What Makes a Kids’ Song a Kids’ Song?

What makes a kids’ song a kids’ song, anyway? If we knew the answer to this, we would have written the ultimate children’s song and be rich ladies, funding arts programs in schools all over the country. We don’t know. No one really knows, because kids are people, and like grown-ups, have differing tastes. Here are some traits our most requested “children’s music” songs seem to share:

  • storytelling
  • humor
  • actions the kids can make with hands or feet
  • anything that features vehicles
  • anything that features animals
  • simple tunes that are easily reproduced
  • songs with candy in them
  • fast songs
  • songs that change speed
  • songs that are easy to sing along with
  • three chord songs
  • major key songs
  • the occasional sad minor key song
  • songs that are scary in a controlled way (like the Halloween “Stirring our Brew” and not like “Helter Skelter”)
  • nonsense word songs

But as soon as we try to list these traits, we can think of a dozen kids who don’t like particular songs, and a dozen songs that don’t fit within any category. Our guess is that ultimately if a singer is singing to a child, in a genuine, respectful and engaging way, that child will like that song.

In HooteNanny, and for the CD included in our book All Together Singing in the Kitchen: Creative Ways to Make and Listen to Music as a Family, we have relied mostly on traditional folk songs for a number of reasons. For one, folk music is uniquely suited to making music with young children.  It’s simple, it usually has only three chords, and because it was created by people who were generally musically illiterate, the tunes are easily memorable and singable. Also—they are kind of wholesome. They are about real life. And they are what we were raised on.

The other songs we give you are those we wrote ourselves, in the hopes that you will see by their simplicity and silliness that songwriting is not rocket science.  We have noticed that our children’s favorite songs are the ones they have adapted, if not written, for their own purposes.

Katryna had a child in her Family Chorus who came up with a great idea for a song. Perhaps Aikendrum–our hero from the eponymous song who lives on the moon–has a  sister named Percy who lives on Pluto. How might she have reacted when she was told, in 2007, that her planet was no demoted to asteroid status?

Here is “Aikendrum,” a classic folk song we were taught at the Potomac School in McLean VA:

10 Aikendrum

And here is “Percy On Pluto,” which Nerissa wrote for our Rock All Day/Rock All Night CD:

07 Percy On Pluto


About nields

musician, writer, mom
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