During the last three summers, I have had the pleasure of working in summer camps in very different places in the US: Pittsburgh PA, New Orleans LA and Austin TX. During the summer of 2015 I was lucky enough to be the song leader / musical director at a big summer camp in the city of Austin.
Before the summer, I tried to research online for tips and ideas on how to get the job done in the best way possible, but there was barely any information out there. So I reached directly to as many former music specialists in order to get some good song leading tips.
So during this past summer, I have led hundreds of different song sessions, both big song sessions – in front of the whole camp (about 200 kids) in an auditorium, and smaller song sessions in the classroom in front of 10-30 kids.
Using my experience and also other people's tips and experiences, I have written this following article in order to make life easier for other song leaders in the future. These tips are of course also useful for anyone who's working with music and big crowds of kids.
Each summer camp / school is different, but just so you'll get an idea of what my job looked like for your perspective, My day was built from two different parts:
- During the day I had a several 50 minutes sessions with the individual groups, each consists of between 10-30 kids. Camp has about 15 different groups in the ages of 5-12 years old. I met them in the music room where I have a lot of instruments and musical activities stuff.
- At the end of each day, the whole camp (about 200 kids) would all get together in one big space along with their counselors (about 30 staff members aged 15-25) and my mission was to get them dancing, singing and having fun along to the different songs that I chose to play with my other counselor band members – a piano player and a cajon player. This was the “big song session” and the favorite part of camp for many kids.
12 Songleading Tips For Summer Camp Or For Music Teachers Of Big Classes
1. Choose Songs That Both The Kids And The Counselors Would Love!
If you're strictly going to play “twinkle twinkle” kind of stuff all summer – the counselors would be just out. And honestly, the kids too. So try to find the songs that the counselors AND the kids would have a great time dancing and singing to.
Once you have the counselors engaged – the kids see this and they join as well, so half the job is done for you and the kids would be on their feet, dancing and having a good time, and you'll get good support from the other teachers / peers / counselors.
Some popular songs that we used to play to get the kids going are below.
Also, read my article for more details about the topic: Top 20 – The Best Songs For Kids That You Can Play On Guitar.
- Outkast – Hey Ya
- Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama
- Bill Withers – Lean On Me
- Bobby McFerrin – Don't Worry Be Happy
- Anna Kendrick – The Cups Song
- Avicii – Wake Me Up
- Smashmouth – Allstar
- Van Morrisson – Brown Eyed Girl (kids love the “sha-la-la” part)
- John Denver – Country Roads
- Bob Marley Songs
- All of the upbeat Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and other Top 40 Songs. Just make sure lyrics are appropriate and change them bit if they aren't.
2. Make Other People The Stars!
Get other kids and counselors on stage with you. It can be either for singing, playing instruments or just dancing and having fun right next to you. Share the fun of being on stage! Some of those kids would never forget it since it will probably be their first time in front of such a big crowd, so you can be glad you get to give them that experience. The smiles on their faces will be HUGE.
And besides smiling, always maintain an upbeat vibe and body language that will encourage kids to “join the party”. Create eye contact and enjoy! As a song leader, you are the leader and frontman of this event, so if people will see that you are genuinely having fun – the feeling will start to get at them too. (-:
4. Pay Close Attention To Feedback And Cues From The Kids
Kids are the most upfront and sincere human beings out there. If you are trying out a new song and they think it sucks – you will see that everybody will sit down and turn their attention away. On the other hand – when you're good, they'll be up on their feet, it will be a crazy party in the house, and their mom would come and thank you at the end of the week! So pay attention and give 'em what they love.
I do want to say though, that sometimes songs that weren't big hits in the beginning, turned into ones later because we kept on pushing them. Trust your instincts – you'll know it when it's one of those and when it isn't.
5. Always Keep Replenishing Your Songs Repertoire
6. Take Song Requests From Kids And From Counselors
7. Encourage Other Counselors To Join The Band And Create A Full Sound On Stage
8. Incorporate dance moves to the different songs! Create Collaborations With The Dance Teacher If There's One In Your Camp / School
9. “Which Group Can Sing The Loudest????” Be Dynamic In Finding Ways To Getting Kids To Participate
10. Be Generous With Your Shoutouts!
11. Use The Smaller Group Times To Prepare Performances For The Whole Camp
12. Mash Up Songs Together, Keep Going And Don't Let The Kids Cool Down!
The Katy Perry medleys were the kids favorite – Roar going into Fireworks just set the camp on fire time after time… Just make sure the two songs are on the same key or else your voice might fail very badly – it happened to me more than once and it wasn't very pleasant to anyone in the crowd…