Children’s music is a real market that often slips under the radar, simply because most children’s entertainers will never be famous enough to be in a major spotlight. That said, there are exceptions to this rule (Raffi, The Wiggles, Fred Penner), and there are many, many people that make a living playing children’s music.
For some artists, this is a real calling – performing music for children isn’t just potentially lucrative, it’s also rewarding and fun. Kids can be a pretty fun audience, after all.
For others, children’s entertainment is more of a part-time gig, providing extra music-related income to keep their primary projects afloat.
Your initial impression may be that children’s music would be easy to write. This is not true. As with any genre of music, writing an excellent children’s song is very difficult. Not only do you have to impress the kids, you also have to appeal to parents, so that they will buy your music.
Children aren’t great consumers, their parents are. Children do love music though, it’s just a matter of convincing all parties to buy into your product, whether it’s a live show or a CD.
So how does one go about writing a children’s song? Well, it’s a similar process to writing any song – themes, verses, choruses, progressions, etc. That said, you can’t forget who you’re writing for.
Writing for kids requires some special considerations. If you want to try writing a children’s song, follow these basic steps and read on to the end of the guide for some tips and thoughts about writing for children.
How To Write A Children’s Song Step by Step
Let’s start at the beginning. Here is how to write a child’s song in five easy steps.
1. Pick A Topic
It might be easier to pick topics if you have kids yourself, but even if you don’t, it’s not hard to get some ideas flowing. Consider what you talk to kids about and what they ask adults about. Kids are always asking questions. Try answering one in the form of a song!
For example, a kid might ask “why is the sky blue?” This one question could lead to many song ideas. You could answer with some basic science, or you could get a little creative, and make up your own story about why the sky is blue. Maybe a giant spilled paint on the whole sky! Who knows, anything is fair game.
Also consider writing about a certain time of year or event that might be important in a child’s life. For example, spring break, the first day of school, summer, Halloween, Christmas, birthdays, etc.
Kids can relate to big-picture themes like events, because they stick out in their minds as being very important.
Children’s songs are also often used for education. Many entertainers write about space, body parts, colors – really any basic educational topic is up for grabs (even math).
Other times, entertainers use song to inspire kids to develop good habits like making their bed, cleaning their rooms, studying, or brushing their teeth. If you can develop a catchy song about one of these subjects, you may have parents humming happily along.
As you can see, there is ample inspiration in the world of children’s music. In fact, picking a topic is in some ways easier than writing about something for an “adult” song. Children’s music doesn’t come with all the expectations that mature music carries.
2. Find A Melody, Key & Chord Progression
Sometimes, it’s smart to use or base your melody off a common folk melody like “Twinkle, Twinkle” or “Jingle Bells”. Of course, you probably shouldn’t copy it verbatim, but it can certainly make the song easier to digest for kids.
If you’re making up your own melody, it’s important to keep it simple. No large jumps, kids can’t sing like adults can. It’s also nice to keep the melody well within the key of choice and without too much dissonance.
Major keys are usually the way to go with children’s music. They are the easiest keys to sing to and their innate happy vibe will go a long way to complementing basically any themes, even if there are some slightly darker songs.
Again, keep the chord progression simple and repetitive. There aren’t really any rules with regards to what chord progressions work and what doesn’t. It can be smart to “sort of” lift chord progressions from whatever genre of children’s music you’re writing.
If your children’s song is a reggae, it’s totally fine to lift parts of a Bob Marley song. It also makes sense to lift a bunch of the production moves from the original song.
3. Write A Clever, Repetitive Chorus
The chorus is generally the most important part of a children’s song. It’ usually something easy to remember, easy to sing, and repetitive. Sometimes, a chorus is just a couple of words repeated over and over again.
The chorus should get at the heart of the topic or theme you selected. It should drive home the message that you want kids to take away from the song.
Often, choruses in children’s songs have very simple and obvious rhyme schemes. This makes them memorable and it also teaches kids to recognize rhymes. Perfect rhymes are often better in children’s songs.
4. Write Fun, Easy, Concise Verses
The verses are where you can elaborate on the theme or topic. You can use the verses to build up to the chorus, tell the story, etc.
The verses need to be easy to follow along with and easy to understand. Sometimes, people will use literary tricks to make this happen; starting every stanza alphabetically, repeating the ends of phrases, etc.
Again, the rhyme scheme in children’s music is essential. Rhymes sound great to the ears and they keep kids engaged.
You can go many ways with the verses, but keep in mind who you’ll be singing for. If your audience is slightly older, you can use more complex words and spit out faster verses. If your audience is very young, it’s probably wise to keep the meter slow and the words simple.
5. Consider What The Song’s Purpose Is In A Set
Only you can know how your set works, but songs always serve a specific purpose in a set. You don’t want your set to become repetitive; not every song can be a singalong, not every song should have choreography, not every song needs to educational, etc.
While you’re writing the song, have some ideas in the back of your mind about how the song will fit into the set. Does the song beg for choreography? Is it a singalong? Does the song need props? Does it need audience participation?
These are the things that make children’s entertainers engaging – not just the songs. If have some obvious way to make it interesting, invest the time in making it so.
That should give you a good starting point for getting a song written. There are a few more key elements to children’s music that are worth thinking about while you write as well as after you’ve written a song.
Repetition Is Good
Children learn through repetition. That’s how they learn to speak, it’s how they learn to count, and it’s how they learn the alphabet.
Presenting the same words and concepts repeatedly help children learn and memorize the song.
Consider a song like “Wheels on the Bus” – every verse starts the same way, and even within verses, words are repeated again and again. A song like “Twinkle, Twinkle” starts and ends with the same stanza.
Use repeated words, melodies, phrases, and themes to make your song instantly familiar.
Kids love to move around. If you can get them doing actions and following along to the song, you’re sure to have their attention for a while. Some classic songs with actions are, “I’m a Little Teapot” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It”.
Again, it’s important to gauge the age of the audience. If they are too young, they’ll have trouble doing anything standing up (or possibly doing anything at all) and if they’re too old, they might feel embarrassed doing certain actions.
Instead of actions, you can get kids making noises. Shouting, singing, clapping, snapping, rubbing their hands together – all of these noises are tools that you can use in a song. These actions also tend to get kids excited, which is what you want!
Children also love songs that require them to add information to the song. For example, if your song features a couple of animals, get the kids to name the animals. Have them fill in gaps in information with their own ideas.
This makes kids feel valued and smart. You’ll see it in their face when you tell them that their idea was a good one, and they’ll be excited when it gets used in a song.
Picking The Right Range & Key
Generally, major keys are the best choice for children’s song. They tend to be the easiest to sing along to and they create a sense of familiarity and comfort.
That said, older audiences can recognize that minor keys sound different and “sad”, so you can use this to dramatic effect. Sometimes, minor keys can be used for a sense of comedy – telling a funny story with dramatic music.
For inspiration, listen to Disney songs. These songs are expertly crafted and tell stories amazingly well. Everything from the harmony to the instrumentation is carefully chosen.
Subjects & Themes
Remember that kids are smarter than you might think, and they can be harsh, honest critics. If you dumb it down too much, they’ll know, and they won’t respond.
Avoid clichés, be upfront with your audience, and don’t talk down to them. A few challenging lyrics and interesting melodies can keep them engaged with the show.
Humor is often the best way to convey a message without seeming preachy – you’re an entertainer, not a school principal. Almost any theme can be conveyed with humor. Sometimes, the humor is also in how you deliver the song (with props, actions, costumes, etc.).
Recording Children’s Music
Making recordings of your songs can be a great way to make a little bit of extra cash at gigs.
There are a few key things to keep in mind when you’re recording children’s music:
You Can’t Skimp Out On Recordings
In recordings, even more than in a live show, you have to impress the parents as much as the kids. Your songs cannot be recorded poorly, they cannot be played poorly, and they must have a good mix and master on them.
Get some money together and work on your album in a proper studio. Hire good studio musicians who can work efficiently, but play very well in many styles. It’s always a good idea to hire a creative producer to make your songs shine in a recording setting.
It’s important to hire someone talented to mix and master the songs. Your songs will be played in cars and on cheap preschool CD players – they need to sound good. A bad mix will sound horrible on a bad system. A good mix will shine wherever it’s played.
If your songs can be played in multiple genres, make it so. This makes the album an adventurous and exciting listen.
The genre should reflect the theme and feel of the song. Common children’s genres include reggae, folk, polkas, orchestral, rock, and big band, cheesy, jazz.
The key is just to make the music fun and interesting.
While mixing genres is a great idea, it’s important to keep some elements consistent. For example, simply having your voice on all the tracks will help. Hiring the same musicians for most tracks is another good way to achieve consistency.
It’s also usually a good idea to get the same person to mix all the songs and it’s always a good idea to master the songs with one person.
Be Thoughtful About The Project & Have Fun!
You basically need to put as much thought into children’s songs and recordings as into any other recording. Both kids and parents will be able to spot a half-baked product or idea.
Most of all, have a ton of fun. Kids just want to have fun, and you are now the purveyor of fun. Enjoy it!