Skip instrument “lessons” and get participants to play in bands from day #1
Give your participants the ultimate musical experience by getting them to play their favorite songs in a band on the very first day. Youth participants are empowered by choosing their instrument, song, bandmates and stage name. Your role is to simplify the chord progressions or drum beats (ie. root notes) and get the band to play along with the recording while performing on stage. Instead of weekly “lessons,” participants attend a regular band rehearsal with the goal of performing at a showcase performance each month. Help participants feel like a “star” in front of their peers while motivating them to improve on their skills.
Before participants arrive
Prepare an approved Song List on a white board (ie. popular songs for participants to choose from)
Limited song options from a common playlist gives participants a sense “guided choice”
Allows the staff to prepare learning materials for a realistic amount of songs, including, tempo/key signature, progression shorthand (ie. Nashville # system), and song form
Add individual progressions for Verse, Chorus, Pre-Chorus, Bridge, etc.
Print lyric sheets (if needed)
Create a playlist on Spotify or Apple Music for quick access
Tape and label instruments
Use white Gaffers tape to label frets with chord function. Move tape for each songParticipants play root notes using one finger on one string
Label keys with chord function using tape or dry erase markersParticipants play root notes using one finger
Healthy competition that encourages collaboration, talent, and self-esteem
It’s impossible to please all of your participants with song choice, especially when they’re at different skill levels and have different musical tastes. So, how do you keep everyone engaged? A Cover Song Challenge is a great way to increase participants’ motivation, give them a sense of choice/independence, and recognize their efforts. Active participants, beginners, and members who wouldn’t usually get involved all have the opportunity to try new things, collaborate, and showcase their skills.
Participants will experience…
Motivation – performers get out of their comfort zone, sing in a band/group, perform in front of others, and improve their skills
Choice/independence – allows singers, instrumentalists, and staff a common playlist of popular song options (that they can choose from) to learn and play together
Recognition – singers learn about finding their unique voice and talents as an artists and are recognized and mentored through the competition
Plan a Master Schedule for the semester for the Cover Song Challenge
For example, the typical after-school music program runs 8-12 weeks during the Fall and Spring, and 8-10 weeks during the Summer.
Plan an entire semester’s worth of weekly “Cover Song Challenge” themes. Try to create categories that can be achievable at any skill level (beginner – advanced). See “Sample Cover Song Challenge themes” below:
Create a “Cover Song Challenge” approved Song List
Choose a diverse set of popular songs with participants’ musical tastes in mind. Also be mindful of the level of difficulty and have song materials ready and adapted for various skill levels.
FYI: By limiting song options from a common playlist, you give participants a sense “guided choice.” They are in control of what song they choose (even if it’s from a list of popular and current songs that most participants will like). This also allows the staff to focus on and prepare learning materials (i.e. tablature, sheet music, song form, lyric sheets, and lesson materials) for a realistic amount of songs.
Each week, post a new cover song challenge in a prominent location (like on a bulletin board, etc.)
Participants work with staff and their peers to prepare their cover song, including:
Selecting a song from the approved Song List
Learning, practicing, and rehearsing individually or with a group
Receiving feedback from vocal instructors/staff
Setting up a recording session or performance (for their submission)
Submitting their Cover Song Challenge
By end-of-day Thursday, participants must submit their cover song
Encourage participants to submit their entries using:
Cell phone audio or video
iPad audio or video
A multi-tracked session in the studio
On Friday, as a group, listen to each cover song and choose a winner for the week
Help participants channel their inner Milli Vanilli while learning stage presence
A Lip Sync Battle is a fun and silly “performance” that gets participants to know each other and conquer their stage fright. Vocal performers lip sync on stage in front of their peers while instrumentalist “air” play (guitar, bass, drums, keys, etc). This helps eliminate the need for knowing how to play while allowing inexperienced performance start to think about stage presence and getting comfortable in front of a crowd.
Go beyond “check one, two!” Tips that help participants feel comfortable and sound their best
Many young musicians have never performed on stage in front of others and the experience can be overwhelming. Give you participants opportunities to discuss and practice seven tips to have an effective soundcheck. Topics include helping your participants understand the importance of being friendly, on time, prepared, aware, assertive, realistic, and respectful.
Before a performance, schedule a soundcheck rehearsal to discuss and practice the seven tips below. Use your personal performance experience to discuss why these proper etiquette during a soundcheck is important and how it will ultimately benefit their performance and sound. After the discussion, run practice soundchecks to help participants understand what makes an effective soundcheck. Help reduce stress and make the process fun until everyone is comfortable with their sound.
Seven Tips for an Effective Soundcheck:
Be friendly: No egos. Everyone is learning, trying their best, and wants you to sound your best.
Be on time: Whether you’re part of a band or solo act, there may be others waiting for you to check.
Be prepared: Do you have all your gear? Are you in tune? Are you mentally prepared?
Be aware: Watch the front of house sound engineer for any instructions or questions.
Be assertive: Can hear yourself and others? Having other issues? Speak up (in a nice way).
Be realistic: Don’t be shy! Perform like it’s the show – this helps engineer get accurate level settings.
Be respectful: Don’t distract others while they are sound checking by talking or playing an instrument.
Specific soundcheck tips for the band:
Want to sound your best? Sing an actual song (don’t just repeat, “check 1, 2…”)
Sing close to the mic (the sound engineer will turn your volume up or down when needed)
Please DON’T tap the mic!
Pointing the mic at monitors or speakers will cause feedback
Set your stage level volume on your amp/instrument so that you can hear yourself
Please don’t adjust knobs or levels when you’re done checking (unless asked)
Sound engineers will make you louder/softer for the audience as needed
Create a performance that participants will remember for the rest of their lives!
Many participants in your music program probably won’t become professional musicians but why not give them a chance to feel like one while performing on stage?! Creating a Signature Event helps participants look forward to participating in an annual performance and gives them a goal to work towards while building their self-confidence and self-esteem. Whether its an Album Release Party, Awards Night, Talent Show, or Vocal Competition, help your participants dream big as they perform for their adoring fans!
Create a Signature Event that involves your participants in something bigger than they ever thought possible. Here are some general tips for creating a memorable Signature Event:
Book a professional concert venue (e.g. House of Blues, Hard Rock or local college auditorium)
Rent a red carpet, staging, sound system and lighting
Secure corporate sponsors and special guest performers
Document the special occasion by hiring professional photographers and videographers
Create awards and custom swag (e.g. t-shirts, posters, etc)
Create a buzz promoting your event in the press and community
Invite other program departments to help – for example:
Invite the Dance Team to choreograph a dance routine and perform on stage
Have Visual Arts participants design a flyer or custom T-Shirts
Have Teen Center pass out invitations or help with setup/teardown of equipment
Plan for EVERYONE in your Youth Development Organization to attend
Shutdown all other program areas – rent buses so all youth members at your organization can attend
Staff help chaperone participants in the audience
Administrative staff and board members should also attend
Parents and family members
Pick a family friendly day/time
Make sure the venue has parking or public transportation
Donors, sponsors, foundations and program partners
Highlight how their contributions and support made the night possible
Prepare! In addition to the logistics discussed above, be sure to:
Work with organizational staff to make sure you choose a date/time free of other program or event conflicts.
Develop a rehearsal schedule so participants are confident on stage
Forget recitals… create youth-led performances that they look forward to!
A culminating performance has always been the perfect way to build self-confidence and self-esteem in a young musician. Hosting an Open Mic Night promotes a supportive environment (regardless of skill levels) that is reflects your teen’s diverse styles and musical tastes. They can also be collaborative (featuring bands and groups instead of solo acts, like in a recital) and can be youth-led, empowering participants to take on more leadership opportunities.
Open Mic Nights become the primary performance opportunity for all participants.
Create a regular schedule (e.g. 1st Thursday of the month). Participants stay motivated and grow musically when given a goal to work towards
Use your weekly programming, workshops or lessons to help participants prepare
Participants should choose songs they would like to learn and perform
Encourage participants to learn songs with the goal of performing at next Open Mic (don’t linger on songs too long… participants will get bored)
Help participants collaborate and perform the song in a band
Create a band on their own with their friends
If a participant doesn’t have friends ready to play, mentors can use youth leaders or other talented musicians to form a band around them
Individual/solo acts or other studio collaborations are also encouraged to perform
Performances can include: Acoustic acts, Vocalists or rappers performing to a track (originals or covers), Showcase original music productions or Music Videos
Youth-led event – There are other ways participants can be involved (not just performing on stage). Work with participants to:
Design flyers and Marketing plans
Setup Equipment and lighting and run the sound board
Be the Host or emcee
Promote and support the performers
Transform the vibe of your music room into a concert venue
If possible, set up a stage with stage lights
Encourage dancing, cheering and an overall supportive environment
Invite everyone in the building (e.g. Teen Center participants and staff) and friends/parents
Promote a supportive environment
“We are all still learning” attitude
Audience cheers for everyone despite skill level (discourage booing)
Ask audience to encourage/cheer when nerves are high
Don’t pressure a participant who is not feeling ready to perform
Optional: Set a Theme for each Open Mic – ie. “Genre of the Month:
Genre-specific events that promote learning about different styles of music including Hip Hop Showcase, DJ Showcase, Cover Song Showcase, Decades (e.g. 70s night, 80s night, etc.)