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Dearing music program helps students record their own songs

Jim McGaw works a little bit extra each day. But that doesn't bother him; after all it was his idea.


Music teacher Jim McGaw and students perform during a recent Board of Education meeting.
Mr. McGaw, the music teacher at Dearing Elementary School, created a program seven years ago in which students can write song lyrics in language arts class and then put the words to music. He then records the songs and provides the students with CDs of them singing their own song.

He got the idea to start the Discovery Composition Program because of the creativity of his students. He thought they would appreciate having their work recorded like professionals.

"Some of these kids I hear on the playground are singing these little ditties that they make up," Mr. McGaw said. "Every once in a while a kid will come up to you and say 'Mr. McGaw, I made up a song, and it goes like this.' And it would be a nice little tune.

"I got to thinking, I'd like to do what I do with some of my stuff with some of these kids' tunes, and I'm sure that they would appreciate it. And they did."

Once students have lyrics ready, they sign up to work with Mr. McGaw during bus loading time. During the first session, the students come up with a melody for the song and Mr. McGaw helps them find the chord structure for the music.

In later sessions, they enter the chords into a computer program called Band in a Box. The program can create music of any style that students think will best fit their song. Students may then figure out an instrumental lead if they want.

After the music is ready, Mr. McGaw records the students' lyrics with the music and burns it to CD. Each student that participates and completes the project will have a CD recording of their own song to take home.

"A kid putting their own song together and then having it sound like what they're hearing in the market; it's pretty important to them," Mr. McGaw said.

The process is a slow one that takes around five or six sessions, according to Mr. McGaw. But he thinks the lessons his students learn about music and the recording industry are invaluable.

Mr. McGaw is currently creating ways to help the program continue once he is no longer involved. He has a chord chart that students can use to figure out the tune to their song.

"What I'm really trying to do is factor me out of this because I'm an influencing factor, and I would rather not be that," he said. "I would rather have them ultimately doing all of the composition rather than making suggestions here and there about what kind of choices they can make."

Web posted on Thursday, January 29, 2004

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