Second in an occasional series on trying to establish what makes a great song for language teaching, this is an oldie but goldie as they say.
It's taken from my all-time favourite collection of French language songs, Chanterelles originally published by Mary Glasgow.
The song is entitled "Pas de Problème" and relates the central character's belief that whatever he/she might not have (Je n'ai pas de ....) as long as they have music and the ability to play their guitar, then 'no worries', 'pas de problème'.
Here it is in mp3
Here is a video of a powerpoint used to teach it
The tune is well-crafted. It is easily memorable, it has a variety of pitch and as the pitch gets higher it emphasises the lyrics. It has a repetitive pattern that is easy to learn without being boring. It changes at the end to emphasise the central message of the lyrics, contrasting not having things v. having music to be happy. The tune shift is necessary to support that contrast.
Next, the musicianship. The guitar playing and singing are both very good and the chord patterns and picking add interest.
Next, another key element of a good song, the lyrics need to tell i) a short story ii) if possible have a central 'character' or characters at the heart of them.
I caught the end of a guilty pleasure of mine last night, the musical film Mama Mia. When I tuned in, Meryl Streep was just starting to sing, Abba's "The Winner Takes it All".
I was instantly struck by how great this song is. Within 4 short lines you are given the story and the characters involved, pulled in by a great tune and left wanting to hear the story as well as the rest of the tune.
I don't wanna talk
About the things we've gone through
Though it's hurting me
Now it's history
Notice too how the change in pitch in the tune is the perfect vehicle to convey the emotional content of the lyrics. A fairly narrow pitch range on these first 4 lines emphasise the 'conversational' style and the fact that the lyrics are stating 'I don't want to talk' , implied: "because if I do I am going to get emotional and lose it". The narrow pitch matches her desire to keep her emotions at bay.
Of course she is unsuccessful and as soon as she lets her emotions rip in the chorus, "The winner takes it all.." the pitch range has shot up.
Now, of course I'm not suggesting that only songs of this stature are suitable for language learning, just that if you want to understand what makes a song 'stick' in someone's head, learn from some of the masters.
Back to 'Pas de Problème'!
The other feature of a great song for language learning with kids is that it usually lends itself to using some actions to illustrate the lyrics.
This song is action rich. I have done it with my own made up actions for every line. This section really needs a video to demo them but I will try and share them
Je n'ai pas de yacht (hand moves horizontally across your body going up and down with the waves)
Je n'ai pas de moto (Squat down on the motorbike holding the handle bars, revving the engine by turning the throttle handle)
Je n'ai pas de voiture (turning the steering wheel)
Je n'ai pas de vélo (peddling)
Je n'ai pas de patins à roulettes (slide feet alternately to right, to left, to right as if skating)
Car je n'ai pas d'argent (mimic pulling trouser pockets out to show they are empty)
Je n'ai même pas de veste (take jacket off shoulders)
Et je n'ai pas de chance (both thumbs down)
Je n'ai pas d'ordinateur (typing on a keyboard)
Je n'ai pas de walkman (hands to ears and swaying from side to side)
Je n'ai pas de montre (point to / tap on wrist)
Je n'ai pas de banane (peel banana and quickly scratch under armpits like a monkey and make a monkey noise!)
Je n'ai pas de cassette (as you say cassette, both forefingers outstretched and making fast circular motion in opposite directions to mimic a cassette tape re-winding)
Je n'ai pas de disque (mimic a DJ, one hand held to ear, the other winding and re-winding the record in the deck)
Je n'ai pas de magnétoscope (on the 'gneto' of magnetoscope, imagine you are holding a remote control steech out in front of you towards a TV and press the button to record/play)
et je n'ai pas de chips (pull out crisps and eat from imaginary crisp packet)
For the last verse the children are primed to have all of those class objects on their desk and have to hold them up as each one is mentioned. Much hilarity ensues ...
Ecoutez (hand to ear) c'est ma guitare (strum guitar) Je n'ai pas de problème (shrug shoulders, hands outstretched, open palms facing upwards)
The last element of a good song for a language teacher is that it should teach the pupils some vocab/structure that they can take away and use instantly. In this respect apart from the obvious "J'ai / je n'ai pas de " pattern, I also like the title as the statement "Pas de problème" is a commonly heard idiom that you could easily relate to similar ones: "De rien : (Il n'y a) pas de quoi : C'est pas grave" etc. etc.
Finally, part of this last element of a good song is that it is a springboard to some creative use of the language practised.
With this one, as some of the items are no longer current, video player, record, walkman, pupils can be encouraged to come up with their own alternative verses using the central idea of "I don't have this, this and this but at least I have ...."
What do you think? Any other examples in any language that you would like to feature here? Why don't you choose the song, send me any weblinks and your comments as to why you think they it is good, and I will post it here.
Send anything to souffler(dot)uk(at)gmail(dot)com