12 Quick Tips for Summer Camp Songleaders / Music Teachers of Big Classes

Hey good people! My name is Alon, I'm 27 and I play mainly the guitar, piano and harmonica. In the last few years, I traveled through four different continents with my guitar while teaching music. Currently, I am based in sunny Tel Aviv, Israel. The GuitarHippies mission: To get you to enjoy your musical journeys to the fullest. Cheers! Do you want to improve your song-playing, and always play smoothly and confidently? Join 11K+ successful guitarists:

During the last three summers, I have had the pleasure of working in summer camps in very different places in the US: Pittsburgh PA, New Orleans LA and Austin TX. During the summer of 2015 I was lucky enough to be the song leader / musical director at a big summer camp in the city of Austin.
Before the summer, I tried to research online for tips and ideas on how to get the job done in the best way possible, but there was barely any information out there. So I reached directly to as many former music specialists in order to get some good song leading tips.

This is how a big songleading session should ideally look like - everybody's up, dancing, singing and having a great time!

This is how a big songleading session ideally looked like at my camp – everybody’s up, dancing, singing and having a great time!

So during this past summer, I have led hundreds of different song sessions, both big song sessions – in front of the whole camp (about 200 kids) in an auditorium, and smaller song sessions in the classroom in front of 10-30 kids.

Using my experience and also other people’s tips and experiences, I have written this following article in order to make life easier for other song leaders in the future. These tips are of course also useful for anyone who’s working with music and big crowds of kids.

Each summer camp / school is different, but just so you’ll get an idea of what my job looked like for your perspective, My day was built from two different parts:

  • During the day I had a several 50 minutes sessions with the individual groups, each consists of between 10-30 kids. Camp has about 15 different groups in the ages of 5-12 years old. I met them in the music room where I have a lot of instruments and musical activities stuff.
  • At the end of each day, the whole camp (about 200 kids) would all get together in one big space along with their counselors (about 30 staff members aged 15-25) and my mission was to get them dancing, singing and having fun along to the different songs that I chose to play with my other counselor band members – a piano player and a cajon player. This was the “big song session” and the favorite part of camp for many kids.

 

This is how a "small song session" in the music class room looks like.

This is how a small song session in the music classroom looks like with one of the youngest group of kids. Here I demonstrate the marimba before they get to try it themselves.

12 Songleading Tips For Summer Camp Or For Music Teachers Of Big Classes

1. Choose Songs That Both The Kids And The Counselors Would Love!

If you’re strictly going to play “twinkle twinkle” kind of stuff all summer – the counselors would be just out. And honestly, the kids too. So try to find the songs that the counselors AND the kids would have a great time dancing and singing to.

Once you have the counselors engaged – the kids see this and they join as well, so half the job is done for you and the kids would be on their feet, dancing and having a good time, and you’ll get good support from the other teachers / peers / counselors.

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Some popular songs that we used to play to get the kids going are below.

Also, read my article for more details about the topic: Top 20 – The Best Songs For Kids That You Can Play On Guitar.

  • Outkast – Hey Ya
  • Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama
  • Bill Withers – Lean On Me
  • Bobby McFerrin – Don’t Worry Be Happy
  • Anna Kendrick – The Cups Song
  • Avicii – Wake Me Up
  • Smashmouth – Allstar
  • Van Morrisson – Brown Eyed Girl (kids love the “sha-la-la” part)
  • John Denver – Country Roads
  • Bob Marley Songs
  • All of the upbeat Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and other Top 40 Songs. Just make sure lyrics are appropriate and change them bit if they aren’t.
2. Make Other People The Stars!

Get other kids and counselors on stage with you. It can be either for singing, playing instruments or just dancing and having fun right next to you. Share the fun of being on stage! Some of those kids would never forget it since it will probably be their first time in front of such a big crowd, so you can be glad you get to give them that experience. The smiles on their faces will be HUGE.

3. Smile!

And besides smiling, always maintain an upbeat vibe and body language that will encourage kids to “join the party”. Create eye contact and enjoy! As a song leader, you are the leader and frontman of this event, so if people will see that you are genuinely having fun – the feeling will start to get at them too. (-:

4. Pay Close Attention To Feedback And Cues From The Kids

Kids are the most upfront and sincere human beings out there. If you are trying out a new song and they think it sucks – you will see that everybody will sit down and turn their attention away. On the other hand – when you’re good, they’ll be up on their feet, it will be a crazy party in the house, and their mom would come and thank you at the end of the week! So pay attention and give ’em what they love.

I do want to say though, that sometimes songs that weren’t big hits in the beginning, turned into ones later because we kept on pushing them. Trust your instincts – you’ll know it when it’s one of those and when it isn’t.

5. Always Keep Replenishing Your Songs Repertoire
It’s not simple to always keep learning new songs, and I did definitely spend a lot of time during my weekends and time at home working on new songs, but it’s totally worth it and the kids and counselors will greatly appreciate the fact that you don’t keep playing the same 8 songs over and over again. Imagine having just 8 songs on your iPod playlist, how boring would that be…?

 

Most of the time, any current top 40 hit (which is kids appropriate) can also a great idea since the kids will mostly know these songs.

 

Another important point is to try and really memorize the songs as much as you can – because singing to a crowd of 300 while your eyes are buried in a chord sheet stand in front of you isn’t the most charismatic way to lead a song session.
Time to work on your repertoire - read here about a cool method to learn more songs by heart!

Time to work on your repertoire! Click the promo to read about a method I came up with to learn more songs by heart and to always have songs ready up your sleeve!

6. Take Song Requests From Kids And From Counselors
This lets everybody feel involved. I kept saying to the whole camp that if someone has an idea for a song that he would like to hear us jam to in the big song session, he’s welcome to drop me a word, and indeed I received a lot of cool ideas this way.

 

Some of them made it to the song sessions and even became regulars on the repertoire, and some of them I had to politely decline because I did not think they would make for good camp songs – usually because the songs energies weren’t upbeat / catchy enough.
7. Encourage Other Counselors To Join The Band And Create A Full Sound On Stage
It is definitely more fun and engaging to watch a live band of 5 members than just one dude playing an acoustic guitar. So if you have talented musicians among the counselors, or even ones that can just strum chords on an acoustic guitar or ukelele (and there surely are a bunch of them out there!) get them on stage with you and show them that you are open to it. Everybody will greatly benefit from this cooperation.
Songleading Tips

Positive body language is a key part of your song leading.

8. Incorporate dance moves to the different songs! Create Collaborations With The Dance Teacher If There’s One In Your Camp / School
Dancing is a great way to get everyone to participate and not just watch the band play music. YouTube can give you great ideas for particular dances to different songs, and if the dance is fun – the kids would LOVE you to play that song time after time. You can also use the smaller classroom song sessions for teaching the dances.
In YouTube, type in the “name of the song + dance” and you’ll get some fun ideas.
9. “Which Group Can Sing The Loudest????” Be Dynamic In Finding Ways To Getting Kids To Participate
There will always be kids who wouldn’t like dancing and singing, but most of them love it and will happily do it if you can encourage them to join in. A big part of it first is to get their counselors to join. You can make it a contest between different groups of which group has the craziest dance moves for example. Try around with different incentive and see what works best!

 

If you are playing and all the kids are sitting down and are bored than song session isn’t really fun for anyone, so be dynamic and keep looking for strong ways in which you can get everyone up on their feet and dancing.
10. Be Generous With Your Shoutouts!
Shoutout often to the group who dances the most enthusiastically, or to the counselor who went CRAZY with this one song dance, or to the kid who sang the loudest, etc. Show appreciation and show that you are generous with your positive reinforcements, and the kids would be eager to get more of those!


After a song is done, give a positive reinforcement on the microphone. For example: “I want to give a holla for Sammy from class 7 who danced like a pro in all of our songs today!!!”… And you just got yourself a new fan, a kid which will keep dancing “like a pro”, and all of the other kids around him who will also want to recieve compliments from you like this one!
Occaoccasionally showing up with an unusual instrument like a ukulele can make a kid's day! It will probably also be the first time they see such a thing, so use the opportunity to spark their interest and tell them about it. I used to get the kids really excited about my 12 string guitar! They were looking forward for Fridays - the 12 string day.

Occaoccasionally showing up with an unusual instrument like a ukulele can make a kid’s day! It will probably also be the first time they see such a thing, so use the opportunity to spark their interest and tell them about it. I liked getting the kids really excited about my 12 string guitar! They were looking forward to Friday – “The 12 String Day”.

11. Use The Smaller Group Times To Prepare Performances For The Whole Camp
One of the favorite things that kids heard from me during their group time in the music classroom was something like “Hey kids, do you want to practice now in order to perform a dance to “Roar” today in front of the whole camp while the band plays for you in the background?” Usually they’ll all yell “Yeahhhhhhhh” right back at me and we would create a new dance to show off for the rest of the kids later!
Great times indeed… Kids are so funny!
12. Mash Up Songs Together, Keep Going And Don’t Let The Kids Cool Down!

The Katy Perry medleys were the kids favorite – Roar going into Fireworks just set the camp on fire time after time… Just make sure the two songs are on the same key or else your voice might fail very badly – it happened to me more than once and it wasn’t very pleasant to anyone in the crowd…

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That’s it. When you’ll see kids and counselors walking around after song session and humming the songs you just played, and parents will come and thank you and say they keep hearing about you – you know you’re doing a great job here in spreading the love of music!
You are more than welcome to share this article to anyone who works with music and kids.
Have a great time and I am available for questions by comments or by email.
Alon.
* All photos are by Natalie Cole.

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2 comments for “12 Quick Tips for Summer Camp Songleaders / Music Teachers of Big Classes

  1. Anna
    July 20, 2016 at 2:36 AM

    Thank you so much for making this!! I was looking for something like this and this helped me so much!

    • Alon
      July 20, 2016 at 11:34 PM

      I totally understand Anna, the lack of good resources on songleading was what drove me to write this post. Glad you enjoyed and have fun in camp!

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