another land

Teaching Tip

Look for opportunities to simplify and minimize the number of lyrics. The lyric above could continue with this theme of “wish that I could’. This will make writing the rest of the verse go quickly.

Let’s continue with this idea of ‘wish that I could’. What are some other things we could ‘wish for’? (If the band isn’t making any suggestions…) How about float away or run away? (float away) What are two far away countries that we could float away to? (England) England has a nice sound to it. Do you guys like ‘all the way to England’? (yes) How about ‘all the way to England. All the way to ___?” Can anyone think of another country(France)

wish that  I   could  sail a – way              to another coun – try     to another land —

wish that  I   could  sail  a – way               all the way to England    all the way to Fra – nce


DSME programs were created by music school founder Dave Simon.