One Dollar and Ten Minutes Toward Songwriting with Kids

Have You Ever Thought About This?

Kids communicate… they write, they talk, they text… words… a “million” words a day.

And some of them, these kids with so many words flowing, can sing.  Maybe not perfectly in tune… but close enough.

Now here comes the question.  Why don’t these kids, the ones with all the words, write songs?

Isn’t That Asking Too Much?

Think about it a minute.  We work with kids.  We teach them.  We know what they can do.  We ask them to write essays or reports.  They do.  We ask them to write in journals.  They do.  But when we want them to sing, we hand them a song written by someone else – usually someone who has grown up.

So… is there a way we can help kids write their own songs?

The Missing Piece

A little more thought and  the realization comes… it’s not the words, it’s not the creativity, it’s not the storytelling or the desire to communicate that’s missing… it’s something else… a missing piece… and the missing piece dances with words and melodies to make music.

The missing piece is… CHORDS!

And That’s Why Kids Don’t Write Songs

Not just kids… adults too.  Thousands of them.  People who love music, but cannot express themselves that way.  Their thoughts, their longings, their dreams don’t ever flow as a line of music… because they don’t have chords.  And it takes chords to write songs.

Yes, chords… and maybe years… years spent learning how those chords fit together.

Now… Watch!

What would happen if you took “ten years” of music, and dropped it into ten minutes?  Just ten minutes to explain to a child in the fifth grade, or seventh grade, or a high school freshman, how to use a tool… a musical tool which would allow them to explore chords and chord progressions… and one dollar… average cost… say, for 25 kids, just 25 dollars?

This is what I’d like to share.

It’s a map… a musical map… actually, it’s a screenshot from a software program, and you click on the map with a mouse.  It’s that simple… just point and click.  And when you do, all kinds of chords come out.  Major chords, minor chords, chords in their various inversions, 2 chords, 6 chords, 7 chords, 9, 11, and 13 chords… and you can switch the key to any of the major keys… just one click away… and not only do you hear the chords being played, you have the option of seeing the notes displayed on a virtual piano keyboard.  The map looks like this.

It Looks Complicated.

Actually, it’s very easy.  You just click with a mouse… and listen… and click again.  Even a young child can explore chords and progressions… in any major key.  It’s that simple.

And that’s one of the reasons I’m writing…

…to share ideas like this with friends in the Music Education community… and to let everyone know – here’s a tool you can use with your students… to encourage them to explore chords… so that someday, maybe in your classroom, some thoughts and dreams that were once just words… will be Words and Music!

If you would like to find out more, you are invited to visit…

The link is

(Or you can visit and then look for the link to the playable maps.)

All the best,
Steve Mugglin 

A Different Place For Me

Well Off the Beaten Path

I don’t know if Music Education has a “beaten path.”  But I know this.  If there is one, I’m not on it.

That’s not to say there shouldn’t be one.  Major highways have the advantage that you can travel in the same direction as everyone else, and you can get there fast, wherever “there” is.

But side roads have a magic too.  Sometimes a dirt road winding through the country can be a beautiful drive.  And some beautiful places have no roads at all.

I love beautiful places, not just the ones that are made of trees on the ridge and colors in the sunset, but also the ones made of smiles and new realizations and joy in the heart.  Some of these places have caused me to remember and wonder long after the experience is past.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons I work with kids.  It’s the moments.

And maybe that’s why I’m writing this blog – to share ideas that may lead others to plant the seeds of freedom and reap the harvest of creativity.

Out the Back Door

I didn’t get into music through the front door.  I got into music by going out the back door.

I was one of those young piano students who quit – one of the millions.  I played my way through the early piano books.  But I hit a wall.  It was the sightreading wall.

Maybe you’re one of those for whom sightreading comes easy.  It’s a wonderful gift.  It’s like a key into a museum, with lots of rooms to explore.  But that wasn’t me.  I was a “memorizer.”  I traveled from one piece to the next by memorizing them.  It was a sequence of moves for me.  Somehow the lightning-fast connection between the symbols on the page and the playing of them eluded me.  To this day it’s a weakness.

But it played out into an opposite strength.

A Turning Point

Our piano found its way to several places in the house over the years, but another instrument came along when I was in Jr. High and early High School.  One day we traveled to New York to the showroom of an electronic organ manufacturer.  It was an interesting company.  The organs were kits.  They would send the circuit boards and you would do the soldering.

My dad did most of the work.  It took a couple years, as I recall, soldering and wiring.  But when it was finally assembled, there it stood, across the living room from the piano.

It was that electronic organ where I began to discover things.  I could play a chord with my left hand, put my left foot down on a bass pedal, and still have one hand free to experiment with melody notes.

This began to get interesting quickly.  I remember the day I was trying to figure out a certain hymn.  I was in the key of F, and I could hear where the next chord was going, but I didn’t know what it was.  It was a discovery when I found it.  I had “discovered” the D minor chord.

Well, it would take too long to detail all the twists and turns on the path, but you can already see where this is going.  I had bounced outside the “usual path.”  But the music I found, the unexpected lessons along the way, the ideas that started to shape my perspective… these things created a picture… a picture I’ve only recently decided to share.

The ME Blogger campaign has given me the opportunity to do that.  Thanks to those who initiated the challenge.

And thanks to all who’ve read this far.  May rich discoveries be there for you, whether on the main road, or far away in places where no road goes.