Worship For Kids

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on February 1, 2010

In writing songs for kids to sing, the basic principles are the same, but there are certain other things to consider, depending on the age of the children we expect to sing our songs.

1. Range. Little kids, say three to five years old, have limited ranges. Keep the songs within a range of about middle C up to A or B. Even “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” is a bit of a stretch for little kids. Some of them do “creative things” with the melody simply because they don’t have that octave range the song requires.

• As they get older their range increases quickly. First-to-third graders can sing from C to C (with maybe a stretch on short notes up to D).

• By the time they are in grades 4 to 6, many kids may have a broader range than they will have as adults, say from low Ba to high F, even G. But they need to be trained and vocalized to use the head tones on the high end.

• Junior high is the critical age, especially for boys. As they reach puberty they don’t know what to expect their voices to do. They may crack and croak, embarrassing them to the point they don’t want to sing. This is the hardest age to work with.

• High school kids, properly trained, can sing some fairly adult stuff.

2. Melodies. Try to keep little children’s melodies especially simple and repetitive, hooky and easy to memorize.

3. Lyrics. Since little ones can’t read, the lyrics shouldn’t be too long for them to memorize. They might forget the words in performance.

4. Vocabulary. Lyrically, you want to write things a child would say, the way a child would say them. Check your lyrics for words too sophisticated for the age you’re writing for.

5. Concepts. Don’t get too abstract or symbolic with kids either. “Jesus loves me, this I know” is fine, but “His heart burns for me,” or “I am swallowed up in His love,” or some other such transcendent concept is beyond the ability of most kids to comprehend. Nor would it be believable coming from them.

Don’t have little kids sing things like, “I was sinking deep in sin.” (A three-year old?) Or,“Jesus set me free.” Free from what? Most little kids have no concept of needing to be set free from anything yet.

6. Theology. Try not to get too theological with little kids. An elementary school child doesn’t need to comprehend all the details of the atonement, for example. A four year old can understand that she has a naughty heart and Jesus will hear her prayers and come into her life and forgive her and help her to be good.

But she doesn’t need to be burdened with the traumatic concept that it was because she was naughty that Jesus had to suffer and die on the cross. When a little heart is open to the Lord, the Holy Spirit will reveal deeper aspects of truth as the child is able to grasp and to bear it.

7. Difficulty level. Kids are capable of a lot more than we sometimes expect of them. Rhythmically, they can do the most complex syncopation if they’re properly directed. Maybe they can’t read, but they can sing back to you almost anything they can hear.

• A good way to teach them is to sing the phrase to them, then have them say the words over and over rhythmically until they can all say the line exactly together, with all the accents and inflections in place. Only then do you have them sing the line together a few times until it’s clean.

•  When they get a little older you can add another step to the process. First have them clap the rhythm of the words together over and over until all the claps are together, then have them say the words, then sing them. This may take some experimentation, though, to see if your kids are ready for the clapping part; they may not be that coordinated yet. (This works for adult vocal groups too. It’s fun, and it saves wear and tear on the voices.)

8. Musical quality. Kids deserve better music than a lot of the ditties that are written for them. Nowadays before they’re out of the nursery they’re already out of nursery rhymes and enjoying a higher
level of music than we did as kids, including the wonderful symphonic background music in TV reruns of
E.T. and the like. So we don’t need to write down to children too much.

9.  Remember your audience. You’re writing not only for kids to sing, but for adults to enjoy hearing them sing. The kids are being taught and stretched and blessed, but don’t forget the doting parents who love hearing and seeing their adorable little ones perform.


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