Creating Children's Music Videos

This article is all about how to create a music video featuring children as the main stars (most likely, those in your class).

What do I mean by that? Basically, I take a popular song and get children to mime/act to it while I film them. That is the simple explanation, but in essence, that process is what I hope to describe to you in this article.

I am a full-time primary school teacher so that will heavily influence the approach that I take, but I am sure that anyone (parents, family, friends) could do something similar and for the same kinds of reasons.

Importantly, though, I’m always hoping to improve so if you can think of something I have missed out or an area that can be explained better, I would love to hear from you!

Why have I written this?

I have been teaching for almost 8 years now and thankfully, at the end of each year, I have created a music video with the class I taught.

As you might expect, my earliest ones were a little ropey. The video camera was poor quality, some of the lighting and lip-syncing would make a 70s dubbed movie look great and they really lacked the polish and imagination that I was able to achieve later. Each time, however, I tried to improve and my hope is that through my mistakes and learning, I can help you begin on a much better footing.

I do have an ICT background but anyone with a basic understanding of computers can achieve this. The principles involved are quite straight forward and to be honest, much of the work is in the preparation.

Why do it?

There are lots of reasons why I think all teachers should seriously consider making a video (specifically in this case, a music video) for the children in their class.

Firstly, and most importantly, whilst it is a great deal of work, it is also a lot of fun. Almost without exception, all the children I have worked with have been incredibly enthusiastic about the project (if not before, then certainly afterwards!).

There are also many subject based links that can be made as a consequence of this. For example in ICT there is the use of recording equipment, editing and video cameras. There are art/design opportunities when producing DVD covers/labels etc. and literacy will of course touch upon drama, speaking and listening plus reading (the lyrics). Did I mention music? Naturally, the children will learn the song even if they don’t sing it for real, creating all sorts of musical connections.

Lastly, and for me, vitally: it is one of the best mementos you can give the children at the end of their year with you. Parents have often said to me what a wonderful keepsake it is and how valuable a reminder of their teacher and classmates it will be. But for me personally, it signifies the encapsulation of one whole year of growth and progress, stored in a film. I still watch my old videos, share them with my new classes and reminisce about some of the more interesting pupils I have taught. I am sure you will, too.

Where do I begin?

I am going to break the process I take to produce a video into distinct steps. These might not be the best way to do it and they may not even work for you and your circumstances, but thus far, they’ve met my needs. Please adapt these as you see fit - I won’t mind!

1. Choosing the song

This is THE most important thing to get right and it is not as easy as you might imagine.

Firstly, you need to make sure that there aren’t any unsuitable lyrics. You would be surprised at how many songs do use the odd word or phrase that you’d rather Granny didn’t hear when she gets to see the video. This is quite easy to do - just Google the song title and the word lyrics.

It is also worth checking out the music video that goes with it, which you can often do on YouTube. The children will most likely have seen it and if there are any wild gesticulations, you run the risk of them popping up in your own one.

Next, if there is one, is the official video connected with anything that might be deemed unsuitable? As an example, I currently love the song Hit or Miss by Odetta that features in the current Southern Comfort advert. I desperately wanted to use it in my video but is the alcoholic link too obvious? Does it matter? You know the children in your class (and their parents) so are best suited to judge.

Then, will the children like it? If they don’t, will they be as enthused about it as they could? I often get a selection of songs, play them at school, and ask the children outright which one they like most.

Do you like the song? Trust me - you are going to be playing this a lot, so make sure it is something you enjoy listening to. Ask the children and I bet they would suggest Gangam Style by Psy. But would you!?

Can you get the song? Whilst there are a multitude of ways to obtain music nowadays, it would set a good example to ensure you own the song, legally. This is a grey area but ideally, you want to have the song as a WAV file (this is an uncompressed version, much like an audio CD uses). MP3 (or things like it) are fine for playing, but a WAV (or WAVE) file will work better when you come to putting the video together. This ought to be able to be obtained by setting the options in the software you use to extract (rip) the audio from your music CD (I suggest something like Windows Media Player, which is widely available). If you downloaded the song, a free program like Audacity can convert it to a WAV for you, easily.

Lastly, do the lyrics lend themselves to being acted out? An example of a bad choice of song would be Saturday Night by Whigfield. What on earth could you do with those lyrics?!

Songs I have used include: Kung Fu Fighting (Carl Douglas), Crazy (Gnarls Barclay), Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head (BJ Thomas – probably not the best choice for secondary school), Lay Me Down (a local band), We Are The People (Empire of the Sun) and Valerie (Amy Winehouse).

2. Get the Lyrics

I mentioned examining these before, but make sure you save them in a text document. This is easily done by just copying and pasting the text from the website you Googled above. Why do this?

  • You will want to display them on the board for the children to read and,
  • You will be annotating them with your own notes.

As many have experienced, things found on the internet can vary in quality, so it is really important to play through the song and make sure the lyrics sung match what you have. There are also different versions of songs so it’s not necessarily the case that someone hasn’t scribed them properly.

3. Start playing the song

With the lyrics on the board for the children to see, now is the time to get that song into their musical bones. The more you play it, the more they will get to learn the words and can act out the singing of it properly, later.

4. Annotating the lyrics

The next thing to do is to listen really carefully to the song as you read through the lyrics. All the sung words are there, but what you are listening for now are sections of instrumental music, talking, or anything else of note not reflected on the printed page. When you find them, note them down in their correct places, as I have done below.

With this in place, you need to begin to think about how you can depict what you have in front of you in a visual way. It is difficult to be precise here, but what I tend to do is have one person miming the whole song and within that, interleave other forms of action or imagery. I suppose if you were to think of it pictorially, it’s almost like there is a grand oak tree with ivy winding its way around the trunk to the top. The tree for me is the main singer and the ivy all the other things I add in to make the video more interesting.

I have annotated my song as an example, below, but as an extra guide, here are some of the things I like to do:

Dancing: this fits anywhere and is a good filler for when the lyrics don’t lend themselves to anything more interesting.

Musical sections: by this, I mean drums or trumpets etc. playing. In these cases, I might get a child to pretend to play that instrument.

Words that I can swap for pictures: In one of my videos, there was a line which incorporated the phrase “…one thing I know…”. For this, I used the number 1, then a picture of the Thing (one of the Fantastic Four superheroes), a big picture of an eye and then the word “no”. Each appeared on screen at exactly the same moment the word was sung. Easy, but it looks effective.

Words into actions: In Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, I actually used a watering can and filmed water falling towards the child. I used an umbrella (of course!) but so far as you could see, there was all this rain dropping around the child which added a good effect.

Using the musical sounds for actions: In the song, Crazy, there is this part at the beginning where it sounds like three or four thuds. I started the video with a child walking up to the door of the cupboard and as these thuds played, he hit the door with his fist. The main singer then appeared from the cupboard and the video began. Could you do something like that with your song?

5. Choosing Parts

Another one of those crucial choices!

For the main singer, I obviously like to have someone who is very confident and not afraid to do things on their own. They are usually the children that are full of beans, have lots to contribute in lessons and aren’t in anyway shy.

Children playing instruments are sometimes better allocated to those that aren’t as self-assured. The quieter ones, in effect.

Dancers are often children that want to be involved, don’t mind getting up in front of others, but might like the reassurance of someone with them.

It is tricky, to be honest, and very much depends on your knowledge of the children.

Much like a nativity play, or some other kind of presentation, I often try children out in parts, being careful to state that they might not do that in the final piece. They key is to film lots and see how things develop.

Add each child’s name against your annotated lyrics so you know who is doing what, when.

6. Filming

With your lyrics all chopped up into parts, now is the time to film it.

The equipment I use is a Flip video camera. Sadly, these aren’t made anymore, but there are alternatives. For example, you could use your phone in video mode (watch out for your school policies on that, though), or your digital still camera. Both often have video capabilities. Make sure you are able to use the produced video, though, before you film too much. The results can be stored in many different ways and not all video editing software (more on this later) can accommodate it.

When choosing what to film first, the order isn’t really important because you will find that in many cases, this is an iterative approach. Some of your ideas will work, some not. Some sections won’t be long enough in terms of time, or that great idea you had just doesn’t look so good at 8am the next morning. It doesn’t matter nearly as much as having lots of material with which to work with, so film, film, FILM!

Remember, too, not to worry about any noise or background disturbances that occur when filming because you will mute everything in the final video. This can be quite hard to ignore because it really will feel like it is ruining things, but it will be OK.

When filming instrumental segments, make sure you take full advantage of that musical cupboard at school (or things you have lying around if you are doing this at home) for props. Don’t have any drums? Why not turn bins upside down? Flutes can be pencils, violins can be make-believe ones (just exaggerate the arm moving the bow) and microphones can be bananas! It will all add to the charm.

One other tip is to keep an eye out for the edges of where you film - the side sections, the floor, things behind the main subjects. All too often, I have seen children that aren’t in that segment, sitting around, looking disinterested (they’re not doing anything, so why pay attention?) or less tidy areas of my class, which spoil the top-class setting I hope to achieve!

Lastly, name the files that you save to with meaningful names. Trust me when I say that hunting for so-and-so playing the trumpet is a pain when all the files are named video1…video2…etc.

7. Putting it together

This part very much depends on what software you use to string all the music, sound and video together.

In my case, I purchased a copy of PowerDirector but I also used to use a free piece of software called Windows Movie Maker.

There are many other current free alternatives though. I can’t recommend any so just download them and give them a go.

In layman’s terms, the first thing I do is to import the music as a WAV file - remember I mentioned that above? I have found that when you use something like MP3 (which is a compressed/squashed format) it can make it really hard to get the children’s miming to synchronise properly.

Then, referring to my annotated lyrics, I start to import the various videos, one at a time.

When they first get imported, I play them to see whether there is anything at the start that I don’t need. If so, I crop it out (there is a feature for this in PowerDirector).

When I am happy with how it starts, I then play it through and make sure there isn’t anything on the end that I don’t need, cropping as appropriate. Lastly, I mute the clip because I don’t want any of the sound from it to come into the video.

This repeats for any filmed footage or images that I use, until I get to the end of the song. Make sure you keep playing and listening to what you have done, much like you might do when writing something.

8. Adding Titles and Credits

Don’t forget to put something on the front of the video to introduce it. This can be something as simple as a title (the song), the class and year.

Credits are a lot of fun because you have so much freedom to do interesting things.

My first video was just a list of (first) names which is OK but won’t win an Oscar. Now, I like to have something more personal so for my last one, I filmed each child for a few seconds whilst they pulled a face, waved or did some other action. Underneath, I added their first name.

For my latest one, I will did something similar but I filmed say 30 seconds of them looking around (up, down, left, right) and pulling facial expressions. Then, I created a kind of montage so that they were (mostly) all on screen at once in a grid and it appeared as if they were looking at one another. To this, I added some music from Benny Hill and voila - an amusing ending. I am sure you can come up with other (more interesting) ideas.

9. Extras

You are obviously not limited to the above. On my last video, for example, I did a director’s commentary, talking through all of the things that happened. You could also add out-takes, which would be fun.

10. Creating the DVD

Almost at the end!

PowerDirector is able to create DVDs for me, including menus and other paraphernalia. If you can’t do this, you could simply create a video file and then just copy that onto a blank DVD or CDR. It would still make it accessible and be a lot simpler.

Another nice touch I now do is to create a printed label which I stick on the DVD. Again, it just adds to the finished product and makes it look a little more professional.

11. Tips

Here are some final tips that might make the process smoother for you and weren’t mentioned elsewhere.

  1. Buy the DVDs early and in bulk. Amazon is a good place. I use DVD-Rs since they seem most likely to play in other people’s DVD players.
  2. Create some spares. Children lose them and some might not work.
  3. Leave plenty of time to burn the DVDs. It is a time-consuming process! The software I used let’s me choose how many I want to burn (create) but still, it takes a while.
  4. Make sure you have included all children in the video - with a class of 30, some of whom might be away the day you do it, it is easy to miss some. I have a list of their names and tick them off as I film.
  5. When children are miming parts of the song and you are filming, have them face the whiteboard so that they can read the lyrics.
  6. When filming, pretend to film a first shot and then do it for real a second time.
  7. It can take a couple of days to film because you will (if you are a primary school teacher) need to slot sessions in between other lessons. Playtimes and lunchtimes are clear options but you may also have to squeeze a lesson down to make room for this.
  8. It takes me a few hours to create the main video, assuming I have all the parts to hand. It may therefore take you a little longer depending on the length of your song, the number of film snippets and your experience. Factor that in.
  9. If you are working with a class, try to have something for the ones not being filmed to do. The last thing you need is a bored-mutiny!
  10. Lastly, laugh. This is meant to be fun remember!

I hope you have found this useful. Please leave a comment if you have time.

Hi! Did you find this useful or interesting? I have an email list coming soon, but in the meantime, if you ready anything you fancy chatting about, I would love to hear from you. You can contact me here or at stephen ‘at’