About Jenny Gould

Jenny has worked extensively with children of all ages for the last 15 years, running singing, song-writing and composing workshops for schools and music companies, including HMDT Music and sound collective. She is MD/Composer for Full Circle Children's Theatre Company and Resident Composer for the Young Shakespeare Company. Her children’s opera, Prince Caspian, was commissioned by Opera Brava in 2008, and this continues to tour UK primary schools. Her collection of children’s songs, Songs of Imaginings, published by English Philharmonia is inspired by children and their imaginations and provides a valuable resource for anyone working with 6-11 year olds.

Composing is fun – at any age!

I love writing for and working with children – they can be truly inspirational and it’s a thrill to be able to help their creativity and musicality to blossom. It is perhaps a cliché, but teaching really is learning. I learn from the children and young people I work with all the time.
My own songs are inspired by my work with children. The first song of my Songs of Imaginings collection, My Face is Made of Onions, is always a favourite.  It is a fun, nonsense song, but with a message. Being an action song, I always ask the children to come up with ideas for the actions themselves. I'm convinced that they learn and remember the song much better if their own contribution has been incorporated. Plus what they come up with will make sense to them and often won't be something you'd have thought of yourself as a grown-up!

All the songs in the collection are their own self-contained stories and children love the fun and sometimes tricky lyrics. The tunes help children develop their musicality and one of my favourite quotes is from a Year 3 child in an after-school singing club, who said having sung Cakes! ‘I love singing the high notes - I can be more expressive when I sing up high’.

Instilling a natural love of music

My job whether as composer, workshop leader or conductor is: to instill a natural love of music; to provide a space where no child is scared to let their voice be heard, where creative ideas can be shared and everyone's ideas have the potential to be a valuable contribution. The children take ownership of their songs, rather than simply being passive recipients of the learning.

Warming up

I always start with an energetic warm-up, something physical to get the bodies moving and to help children lose some of their inhibitions. Creating tunes and words on the spot can be a natural thing for many children, but having the courage to share these ideas out loud is often the hard part. So a fun warm-up where everybody is using their voice and doing some silly (but useful!) actions is a great way to make them feel confident and comfortable enough to sing their ideas in front of the rest of the group. A favourite with children of all ages is the ‘numbers’ warm-up (You can watch this in full-throated, noisy action on my website www.jennygould.net).

Creating mini songs in minutes

From very early on in the session, it’s easy to encourage children to be creative. Get everyone to stand in a circle and say their name one by one, then add an action and ask the group to copy it - you will see the pride on their faces when they’ve made something up and the whole group says and does it back. Next encourage them to sing instead of say their name. Demonstrate how they can explore singing a number of notes for each syllable in their name, play around with pitch and articulation, dynamics and style. And again, have the group sing it back, so straight away everyone has created a little tune, shared it and the whole group has learned it. Immediately you have a whole collection of mini songs that didn’t exist five minutes ago!

Developing their confidence

It is important to make sure that all the children have a chance to offer their ideas, and this doesn’t need to be restricted by a possible lack of musical literacy. Songwriting is not dependent on being able to write down your ideas, and this is why the singing is such a key element. Everyone has a voice, so if you think of a melody in your head, or have an idea for a rhythm or a few words, you can say or sing these ideas out loud and straight away you’ve made a contribution. More often than not, I find that once one or two children have been confident enough to share their ideas, it’s a trigger for others who may be shyer. Hands start shooting up, and ideas flow as they bounce off each other. They become animated in defending or rejecting ideas within a group, which is noisy but exciting. They start to work together to figure out why one thing sounds better than another. I’ll often ask the whole group to repeat one child’s idea, giving them an immediate sense, through their own voices, of whether it works or not.

Working from the lyrics

Lyrics are a good starting point for talking about style and structure of a song. Do the lines have a clear rhythm, are there rhymes that need to be emphasized, do they tell a story? All these questions will get the children thinking about how they can successfully put across the lyrics in the music they create. Talk about the emotional intent: is it happy or sad; funny or thoughtful; scared or excited? This leads naturally on to the question of how we translate these emotions into music and into a melody line. Does that particular lyric sound like it should be sung slowly or fast? In a high pitch or low pitch area, or a combination of the two? See if they can justify their choices and really think about what it is they want to achieve with the music.

We have written a song!

One of the many brilliant things about a songwriting workshop is that moment at the end of the session when you say ‘Look, we’ve all just written a song together, a song that did not exist a few hours ago!’ When it’s laid out as simply as that, it’s an amazing achievement, and the sense of ownership of the song for those children is fantastic. They’ve all been working together as a group, thinking, creating and singing together, and most importantly, with guidance and some careful steering from the workshop leader, all the creative ideas have been generated by the children themselves.

Songs of Imaginings comes with an accompanying teaching CD. Also available are downloadable lyrics and lead sheets (melody lines and chords only) for you to photocopy.

View Songs of Imaginings