Top 10 Indie and Alternative Pop/Rock Songs for Children

 by Sammi Graham, MT-BC

I love Raffi and Laurie Berkner as much as the next music therapist, but our tried and true songs can get stale after a while.

So, if you’re looking to refresh your repertoire of children’s music, here is a list of 10 Indie and Alternative Pop/Rock songs that are *almost* as cute and quirky as Zooey Deschanel:

Keep reading through the end of this post for a free download of the chord charts for each of these songs!

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10. “So Long” by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward

Speaking of Zooey Deschanel… she and M. Ward (otherwise known as She & Him) wrote a handful of songs for the 2011 animated Winnie The Pooh movie. This sweet and funny song about goodbyes could replace your typical “goodbye” song if you’re looking to change things up.

9. “Kick Drum Heart” by The Avett Brothers 

This is an all around fun song that I think little ones with thoroughly enjoy. Several consonant sounds are repeated consecutively throughout, which makes this a great song for addressing speech production and articulation. Also, as the title suggests, there’s lots of percussion in this song which makes it easily adaptable to address motor and/or cognitive skills through for movement and instrument play.

8. “All Is Love” by Karen O and The Kids

Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs wrote several original songs for the 2009 movie adaptation of the beloved children’s book, Where The Wild Things Are. A fun children’s chorus and silly lyrics like “grow some big feet” make this song charming. The song’s simple, repetitive melody could easily be piggybacked on or parodied to address academic skills like counting and spelling. I also think that little ones would enjoy some monster-themed movement activities to this song.

7. “5 Years Time” by Noah and The Whale

You’ve probably had this adorable ear-worm of a song stuck in your head at some point. Aside from the 2nd verse and chorus (which talk about drinking and smoking), the lyric content in this song is wholesome and appropriate for use with children. Potential therapeutic uses for this song include addressing cognitive skills like rhyming, counting, and reading comprehension.

6. “Island In The Sun” by Weezer

Who doesn’t love this song? I recommend this one because it sounds excellent on ukulele (my instrument of choice when working with little ones) and its repetitive chord progression makes it easy to memorize. This song also has wholesome lyric content and can be used to address cognitive skills like rhyming and reading comprehension.

5. “She Don’t Use Jelly” by The Flaming Lips

This is an excellent song for addressing cognitive and communication skills like rhyming and reading comprehension, and the ridiculous lyrics make it engaging for children. Another potential application would be to have clients re-write their own silly version of this song to address communication skills.

4. “1234” by Feist

The Canadian indie-pop singer Feist performed a re-written version of this catchy song on Sesame Street. This song could be used to address a plethora of cognitive skills like counting (obviously), rhyming, and short-term memory. The “1, 2, 3, 4” line is repeated several times and can easily be re-written to working on counting past the number 4.

3. “Upside Down” by Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson and Friends wrote several songs for the 2006 Curious George movie, and this one is probably the most memorable. This song has a lovely, optimistic message that includes lyrics like: “Who’s to say what’s impossible?” Or “Who’s to say I can’t to do anything? Well, I can try.”. This song could be used to facilitate instrument play or movement activities (to address cognitive or motor goals). The lyric content in this song could also be reassuring for children struggling with new or difficult tasks.

2. “We’re Going To Be Friends” by The White Stripes

You may remember this endearing song from opening title of Napoleon Dynamite. The memorable melody and lyrics in this song tell a sweet story which can be used to address cognitive skills like rhyming, reading comprehension, and story sequencing. Communication skills can also be addressed by facilitating a song re-write about their own friends and personal preferences.  A beautifully illustrated book set to the lyrics of this song can be purchased on Amazon if you have a child who loves to read. The version linked above is to an ASL music video from the Deaf Professional Arts Network.

1. “Best Day Of My Life” by American Authors

This fun and upbeat song made it to the #1 spot for several reasons: Not only can this song be used to address some of the aforementioned cognitive skills like reading comprehension and story sequencing, it is excellent for stimulating vocalizations or even for articulating specific vowel sounds due to the recurrent echoes throughout. This song’s overwhelmingly positive message (another plus) can be accompanied by only 2 chords which makes it easily adaptable for children to accompany you or themselves while singing along! If you have a kiddo who loves to dance, check out this fun choreography that Kidz Bop posted on YouTube.


We hope these songs give you some fresh new ideas for your sessions this week. Be sure to grab your free download of these chord charts below, and comment below to share your favorite Indie/Alternative songs that can be used with children!

Sammi Graham,MT-BC

Music Therapist – Board Certified

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