The holidays are here, which means a lot of people crammed in one spot, food digesting in their bellies. Maybe some of them a little hyper from sugar intake (we won’t name names). The problem becomes: What are you going to do with all that energy and togetherness?
It’s a tradition in many families to get together for a big night of game-playing sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. My own family used to play a raucous game of charades in my grandmother’s living room (I’ll never forget my two grandpas and my dad miming FDR, Churchill ,and Stalin as they acted out the Yalta conference — yes, my clan are history nerds). Others play Clue, Monopoly, epic games of Pictionary, or a down and dirty Twister.
All these options are fun, but with technology at our disposal and lots of creative energy to burn, we can take it a step further than charades and make karaoke night a staple of family gatherings. This activity will give everyone a chance to get their sillies out and share music across the generations.
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There are so many ways to do family karaoke, from the most basic group sing-along to artist’s lyric videos, all the way to more sophisticated games and competitions that utilize equipment and special challenges.
The easiest way to get going is to find videos on YouTube with lyrics that scroll across the screen (there are a lot of them out there), and play them with the volume partly turned down. Your family can take turns belting the song out using a prop as a microphone, or a basic external computer mic.
If you want to get fancier (and older kids will probably want it to be “real karaoke”) there’s a big range of gear and programs you can buy or download to make it an epic night to remember.
Here are some guides to how to throw a karaoke party at home, how to turn your computer into a “serious karaoke machine” an Android phone app that makes karaoke for kids easy, and a program that adds lyrics to Linux-based media players.
Once you’ve got your “karaoke machine” all set up, there are a number of ways to organize the group.
For younger kids, keep it simple. Get everyone to sign up in order with their choice — the not-yet literate can express their preference by proxy.
Then, the family member who got to choose the song takes “lead” on the mic (or broom) and everyone else sings backup vocals, or becomes the backing band’s members with air guitar and drums galore.
This can take a good chunk of time if you have a big group — and it has the benefit of giving everyone practice at taking turns, and learning about each others’ favorite tunes and tastes.
Perhaps more of an edge is required. Team karaoke is similar to the basic version, but you divide into two groups, and act as alternating audiences. This encourages kids to learn to appreciate each other’s performances and really watch family members do their thing.
In fact, you can build in some rehearsal time and let each group do a little choreography and singing practice. But only a little, since the spontaneity is what makes karaoke what it is. Set an egg timer and give each group 10 minutes to rehearse each number to keep it moving.
This is the option for older kids who can handle it and who will play fair — or be amused and not offended when things get a little, um, judgy.
Switch off who gets to be the judge panel and do your karaoke “The Voice” style. Each contestant chooses a song in secret and the panel sits on a swivel-friendly office chair or stool. Have contestants sing to the turned backs of their relatives or peers until those judges declare themselves so moved by what they hear that they turn around. You can expand it and do a full on team competition with each judge assembling a squad, or just switch off judge panels so everyone gets a chance on both sides of the chair.
A less competitive way to do this with a bigger group is to simply have the judges turn around when they have guessed the singer’s identity, although if it’s a close family this could happen extremely quickly.
Make two piles of cards: one pile with song categories on it, and one pile with funny characters or situations (this can be serious, like “90s-rock style” or if you want to get really wacky it can be improv style, like “person running late for the bus“). Then have each contestant or team pick one type of song and one situation.
Do a classic rock song in the style of a high school musical star.
Do a Disney song in the style of someone who just inhaled helium.
Do an oldies classic in the style of someone who has laryngitis.
Do a mega-hit pop song in the style of an acoustic folk-musician.
Keep it culturally respectful but have fun getting super goofy. This is a particularly appealing option for a family with a lot of theatrical members — and whose family doesn’t have those?
These are just some ideas — all easily adaptable to your own family’s needs and musical preferences. Whatever activity, equipment, or format you choose, this is your opportunity to show your kids just how well you can sing along to that number one hit from when you were in middle school. And we all know that that’s what really matters.
Sarah Seltzer is a writer and editor in NYC.
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