Mike Moxcey ©2005
Play Your Music at Schools
Many folks think of music as only done by professionals on MTV and VH1.
It's not often viewed as something anyone can do like writing or drawing
or playing basketball. Most schools are open to neighborly citizens
bringing in their hobbies to share with the students. You can do
that with your musical instrument and share the joy of playing, teach a
few musical concepts, expose the children (and teachers) to new sounds
and styles, and perhaps get a few other people enthused about playing music
I've been playing regularly for school groups of young children for
six years now. I got started when my daughter was in a cooperative
preschool and have been getting better at it ever since. You can,
of course, just go in and play songs but with a little bit of planning
and practice, you can actually turn it into a teaching situation.
Just don't give any tests.
There are many ways to make your show interesting. You should as
a matter of course use as many sing along songs as possible. Occasionally,
you may just want to demonstrate some topic, but with younger kids, they
want to join in and their singing will help reinforce the knowledge you
If you play different instruments, you can show the difference between
them. Because it is a show and not a jam session, you don't need
to be that proficient. You just need to be able to play the one or
two songs you plan on, so you can pull out all those instruments in the
closet or borrow some from friends and work out the songs. You might
even want to borrow your friends.
Ideas for Shows with Different
If you only feel comfortable on one instrument, you can still
You can also learn songs the kids are learning in school. This is
a great way of picking up new ideas, too. Many teachers have cassettes
and CDs they use and often have the music in books. You can borrow
these. Libraries have lots of popular songs, too. And doing
searches on the web can be fun. I searched for Halloween songs and
found many sites with Halloween carols--Christmas songs with new words
such as "Deck the halls with poison ivy."
Having props turns your production into a multimedia performance.
I bring posters and handouts and also set my instruments up on stands so
they can be seen the entire time. Be sure and use rubber bands or
pipe cleaners or something to tie the instruments down because some kids
will try to touch them.
Thoughts on Age Appropriate Handouts
Arranging the Lesson
Develop your lesson/show on paper. Redo it as new ideas come up when
List the songs and concepts you wish to cover in order. Repeating
the concepts from song to song helps reinforce them. Like any good presentation,
introduce all the ideas at first, cover the ideas, then review them before
you leave. If I'm doing lessons for the whole year, I'll try to review
the previous ideas. I'll also play the same song from show to show
so they can get familiar with it.
When playing singalongs, it helps to do a little musical intro. The
last couple bars of the song work real well. Practice starting the
Once you've got your lesson show together, practice it a few times to see
if it feels right and fits the time slot. The most critical thing
is that you should feel comfortable with what you have to say, play, and
sing. If this is the first time you're doing it, do your most
familiar songs and don't worry too much about the actual teaching or stuff.
You'll get better as you do more shows.
Have a couple extra songs to do just for fun if the show runs short (which
never happens) or if it runs long or starts late because the kids
have to clean up first and there are only 5 more minutes to wait until
some other scheduled thing. Practice these, too.
Be ready with an instrumental ditty to play if you have to wait for kids
to file in. If you just sit there at the front of the class with
nothing to do, you'll just get more nervous.
Put your song and concept list and succinct notes about retuning or changing
instruments on a large piece of paper. Write big enough so you can
read it from the floor. Make copies and put them in each instrument
case so you can't forget/lose your only copy.
Giving the Lesson
Handling questions. As soon as you get set up with your instruments
out and the posters up (or even before), you'll be hammered with questions.
Don't answer them. Just explain that you'll probably cover
the answers during your presentation and if not, you'll answer questions
at the end. If you don't do this, everyone in the audience will be
"asking" questions such as "My grandma plays the guitar" and "I'm buying
my lunch today." Establish your presence as the person to be
listened to first and things will go better. If things do get out
of hand, the teacher will help you get them back on track. To bypass
some of these problems when I'm doing shows with different musical instruments,
I'll ask the class to raise hands if they have this instrument at home.
The teacher will probably introduce you and then you can jump right
in. Get them entertained as soon as possible by making some noise
on some instrument. You'll probably forget some stuff but don't worry,
you can go back over it when you remember or someone will ask. I've
often forgotten to explain what the fingerpicks are but usually one of
the teachers will ask me. They're professionals and will help
you every step of the way. Just remember that you shouldn't direct
your answer to them but to the audience.
Check with the teacher before giving out take-home handouts. Some
may want you to pass them out after the show, others may just want to put
them in the cubbies themselves. But sometime during the show, you
do need to explain the handout, show them what's on it and give them suggestions,
and then explain how they will get them. If you haven't checked beforehand,
you can always just ask the teacher as you're showing the paper.
At the end, be ready to answer questions. This is usually the
most fun part because you're actually interacting with the children.
You'll be asked questions about how long you've been playing, is it hard
to learn, and my all time favorite, "When can you come back?" I haven't
found any easy way to wrap things up after a question and answer because
different responses lead to different areas. Usually I end by saying
if there aren't any more questions, then I'll be on my way and remind them
that anyone can learn any musical instrument and have fun doing it.
Have Fun Doing It
Playing music for a class full of kids is a lot of fun. And it gets
more fun if you keep going back to the same group. You can take advantage
of the information here to make your shows more interesting. But
if it seems like too much work, then make it easy for yourself. Take
your instrument and work up four or five sing along songs and go for it.
Some good ones are Oh Susannah,
Be Coming Around the Mountain, Polly
Wolly Doodle, or This Old Man.
There are more songs listed elsewhere on my web site and more developed
lessons, but you can start simple and find out for yourself just how enjoyable
it is to give the gift of music.
- Physics of Sound
- Musical Improvisation of Songs
- Christmas Show with Musical Concepts
- Intro to Stringed Instruments
- Instruments and Music in Colorado: Then and Now
Music Shows Home