Writing Songs for your Interpretive Program

“Can we sing that again?”… and, “I didn’t know you was going to flip mode like that now”… were some of the reactions I received just after finishing my symbiotic relationships rap song during my Nature’s Relationships: Everything’s Connected guided hike program.

In this blog post, I want to share my approach to writing a custom song designed for your interpretive program. For me, the process usually takes several days, and usually follows these few simple steps:


1. Print out as much research as possible on the topic:

I know it may be wasteful to print off lots of paper, and that in this day and age files can be stored electronically… however, in this situation you are going to want hard copies that you can write on, mark-up, highlight, and spread out on the floor in order to find the content, rhyming words and “themes” that will fit together to make your song. Once you have all your research marked up and you feel like you have a good understanding of the content:


2. Play a beat (i.e. song without lyrics), on repeat

I tend to write rap songs for my interpretive programs – even though I’m not even a huge fan of rap music – and therefore choose a hip-hop beat to write my lyrics to. I choose rap songs because: they’re easier to write (all you have to do is rhyme words on beat) than other genres of music; I can’t play a guitar and sing simultaneously (if I could, I’d write other types of songs too); and because kids (of all ages) like them.

Note: even though it may get old, it is important to use the same beat for the entire process. Using different beats will cause you to draft lines of varying length and rhyme timing, which will not be consistent across the entire song and become apparent when you sing them.

Need a beat? YouTube: “Beats for Rapping”… this will pull up a selection of beats for you to experiment with and choose from. Here’s one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4InqZVJoJD8


3. Begin drafting “sets” of lyrics

While the beat is playing, begin crafting “sets” of lyrics that you can later compile together and rearrange into a song. It would be nearly impossible to try to start with the first line of a song and write the entire song, line for line until it is finished. Instead, craft segments – 4 bars of content that make sense, are relevant to the program, and sound good together – that can be put together during the next stage to make the song.

For example… here are two “sets” of bars from my Symbiosis rap song:

“They search for the pines that are not that strong,

Cuz they are old or something else is wrong,

Like… overcrowding or root disease,

Fire, lightning, and other injuries”


“Once the tree has been infested,

Pheromones are sent out that are detected,

It’s a smell bark beetles can’t resist,

And thousands more come real, real quick”


4. Begin Organizing Content

The two sets of bars above were written independently of each other and, during the Organizing Content stage, later joined together with the phrase:

“These are the trees that get attacked,

Because they are too weak and can’t fight back”

Once you organize your sets of lyrics and they are compiled together into a song, it is time to:


5. Finalize your Song

In order to finalize your song, play the beat that you created the song with and begin singing the song over and over again… speeding up or slowing down, or adding or subtracting content in order to make your rhyming words land on beat. Once you’ve done that… do it again and again until the song is finalized.

Of course, the steps listed above are just a few of the steps involved in the process. Other steps might include: determining the theme of your entire program before writing the song, finding the right beat, creating a catchy chorus that participants to sing along with, singing the song for a friend or colleague, and of course practicing your song until you have it memorized.


Hopefully this blog post will inspire someone to write a song for their interpretive program… one that will have their participants saying, “Can we sing that again?”

If you have some helpful hints for song writing, share them with others by leaving a comment below:

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One thought on “Writing Songs for your Interpretive Program

  1. Justine Schaeffer

    This is really helpful advice on the process of song or poem writing. Your presentation of the song was also very enjoyable! It looked like you memorized the words, and used body motions to reinforce the content. Nothing like using an appropriate/relevant medium to get across your message. Thanks!

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