Stories

New Victory Arts Break – Songwriting Week

Welcome to Week 6 of New Victory Arts Break! Guided by New Victory Teaching Artists, Arts Break is a curriculum designed for the millions of families stuck at home to incorporate the performing arts into their learning. Show or no show, our nonprofit is committed to bringing the performing arts to the widest possible audience, and inspiring you to make art, and make memories, together!

We hope you had a ball juggling last week, but now’s the time to sharpen our pencils, tap our toes and raise our voices to the sound of music—it’s Songwriting Week!

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Monday

Get Ready to Sing!

15 – 20 minutes, Ages 5 – 12

If we’re going to make music together, we need to warm up first. Follow along with New Victory Education’s Mia Sommese for some breathing and vocal warm-up exercises, including a fun tongue-twister!

Diction

Strong, relaxed muscles in your face and jaw also improve diction—the enunciation of words when you’re singing. Mia demonstrated some exercises for the muscles in your face, but here are a few more from New Victory Education’s Siobhan Pellot! Try mirroring Siobhan’s face in the images below, holding each funny face for a few seconds before switching to the next.

Mirror Siobhan's face!

Like Mia demonstrated, tongue-twisters are also a great way to warm up before singing or performing for an audience. They help improve your diction and warm up the muscles in your face and jaw. Here are some more tongue-twisters that you can try.

  • Tie twine to three tree twigs.
  • She saw the Sheriff’s shoes on the sofa. But was she so sure she saw the Sheriff’s shoes on the sofa?
  • Clean clams crammed in clean cans.
  • Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where is the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

Do you know any other tongue-twisters? Share your favorites with us on Instagram and we’ll feature them in our story—just tag us @newvictorytheater.

There are lots of fun musical activities coming up this week, but preparation is key. Remember to come back to these warm-up exercises every day to keep your singing voice in shape!

Vocal Range

Some people can sing very high notes, and other people can sing very low notes. The range of notes that you’re able to sing is called your vocal range, and different songs are written for different vocal ranges. Do you know your vocal range? This video from Playback.fm goes up and down a virtual piano to help you figure it out, pointing out the vocal ranges of famous singers along the way!

Too low! Too high! Knowing your vocal range will help you write songs that you’re able to comfortably sing. If you plan on singing together with your family, try to get a sense of what notes your ranges have in common before you start—you may find it helpful to sing in a slightly lower or higher key!

Tuesday

Rhythm, Instruments and More!

20 –30 minutes, Ages 5 – 10

One-two-three-and-four… Can you feel the beat? Singing and songwriting require a good sense of rhythm. Follow along with Nicole from New Victory Education as she teaches some rhythm basics and sets a beat to a simple lyric.

What rhythmic sentence did you come up with? Tag a photo or video of your masterful measures with @newvictorytheater on Instagram, and we’ll share it on our story!

We’ve got rhythm—now we just need music. There are so many different musical instruments in the world, and many of them have appeared on the New Victory stage. Last year, we celebrated the diversity of Latin American music with Fiesta con Sonia De Los Santos. How many different instruments can you spot in this video?

Different instruments make different sounds. Can you name an instrument based on the sound you hear? Name that instrument!

Now that you’re familiar with the sounds of several different instruments, it’s time to make your own! Follow along with this video to craft your very own tissue box guitar using things you have at home.

Are percussion instruments more your style? Follow along with third-year usher Haley Gerena as she uses rice, beans and household materials to craft a colorful shaker.

There are many more instruments you can make at home. Try making a kazoo with this video from Today’s Parent, or a rain stick, tambourine, hand drum and maracas with this video from DIY Labs. We’d also recommend checking out the interactive experiments at Chrome Music Lab to explore the basics of music theory and the science of sound!

Wednesday

Song(re)writing

25 – 40 minutes, Ages 6 – 13

Creating an original song can seem daunting, so today we’re going to begin by borrowing a song we already know and writing our own new lyrics for it. Join New Victory Teaching Artist Julia Sirna-Frest as she writes a song about her lovable dog, Bronco, to a tune you may have heard before.

Here’s a breakdown of the approach Julia took to brainstorming and writing her song for Bronco. Follow the steps below, or use this template to help guide your writing.

Step One: Pick a song as your source material. Julia chose “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. Choose any song that you know and love.

Step Two: Pick a topic that you’d like to write a song about. Julia chose her dog, Bronco. You can choose a pet or family member, or anything else! Maybe:

  • A favorite character
  • A story you love
  • A food you crave
  • A day of the week
  • A special holiday

Step Three: Once you’ve chosen your topic, brainstorm a big, big list of words, phrases and thoughts that you associate with that topic. Feeling words and descriptive words are especially helpful! Then you can choose some words and generate rhyming lists to get yourself ready to write lyrics that rhyme. Here is Julia’s brainstorm list below as an example:

Julia's Brainstorm List

Step Four: Write down (or read through) the verse and chorus of the song that you chose. Use it as the basis for your new song, and use the words you brainstormed to change the lyrics! Here are the original verse and chorus of “Lean on Me” alongside Julia’s rewritten verse and chorus about Bronco. Notice how she’s circled and underlined rhyming words:

Julia's lyrics

Step Five: Now, sing and perform your song! Add instruments, costumes or choreography to make your performance extra special.

Modification for 2–5-year-olds: Rather than writing wholly original lyrics, try adapting a repetitive song like “If You’re Happy and You Know It…” or “Baby Shark” where you can substitute just a few words based on a single theme. For instance, the original songs in Spellbound Theatre’s The World Inside Me (New Victory 2019) focused on different parts of the human body.

Photo from The World Inside Me
Photo: Charles Osgood

In this activity, inspired The World Inside Me, adapt the lyrics of “Baby Shark” to explore the sounds your body makes, and sprinkle in some light choreography.

Step One:  Think of a body part and say it out loud. Then make the sound you think that body part makes. For example, your heart beats with a thump thump sound.

Step Two: Think of a gesture that matches the body part and sound. For example, tap your chest with an open hand for your thump thump heartbeat.

Step Three: Add your body part and sound to the tune of “Baby Shark,” and act out your gesture to the beat.

Here’s my (body part), doo doo doo doo doo doo.
Here’s my (body part), doo doo doo doo doo doo.
Here’s my (body part), doo doo doo doo doo doo.
Here’s my (body part)!

It goes (sound), doo doo doo doo doo doo.
It goes (sound), doo doo doo doo doo doo.
It goes (sound), doo doo doo doo doo doo.
It goes (sound)!

BONUS: Keep adding more body parts. Assign different verses of the song to different members of your family, or sing it all together.

Modification for 0–2-year-olds: For non-verbal little ones, sing the song above and fill in the blanks yourself. When singing out loud, point to your own body part, and then repeat the line while pointing to the body part on your kid’s body.

How did today’s songwriting go? What song did you use as inspiration? Snap a photo of your side-by-side lyrics or share a video of your performance with us, and we’ll feature it in our Instagram story! Just tag us @newvictorytheater.

Thursday

Songwriting from Scratch

25 – 40 minutes, Ages 7 – 13

Lyrical inspiration can come from anywhere. Driven by their own personal stories and struggles, the choristers of Brooklyn Youth Chorus inspired contemporary composers to create songs about a more inclusive and compassionate future. Take a listen to this excerpt of “Lovestate” by Toshi Reagon from Silent Voices: Lovestate (New Victory 2019).

Like many songs, the lyrics of “Lovestate” sound like a poem when spoken. Read over the lyrics below, and listen to them being recited by Ticket Services Associate (and former New Victory Usher) Shanice Rodriguez.

Lovestate Lyrics

Just like song lyrics are written to fit a melody, poems are written to fit a meter. These constraints force lyricists and poets to condense their language, using more vivid words in fewer numbers to convey big ideas. Sometimes words that don’t often appear together—like siren river or infinite air in “Lovestate”—take on a powerful new meaning when combined in a poem or song. In this activity, inspired by Silent Voices: Lovestate, create your own poetic lyrics using found text.

Materials: Paper, pen, highlighter, source material (see below), songwriting template

Step One: Find a piece of written source material that inspires you, that you have questions about or that interests you. It can be a book, an article, verses from an existing song or poem—anything! Print or write out phrases or pages from your chosen source. Try to have as much written material as possible.

Step Two: With your highlighter, go through and pick words or phrases that stand out to you. In the end, your highlighted phrases will become your poem. Here is an example:

Songwriting Poem

Step Three: Read your poem out loud. Add or delete words to shape the message that is emerging. Remember, don’t be afraid to place unlike words side by side to form inventive new phrases.

Songwriting Poem 2

Step Four: Write your final poem out on a separate piece of paper.

Songwriting Poem 3

Step Five: Now, it’s time to turn your poem into lyrics. Use this template to help you lay out your new song! Check out this video from Dylan Laine for a quick rundown of the parts of a song, then decide which lines of your poem will be the verses of your song, which will be the chorus and which will be the bridge.

Songwriting from Scratch Worksheet

Step Six: Put music to your words! You have two options:

  • Like you did with Julia yesterday, try picking a song that you know and love and see if the words that you chose fit the melody. Can you sing your lyrics along with the song as it plays? Can you adjust the melody to better fit your lyrics?
  • Write your own music! First find the rhythm within your lyrics, like you did with Nicole on Tuesday. Then start putting words to notes to create a melody. When coming up with a melody, it’s helpful to speak your words out loud to hear their natural up-and-down intonation.

BONUS: Grab an instrument, real or homemade, and play along with your song, or enlist the family band!

We’re excited to read your lyrics and hear your original songs. Share photos and videos with us by tagging @newvictorytheater on Instagram!

Friday

Once More with Feeling!

25 – 35 minutes, Ages 6 – 13

From rhythm to lyrics to musical instruments, we’ve covered the nitty-gritty of songwriting and music-making this week. Now it’s time to perform! To really connect with your audience, your singing needs one thing above all else—emotion. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Janet Onyenucheya as she demonstrates how to sing like a true ac-tor.

Can you apply some of the skills Janet demonstrated to your own musical performance? Let’s break it down.

Step One: Practice expressing some of these emotions in the mirror. Can you use your face, posture and voice to look and sound…

Feeling Faces coloring sheet by Kristina Sargent
Feeling faces coloring sheet by Kristina Sargent

Step Two: Sometimes we make a face not just because we’re feeling a certain way, but because we’re reacting to something. Take a look at Mia and Siobhan’s faces below. What do you think they’re reacting to? What stories are their faces telling?

Emotion GIF

Step Three: Choose one of the emotions you practiced in the mirror, and imagine a reason why you might be feeling that way. What could have just happened? What could you be reacting to?

Step Four: With that emotion in your body and that scenario in your mind, perform your song! Think about the following questions as you perform:

  • Does your emotion change the song’s meaning?
  • Does the song’s tempo speed up or slow down to match your emotion?
  • Are you singing it lower? Higher?
  • How would a different emotion change the performance?

Modification for younger kids: Play “Guess That Emotion”—charades-style! Write down lots of different emotions and put them in a hat. Have one person choose an emotion and act it out (bonus points if they can act it out while singing their favorite song). See who can guess it correctly the fastest! Big feelings, big fun!

If you’re ready to take your emotionality to the next level, read on!

New Emotional Heights

Instead of choosing one emotion to pair with a song, try adding lots of emotions to create a dynamic performance. Let’s take some inspiration from one of the most emotive singing styles: opera. Notice how the characters sing and act in this video from The Enchanted Pig (New Victory 2009), from The Opera Group/ROH2 at the Royal Opera House/Young Vic in London.

Because the singing is constant, opera singers use huge, dramatic emotions to help the audience understand what is happening onstage. In this activity, practice singing with big emotions operatically.

Step One: Pick a different emotion for each line of your song. What feeling do you want to sing each line with and why?

Step Two: Practice your song with all of the different emotions.  Think of scaling your emotions on a scale of 1 to 5.

  • How can you show that emotion in your face? Your posture? Your distance from your partner?
  • How can your voice change to express that emotion?

Step Three: Now make it a game! Ask a family member to randomly assign emotions to each line for you, and then see if you can pull off their version of the song.

BONUS: Try this with a new song, or grab a partner and sing a duet so you can react to their emotions with yours. Be bold, be dramatic, sing out! It’s Friday, and you’re a musical maestro.

We hope you enjoyed this sixth week of New Victory Arts Break. Check out past Arts Breaks here, and keep coming back for more arts-based fun in the weeks ahead.

You are a part of the New Victory community. We want to see you, and hear from you! Show us how you’re using New Victory Arts Break at home and share your creative work with us—tag us on Instagram @newvictorytheater.

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  1. Thank you for these amazing resources! I will be able to use these beyond this social distancing era. My favorites have been: Body Percussion, Songwriting Week and now Playwriting week. Juggling week is not something I’ve been drawn to-but it’s nice to have some unique topics to pull for a special lesson at the end of the year or in-between units.

  2. Thank you for helping bring us music & arts during this pandemic .. I’m sorry I just noticed it .. I will share it with others & enjoy it with my special needs son.. God bless you all stay safe ? stay strong