Saturday, October 30, 2010

Teaching a New Song

I’ve had a number of you ask for help and ideas to teach new songs. It is time to explain how I approach a new song. The short answer is that I largely use discovery questions when I teach and I posted about this earlier. My system is a little more involved than that post would indicate, however, so I will further explain. Each day this coming week I have scheduled a post to demonstrate what I do. If this topic is what you've been wanting, be sure and check back each day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Teaching Method - Exploded Flipchart

An exploded flipchart is essentially a flipchart, just stop before you have it all put together.

Collect a blank sheet of paper for each phrase you want to illustrate. Find a picture or draw an illustration for each phrase. Make a word strip with a key word or word-group for each phrase also. Put thin magnets on the back of each piece. When you are ready teach, post the pieces randomly on the chalkboard. (You could explain that the flipchart exploded in your bag!) Ask the children for their help to put it together again.

Sing the song through once and then phrase by phrase as you put the pieces together and in the right order. Invite the children to sing with you as they are able.

You can use the pieces again for review or make a second flipchart with the pieces securely attached.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Teaching Method - Advancing Game

Prepare a game board with as many squares or steps as there are lines or phrases in the song, plus 2. Place some kind of marker at the "start" and a picture or keyword that describes the message of the song at the "finish."

Have the children listen to you sing the first phrase. Then invite them to sing it with you. Next they should sing it by themselves. If they can sing it well by themselves they can advance the marker one step. If they cannot, repeat the process. Do this with each phrase until you reach the final two squares. Ask the children to sing the entire song twice to advance to the finish.

The picture shows a simple game board that I drew on the chalkboard to use with the song "The Golden Plates." The pictures come from the Primary Visual Aid Cut-outs (Set 7: Pioneers and Restoration).

P.S. It occurs to me that I should mention something more about this game. You can see that it isn't competitive in any way. I don't much care for competition in primary (or anywhere else, for that matter) so, depending on how considerate your primary kids are, and how "trained" they are at loving competitive games, they may wonder what the point of this game is. The point is simply to get the marker to the finish line. That may not be enough competition for some kids. If that is the case, they will find the game boring. This is a simple game that even my younger kids can enjoy. I have a combined group and most of them are willing to play a game that is played just to reach an objective. Even the older ones in my group are considerate enough to not make comments about how something is boring or babyish, although sometimes I catch them looking at each other and rolling their eyes ;o) If this isn't the case with your group, I suggest that you try to retrain them so that you can enjoy something like this, or choose something different.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Simple Teaching Method - Choosing Pictures

Using pictures from the GAK, the manual picture kits or your own picture file, select several pictures for each phrase of the song. Find more than one picture for each phrase, as this gives the children more pictures to choose from. Post the pictures around the edges of the chalkboard, leaving a large space in the middle. Ask the children to listen to the song and to decide which picture helps remind them of each phrase. After singing the entire song, sing the first phrase again and have a child choose a picture and move it to the blank space. Or the child can hold it while all the children sing that phrase and then post it. Repeat for each phrase and then sing the entire song together. Use these pictures in upcoming weeks to review the song.

You can find variations of this method explained in the Sharing Time Ideas in the March 2002, June 2005, and March 2008 issues of the Friend magazine. Because this method is simple and straightforward, “Choosing Pictures” combines easily with another simple method to add variety and keep the kids engaged with the song.

Because choristers use so many pictures, I've kept up a picture file for many years now. I have pictures from the old, old manuals as well as the new ones. I have many pictures that I have simply cut out from discarded church magazines. I am always the first in line for discards from the library or someone's basement. I also very much appreciate the church giving us access to the digital issues that can be found online at These digital issues are in a pdf format that I have downloaded onto my computer at home. When I need a picture to illustrate a certain principle or concept, I look through my picture file. If I don't find what I need there, I just page through the digital magazines until I see something that will work. Then I print that page and cut out the picture.

I laminate the pictures that I've printed and those that I've cut from the magazines so that they will hold up better. I keep the manual pictures in their original envelopes and GAK pictures in the original file box. I keep the cut pictures loose in a plastic box. When I want to find pictures, I simply scatter the loose ones on my bed and paw through them. ;o} It isn't a very organized method, but it works for me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Simple Teaching Method - Rhythm First

Look at the rhythms of a song you want to teach. Are there interesting or memorable patterns? How do the rhythm patterns relate to one another. Do these rhythms help express or add to the mood of the music. Some playful rhythms skip and run and suggest cheerfulness. Some rhythms are like marches and suggest energy and commitment. Composers use rhythms and tempo as well as melody and words to convey the message of a song. Steadiness, playfulness, conviction and peace are moods that can be enhanced with the rhythms of a song. I can almost hear the hammers pounding the steady beat of “I Am A Builder.” I can imagine a little child skipping down the sidewalk open to the opportunities for service in the song “Kindness Begins With Me.” There is energy and excitement in the rhythms of “Family Night” and “Daddy’s Homecoming.”

Rhythm activities are a wonderful way to add movement to singing time. For songs with interesting rhythms, teach the rhythm first by having the children clap the rhythm of each phrase with you as you sing the song. Change the action and then repeat. Slapping thighs, tapping toes, snapping fingers, stepping from left to right, or nodding their head are other rhythmic actions that the children could do.

Once you’ve been through the song a couple of times with the rhythm, use another simple method to help the children learn the words.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Simple Teaching Method - "When You Hear..."

“When You Hear...” is another method which takes advantage of movement and actions. Challenge the children to listen carefully and do several actions when they hear certain things in the song. For instance, say “Put your hand around your ear when you hear me sing about listening.” “Raise your hand when you hear who we should obey.” “Stand up each time you hear me sing about the Savior.” Sing the song and then after the children have responded, sing that part of the song together. Repeat with other things to listen for. After several times through the song invite the children to sing the entire song with you.

You can increase the difficulty by linking the actions. You could say “Raise one finger when you hear a question in the song and another finger when you hear the answer.” Two or even three actions are doable and fun for the older kids, but don’t try to string too many together at one time.

I like this method and think it works best in teaching songs that are medium to short in length. Longer songs should be broken up into shorter sections. If the song goes on for too long, the kids will forget what they are listening for! To keep things interesting, I usually combine this method with another simple method like choosing pictures for the phrases. “When You Hear...” doesn’t require any preparation and can easily add a little variety and movement to whatever else you might plan.

Some teaching methods, like this one, are really simple and work best in combination with something else. Because I like discovery questions so much I always use these "directed listening" kinds of activities when I teach a new song. Using more than one method gives the children some variety, especially if they just don't seem to respond to your primary method of teaching. Watch for two more of these simple teaching methods coming up in this week's posts.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Song Review - “Follow the Directions”

“Follow the Directions” is a classic way to review a song that you have recently taught or to review several songs on a week with Choose and Review. Simply write direction statements on separate slips of paper, cards, or seasonal shapes. Ask one of the children to choose a card and then have the primary follow the directions for singing the song.

Here are some examples of direction statements. I’m sure you can think of others.
  • Everyone conduct the beat pattern.
  • Clap the rhythm and hum.
  • Clap the beat and sing.
  • Girls sing while the boys clap the rhythm.
  • Boys sing while the girls clap the rhythm.
  • Oldest class and youngest class come to the front and sing.
  • Stand back to back and sing.
  • Everyone use pitch-level conducting.
You can easily put the directions in a can or you could get a little more creative about the delivery. You could use a seasonal basket or some other interesting container. You could roll them onto a flower stem and choose from a bouquet. You could put them into thematic boxes like the sports balls or the valentine hearts. Write them on cards and use fun magnets on the chalkboard. Put them in the pockets of an apron. If you can think of something else, please add your idea in a comment.

If you keep a few slips handy in the closet or your bag, you won’t panic when you are asked to fill extra time. This easy activity also lends itself really well to an emergency situation or to give to a substitute.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Music Aid - Singing Shapes

These are my singing shapes. Each shape represents a different way to sing a review song. For instance, the monkey indicates that we begin singing a song in the regular way, but then sing “ahh” whenever the monkey is held up. The kids usually choose these shapes from the pockets of my apron but sometimes I bring them in the surprise sack, or some other container for variety. I can use these shapes to review a song that I’ve recently taught or use them with several songs on a week of Choose and Review. We can use one shape throughout the whole song, or, sometimes I put them together in pairs with a rubber band and then we change from one to another in the same song. However we use them, the kids always respond well to singing shapes. This is what these shapes currently mean in our primary.

Monkey - sing “ahh”
Owl - sing “ooh”
Turtle - sing slow
Rabbit - sing fast
Lion - sing louder
Lamb - sing softer
Bee- hum
Bird - regular singing
Cowboy boot - boys sing
Princess crown - girls sing
Purse - teachers sing, or child's teacher leads
Team pennant - your class sings
Hand - choose a hand action like snapping fingers, clapping, etc.
Hammer - pound the rhythm or the beat
Parrot - echo singing with myself and the kids, or I divide the room in half or between boys and girls.
Octopus - child conducts with a sideways figure eight
Heart - sing your favorite song
Frog - everyone uses their hand to "hop" from note to note (pitch level conducting)
Snail - another shape for singing slow

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Song of The Heart

Mary Judy, a chorister friend of mine from Logan, Utah sent me a great e-mail describing what she did for their program review. I thought it was a good idea and that you all may like it too, even for next year if you are now finished with your program. I just loved her idea of singing from the heart! I'm posting Mary's e-mail as a "guest post." She sent a pdf file with these little boxes ready to print out and make, but I don't know how to post a pdf file to the blog. I'm sorry that I don't have more time to experiment and figure out how to do that. I hope you can see how to adapt something just from looking at the picture, or, since Mary includes a link to the box, perhaps you know how to create it from the original. Mary also graciously offered to send the pdf file to anyone who would like to print the boxes she prepared. Her e-mail address is: . Thank you, Mary!

"I just saw your post with reverence ideas for practicing for the Sacrament program. I did use the music measles idea earlier in the year and it was a big success. I had our primary presidency pass out the dots to the children as they sang well. They in turn put them on their teacher. At the end we had the teachers come to the front and sing a verse from "Follow the Prophet." We were then able to see which teacher had the most measles. Two teachers had measles all over their glasses and were "blinded by the music" haha! The children loved seeing their teacher's sing. It was really fun.

On our last Sunday practice before the program I decided to emphasize the importance of singing from their heart. I found an oversized pair of glasses at our local dollar store. The lenses were heart-shaped. As we sang our first song I had our Primary president choose the class that was watching me, and singing with their whole hearts. We then had their teacher come to the front, stand next to me, put the glasses on and watch to see which other class was paying attention and singing with their whole hearts, It worked well because they looked a little silly but the children were trying really hard to watch me as we practiced standing up together and singing.

I made the attached heart-shaped boxes, punched two tiny holes at the top and threaded some white yarn through them to make a necklace. I had them printed in black and white at our local printers. I think it only cost me about two to three dollars for fifty necklaces (25 copies). I could have printed them on my home printer but it isn't a laser printer and when the ink gets wet my copies smear. I also could have put some candy in them, but I opted to leave them empty. I thought of them more like a locket. I wanted them to represent the children giving their hearts through their voices. (The song of the heart is a prayer unto me.)

I found the pattern for the heart box on Martha Stewart's web site. I reduced it so I could get two boxes on one sheet of paper. Like I said, I wanted them to be more like an over-sized locket. If you go to her site she has a video you can watch to see how she folds it. Martha mounted her template on heavier paper and scored lines down the middle. I printed my pattern directly on to regular weight paper without scoring the paper. I cut them on the solid lines and folded on the dotted lines. I also added the picture from the front cover of our primary program for this year. The painting is by Dale Parsons. "

I'm probably going to make a simple red heart necklace out of construction paper. These wouldn't be as nice as Mary's boxes, but I'm hoping that the children will catch the point. I'll also make some red heart shapes to attach to my glasses to watch for beautiful singing. Maybe I could make cardboard heart-shapes to attach to a stick, kind of like opera glasses. I hope you can see the wonderful possibilities in this idea.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Teaching Method - Dramatization

You might think dramatization wouldn’t work as a method for teaching a song, but for some songs it works perfectly. Recently, I needed to teach the third verse to “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.” Since I had to review two other songs that the children had just learned, I didn’t have much time to spend teaching. I needed something that would fix the images of the song in the minds of the children so that I wouldn’t need to keep going over it. After considering several other methods, I decided to dramatize it.

I invited two children to hold the ends of a length of blue fabric from the costume box and showed them how to move their arms to make a “rolling sea.” I found a small box for a boat to toss on the fabric during the tempest. I held up the picture of Jesus stilling the storm for the phrase about the “Master, ready and kind.” Then I used simple hand actions for the words “chided” and “hushed.” After we were set up, I simply sang the song and it worked great. We talked about the old-fashioned words and practiced the phrase with the hand actions and they were already singing with me after one more time through. I was thrilled to have it work so well with so little time spent teaching.

Last Christmas I used dramatization to teach “Once Within a Lowly Stable” and it worked just as well for this song. I took some simple props: a scarf for the loving mother, a doll for the baby, a shoe box lid and some yellow yarn for a manger, and two simple, hand drawn sheep and ox “masks”on sticks. I set up a simple tableau by inviting two children to stand and hold their arms in an arch to form a stable. Two other children knelt on either side of those children and held the sheep and ox masks in front of their faces. Mary knelt on the floor under the arch and placed the “baby” in the “manger” at the appropriate time during the song. Then I simply sang the song and pointed to the props as I sang. The children listened so well that they were singing with me the second time through. Dramatization is a really fun way to teach a song!
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