Tales of a 4th Grade Cut-Up

Kids Creating Music

This is the story of how 12 fourth-graders with a smart, creative teacher wrote and recorded a catchy pop anthem about danger, pandas, Olaf the snowman, and electrical engineers…all in less than an hour.

rough mix Dangerous PandaLast April my daughter’s 4th Grade teacher, Miss Armstrong, invited me to teach a songwriting workshop to her class at St. George’s Episcopal School in New Orleans.

We explored Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow and how making music and art gets us into the flow state. I introduced the students to the idea of cut-ups – a technique used by the Dadaists, Beats, and more recently by David Bowie and by Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

And we embraced limitations as a creative virtue. The limits we worked under included:

  1. We will write and record a song in one class period.
  2. Lyrics should relate to one of theĀ four student-voted themes.
  3. Everyone who volunteers to sing gets included in the song.
  4. Create a rough mix the students could listen to by the end of the school day.
  5. Use only the sounds recorded and played in the classroom to produce the final version of the song.

Dangerous Panda!

As mentioned in the podcast, we did go off the reservation a bit regarding the chosen themes. I asked for ideas and my daughter wrote a list of about 10 potential themes on the chalkboard. The class then voted for four of them: danger, pandas, Miss Armstrong, and Olaf. As you’ll hear, several other themes found their way into the song.

4th Grade songwriters

The creative minds and voices behind Dangerous Panda.

But hey – the beauty of a creative philosophy doesn’t lie in how rigorously you can adhere to it. The beauty of embracing limits is that it forces you to focus so you can get things done. And then you can share your creative genius with the world!

Listen to the podcast: