I had a pet dinosaur and Dino was his name-o.
D-I-N-O, D-I-N-O, D-I-N-O and Dino was his name-o.
Rewriting lyrics to popular songs is one of my favorite ways to come up with new interventions. In grad school, a classmate and I wrote a new version of Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time” for our neuroscience class, which we then performed complete with choreography from our fellow dance movement therapy classmates. To give you an idea, the chorus went as follows:
My dopamine is thrilling me
(and my) My serotonin is soothing me (soothing me)
When norepinephrine goes through my mind
I can’t unwind
Hit that synapse one more time
Yes, we were nerds. But come on – it was so much fun to channel our inner Weird Al Yankovic and write a parody of a song, even if it was about neurotransmitters.
February was Dinosaur Month at YCCA and therefore I needed a dinosaur-themed song. Letter recognition and sequencing is a major pre-academic skill, and I knew the “BINGO” tune would work well for this. The advantage of using a familiar tune is it allows the children to only have to process one new element. They know the tune, the rhythm and the basic structure; now all they have to do is listen to the new words. Sometimes it’s hard for younger minds to take in so much new information; rewriting lyrics to a tune that they already know allows for the children to grasp the lyrics faster without being overwhelmed by other new musical elements.
Needless to say, DINO was a hit. I used large cards with the letters printed on them and I had four children hold a card each. When it was time to take away a letter, they would hand me a card and go sit down. Or sometimes I would put the cards on the floor and ask the child to find the “D” and take that one away first. So many options for letter recognition and turn taking.
Now that it is March, we are starting to look at countries around the world at YCCA. For China, I wrote these lyrics:
Five panda bears went out one day
To find some bamboo and munch away
Mama Panda said “Now that’s enough snack”
But only four panda bears came back
Recognize the tune? You got it – “Five Little Ducks.” I kept the original rhyme scheme and general plot of the story but just adapted it to panda bears. I even made panda bears from paper plates and had the children hold them and we learned how to count to 5 in Mandarin.
A few guidelines that I give myself when rewriting lyrics and essentially writing a parody of the song:
- Use some of the original words. This makes it easier for the children (and adults in the room) to catch onto the new lyrics. And keeping some of the rhyme scheme helps too.
- Stay true to the rhythm in terms of emphasis of syllables. Don’t put an unimportant syllable on a strong beat in the music or else it disrupts the flow. For example, for the word “bamboo” the emphasis is on the second syllable, so I put “boo” on the strong beat of the bar.
- Keep it simple! Sometimes the original lyrics are so ingrained that it is hard to learn new words. So the simpler you make the new words, the easier it will be for the children to catch on.
I love writing new original melodies but there are so many great melodies out there already, so why not utilize them too? Those tunes get stuck in your head so easily, and by rethinking them to reach a new goal, coincide with a theme, or engage the child in new creative way, you can quickly expand your toolbox of musical interventions.