Songwriting Challenge



In April and May, I participated in a five week songwriting challenge organized by Rachel Rambach over at  While I write songs almost weekly for my clinical work, it was fun to participate in a community of songwriters.  Songwriting is definitely something that gets easier with practice and with a little mentoring from experienced songwriters.My friend, Nicole Martens, has been a tremendous influence in this area.  In fact, after her help with improving some of my compositions, we created a five hour continuing education class on the topic of songwriting.  The big takeaways from that learning experience:  accurate word emphasis (being sure the accented syllable of a word falls on a strong beat in the music), symmetrical phrase structure, and appropriate vocal range for young voices.  Attention to these details results in songs that are much more effective for helping kids learn.


Greeting Song

The first task was to write a greeting song.  Music therapists often use a greeting song at the start of each session to create familiarity and structure.  I wrote a short greeting song for an adult client of mine.  He has become very skilled at singing “Hi Kathy” in response a greeting song I wrote several years ago.  The goal of this song is for him to greet me first.  Eventually, I will be able to cue him by singing just the melody of the opening which accompanies the lyrics of “It’s time to say…”



Piggyback Song

Task number two was to write a piggyback song, which essentially means putting new words to a familiar melody.  During this weekly challenge, I came down with a spring cold and completely lost my voice.  I have been hoarse many times in my life, but this was an absolute ZERO voice for 4 days and it was kinda scary.  It wasn’t really due to the cold, but lack of self care and overusing a compromised voice box.

So, I ended up notating this one in Print Music and posting the printed music.  It’s to the tune of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”  Lyrics are included below.  If you’re interested in the notated version, you can get the one page pdf here.

I’ve been working on this song, for what seems like too long.
Rhyming and playing with the timing, but you can’t go wrong
When you use music, to help kids learn.
I love to use music, to help kids learn.
I love music therapy, I love music therapy
Except for when I lose my voice, then it’s kinda scary!
I need to get better with self care, listen to my body and don’t push so hard.
Then I won’t lose my voice, I will make a better choice.
Please come back real soon, I feel like such a goon.
Please come back so I can work.  Being able to sing is such a perk!


Instrument Song

The next challenge was to choose an instrument and at least one goal that could be targeted with the instrument.  I chose the agogo bells.

Song for Agogo BellsThis specific song could be used to work on following directions, identifying small and large, or for turn taking.  In group sessions with young children, I often include an instrument song that requires passing an instrument around the circle structured with a brief, fun song that keeps the other kids moving and grooving while they are waiting their turn.



Song for a Client-Specific Goal

The fourth task was to write a song for a client-specific goal or objective, keeping in mind the client’s preferred style of music.  I used a math song for this one with a goal of changing an improper fraction into a mixed number.  You can read more about that here.  This particular client is very motivated by songs that end with a variation of “Shave and a haircut…two bits!”



A Song for Me

This was definitely the most challenging song of all.  I don’t think I’ve ever written a song just for me.  I’ve put a few Bible passages to a memorable melody, but coming up with lyrics is not my strength.

While cooking supper one night, I asked my ten year old daughter—who is becoming quite a gifted writer—to write me a poem with four verses, four lines each.  Meanwhile, I kept cooking and started coming up with some opening lines of “I love to read, I love to read, I love to read, but what I need.”  That’s as far as I got, but was going to go on about needing more time to get through all of my book piles.  Ten minutes later, Anna comes downstairs with four complete verses!  On the SAME TOPIC!

That got my creative juices flowing and “Reading, Reading Everywhere” was born.  The lyrics are about 50% mine and 50% my daughter’s.  I’m really quite pleased with the result.

Reading is something that’s good for your brain.
You can read in your bed, you can read on a plane.
You read a lot in school, it’s really kinda cool.
But if it’s a library book, don’t read in the pool.

Are you short on cash?  Do you want to buy a book?
You can go to the library and just take a look.
Or, you can get your own library card.
Talk to the librarian, it won’t be hard.

Then you can check out a book.
Maybe a book that will help you learn to cook.
Or, it could be, a book about ancient Rome.
Either way, you get to bring it home!

Reading is awesome, fun for you and me.
As long as you return it on time, it’s free!
Support the library ev’ry chance you get.
But, please remember, don’t get the book wet.


Improper Fractions and a FREE Division Song for You

using music to teach fractionsToday’s focus is on math.  I started writing math songs before I learned about phonological awareness and the development of literacy skills.  Math is still a love of mine, and luckily comes pretty easily to me, due in large part to all my years learning to read music and performing in band.

One of my fourth grade students who is on the autism spectrum is currently working on fractions in his regular education classroom.  Spencer has an amazing teacher this year who also has a special education background and it has been working really well for him.


How I Use Music to Teach Math

As a music therapist who has been seeing Spencer privately since he was three years old, I now get to see him two times weekly—once at home and once in the classroom.  He is not always happy to receive assistance from me in the classroom, but it is extremely effective for me to see what skills Spencer is working on and what math language the teacher is using.  I then write songs for him to target specific math areas and teach those to him at home.

Because Spencer has also been taking piano lessons from me for several years, we are now at the point where I can write the math songs on staff paper and he practices them every day rather than only once a week with me.  I have seen him quietly sing these songs to himself in the classroom.


Changing an Improper Fraction into a Mixed Fraction

I was a little worried this year because there is a big emphasis on fractions in the common core math curriculum the school is using, and fractions didn’t go so well in third grade.  I’m happy to report, that given the current supports, he is doing a fabulous job.  He is even adding and subtracting fractions with like denominators, even those subtraction problems that require regrouping—made possible with a simple song titled “Regrouping With Fractions.”

Changing improper fractions into proper fractions was a challenge, but only briefly.  For those of you that need a refresher, 26/3 is improper because the numerator (top number) is bigger than the denominator (bottom number).  In it’s “proper” form, this fraction is 8 2/3.

After we learned to accurately identify whether a fraction was proper or improper through some improvised singing and call and response rhythmic speech, we then learned a song called “Uh Oh!  Improper Fraction.”  The lyrics are simple but effective:

Uh Oh!  Uh Oh!  Improper Fraction!

If the top number is too big,
Then I have to divide.
(divide the large number by the small number)

I write the remainder as a fraction.


Spencer is always motivated by some variation of “shave and a haircut” at the end of a song, so that’s how this one ends.  You can listen here:


Free Division Song for You

If you have a student who first needs help learning to divide, I have a song for that, too!  It’s called the “Division Song” (I sure am a genius when it comes to song titles) and is available for you as a free download.  If you’re interested in the fraction songs, email me and I’d be happy to share!


Click to Download


snappy farmyard_opt-1Welcome to Tuneful Teaching! I am a Board Certified Music Therapist and a mom of three. I am a lifelong learner with a pile of books waiting to be read in almost every room. Through the powerful medium of music, I target non-musical goals such as communication, motor, social, and cognitive skills. I enjoy working with people of all ages including the elderly and children and adults with developmental disabilities.  In recent years, I have developed a specialty area of math and literacy tutoring through music. Reading is a passion of mine and in the process of developing strategies to help kids with autism learn to read, I became interested in researching phonological awareness.  I am in the final editing stages of a book on this topic titled Alphabet Stew and Chocolate Too:  Songs for Developing Phonological Awareness, Literacy, and Communication Skills.

The focus of my blog is primarily on teaching literacy skills and other academic concepts through music.  Resources found in this website will also help typically developing three to six year olds learn to read. In addition, the songs are age appropriate for older students who are still struggling.  My passion is helping all individuals learn the life altering skill of learning to read.  By teaching the foundational skills of phonological awareness, children develop the building blocks needed for literacy and communication.