Sensational Suggestions for Successful Song Sessions
By ISJL Education Fellow Margo Wagner
Many people may think that creating a shirah, or song session, is as simple as slapping a few random Jewish songs together and calling it a day. However, curating a successful shirah starts with proper preparation. This article offers tips to advance good song sessions into incredible song sessions.
Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
There are many questions to consider when planning a song session:
How to Conquer Some of these Important Questions
Which age groups will participate in the shirah?
When working with younger ages, teachers can jump right into teaching a song or using Hebrew. Students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade are very receptive, curious, and are not self-conscious about how they act around other people or timid about using Hebrew. Older students, however, may need song leaders to present something first before feeling comfortable to add their own voices. When we teach a new song to these more reserved crowds and all-school groups, we should sing through the whole thing first, so the students can appreciate it, then break the piece into approachable sections.
What time of day is the song session? What activities directly precede and follow the shirah period?
The timing of a song session matters greatly as it affects students’ focus. Acknowledging that participants may arrive to shirah after sitting in class or following physical activity is helpful when creating the mood of the song session. In addition, knowing that students will transition into a calm or exciting program after the song session helps song leaders shape the order of the songs and how to conclude the session.
As we choose songs to teach or sing, new music is always invigorating, but do not overload the participants with too many unfamiliar things, which may become overwhelming. Recognizable tunes are great to make participants feel comfortable and more able to sing with the leader. If shirah listeners struggle to follow along, a song sheet or projection of lyrics can also help tremendously. Many get anxious when asked to sing in a public setting, so we want to ensure that participants are as relaxed as possible. Having lyrics for nervous audiences may assuage some of their fears or stresses about joining in shirah.
No Guitar Needed!
Contrary to what many people believe, guitar or other instruments are not necessary to lead a great song session! A meaningful shirah simply requires voice, enthusiasm, and confidence. Many of us subscribe to the saying “fake it until you make it”, but perhaps this mantra should read “fake it until you become it!” Having confidence in what each of us can offer is key for a successful song session (even if we fake the confidence at first).
If a song leader does have competent guitar skills, then by all means the musician can use it! Guitar playing is definitely an asset to synagogue melodies. However, keep in mind that a guitar can act as a barrier between the leader and the participants. Looking down at our hands or the chords the whole time diminishes the participant-to-leader connection and disrupts the flow or value of the shirah.
“Spice Up Your Life”!
Hav’dalah is one ritual we can spice up with a spiritual song session. Enjoying a song session before hav’dalah can set the mood for the evening and highlight themes for the ceremony. Here is a selection of songs that would be great during a hav’dalah ceremony.
Try these different tips and techniques for an engaging, fulfilling, and successful shirah!