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 for themselves.

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.

Ideas for Shows

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 present.

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 Instruments

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 practicing.

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, Buffalo Gals, She'll 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.

Sample Shows:
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