3 Steps to Writing Better Piggyback Songs

Many teachers use piggyback songs (songs that use an existing melody with new lyrics) as a way to teach math, science, or other concepts for their students.  Or perhaps they're using songs about school to provide structure to activities like morning circle time and dismissals, and for good reason.  Music and singing has been shown to strengthen learned concepts.  It's not unusual for teachers to scour the internet, searching for a piggyback song that fits the concept they're currently teaching.

However, sometimes those piggyback songs just don't exist, and you have to write it yourself.  What's the novice song writer to do?

Here are 3 steps to writing better piggyback songs!

1. Repetition is your friend, friend, friend, friend.

In an effort to keep things exciting, we often forget about our old pal repetition.  Human beings LOVE repetition.  We crave routine and structure.  In fact, next time your favorite songs comes up on your iPod, pay close attention to just how much it repeats small sections.  It probably has a guitar riff that is played 30 times during the song, a chorus that we hear four or five times, a repeating drum beat, etc.  Our brains eat up repetition and predictability.

So don't shy from it with your piggyback songs!  In fact, your piggyback songs should probably have more repetition than a normal song, as we're trying to drive a concept home.  You don't need to write 16 original verses.

2. Keep it Simple

Yes, a piggyback song about fractions sung to the melody of your favorite song by The Police would be hilarious and awesome, but how many 3rd graders know songs by The Police?  Not many.  Don't forget the old nursery rhymes.  Are they goofy?  Yes.  Cheesy?  You bet.  But it's a simple melody everyone knows, and it'll get the job done.  The idea is not to write a song your students will listen to everyday on their iPod at home, but to write a simple tune that they can sing to themselves at test time to remember that confusing formula.

3. Don't Over Think It

In a perfect world, you could have a rhyme for quadratic formula, but it just might not be meant to be.  Take advantage of online rhyming dictionaries to help get you through tight spots, but don't fret if your song doesn't rhyme perfectly.  In fact, it's more important that the songs meter fits the original melody than for everything to rhyme perfectly.  What's meter, you say?  Meter is the rhythm of the melody.  For example:

"Twink-le, Twink-le, Litt-le, Star"

Now try to fit the sentence "The pythagorean theorem is great for using with triangles" into that melody.  Doesn't work.  I don't care how good you are at rhyming "triangle," it just doesn't flow.  Keep the meter as close to true form as possible, and you'll have success.

That's it!  You're on your way to writing some killer piggyback songs!  Be prepared for lots of humming when you administer your next quiz.

The George Center offers consulting services to educators and school administrators on using music in the classroom.  In fact, we'd love to come out and give your staff a free inservice!  Contact us today to get started!