The songs that we select to share with your community and how you present them reveal a lot about your community and personality.
Keep these 8 adjectives in mind as you design your teaching.
Children need to have some context for understanding the songs’s topic. They do NOT need to understand the definition of every single word (kids learn quickly from context and can ask questions to increase their vocabulary) but the song needs a ‘big idea’ that makes sense to them. As you choose your repertoire think about how you would answer the question “Why are we singing this?” to community members of all ages.
Songs that help make connections to their own emotions and experiences with that of others’ or increase understanding about an already familiar concept are going to be more successful than those that don’t- many communities have added the prelude “HaMotzi Lechem Min HaAretz, we give thanks to God for bread….” to the beginning of the bracha because it makes the hebrew words more meaningful and relevant to what they children are doing in conjunction with their singing.
I’m making an assumption here that you are choosing songs to sing in a children’s environment like a classroom and camp where music is not the primary focus of the children’s education- so if you teach the award-winning choir at the magnet school of the arts, this point is not for you. Songs should be repetitive and not overly wordy, and be pitched appropriately for young voices- children’s vocal range expands each year from ages 6-9 or so, but starts with a range from about middle C- A (often, music is presented in a range that is more comfortable for the teacher, not the children, which is unfortunate).
People of all ages will be more comfortable when they are confident, so make sure that you are presenting new tunes in conjunction with tunes/concepts/activities that are already familiar. Teaching a new melody to Hinei Mah Tov? Introduce it by reminding the children they already know the words by singing a more familiar melody. Singing a setting of Sim Shalom? Generate a conversation about how and why children need and want peace in their lives. Music should also sound familiar because you present songs that are similar in style to the popular music that they hear outside of your classroom.
For music to fully benefit a child’s development, they need to hear, sing, move with and process diverse sounds- instruments, rhythms, musical keys and styles. Expose children to music via your voice, instruments audio recordings, video presentations, guest singers, live videochat with musicians, or any other format at your disposal.
21st century recording and editing equipment have elevated the norms of the music we hear- recordings from even just 15 or 20 years ago might have featured slightly out of tune instruments, less than perfect balance, with tracks not mixed and mastered. If the sound isn’t enjoyable, it will be much less likely to be repeated, requested or successful.
Songs should invite participation in multiple ways: Are there dance moves, hand gestures, reflective moments, or opportunities to both sing and listen? There are many, many ways for young children to participate in song sharing- make sure you encourage and support all of them- just because children aren’t singing doesn’t mean that they aren’t engaged!
This one is purposefully open-ended- but if YOU like it, or if YOUR KIDS request it, go for it- even if it doesn’t align perfectly with the above descriptions. Emotional attachment to a memory, a song’s composer, or any variety of other reasons can encourage a song’s utility, so if it works, use it.