Monday, November 1, 2010

Teaching a New Song - Questions for Study

Before I begin thinking about any kind of plan I study the words and music of the song I want to teach. I learn the song and live with it for a couple of days. These are the questions I use as I study the song. I learned to ask these kinds of questions many years ago through the training in the old video “How to Teach a Song to Children.” I’ve added things that I want to look at to those original questions. This is a lot to go through every time. I don’t always get to each of the questions and I don’t always find answers to all the questions in every song. I find that some songs are easy and others more difficult. The questions are just a guide. Often I find things that I can share with the children, but much of the information is for my own benefit.

I don't ALWAYS do this for every song I teach, but this process of study ALWAYS helps to increase my confidence in teaching and leading the song. Try using these questions with one of the new songs for next year and just see if it doesn’t increase your confidence in teaching it!


1. What is the overall message taught by the song? What do I want the children to understand or feel as they sing this song? Do I have any personal experiences or feelings that I could relate or express that testify of this message?

2. What are the key words in the song? Write out the phrases of the song. (A phrase includes the words that go together in a sentence, thought or line in the song.)

3. Are the words easily understood by all the children? Will I need to explain or pronounce any of the words? Are any words repeated? How many times? Which words rhyme? Do any of the words suggest hand or body actions?

4. What teaching or visual aids are suggested by the words?

5. What questions could I ask that can be answered by listening to the words?


1. What is the time signature? What is the beginning pitch?

2. Is there a mood marking? (cheerfully, boldly, etc.) If there is no marking, can I determine the mood? How does the mood add to any feelings generated by the song? Are there key changes that effect or cause atmosphere or mood in the song?

3. What tempo is appropriate for this song? Does the tempo change? Does the tempo add to the feeling or mood of the song?

4. Are dynamics (loud and soft) marked in the song? Do the dynamics create any musical emphasis? Do they emphasize any words particularly?

5. What is the form of the song? Which musical phrases are the same and which are different? Does the phrasing allow for natural breathing? (The form describes the phrasing. For instance, if the first two phrases sound the same and the next two phrases sound the same and the two phrases of the chorus are different altogether, the form could be described as AABBCD. “Come Follow Me” could be described as ABCD. All the phrases are musically different from each other. Rhythmically, they are the same, but form usually refers to the melody.)

6. What is the melody range? How does the melody move? (By skips, steps, repeated tones, etc?) What are the high and low notes? Are any notes held longer? Are there intervals or pitches that may be difficult to sing? Do any of the melodic patterns repeat? Is there a melodic climax? What are the appealing features of the melody? How does the melody enhance the words? Which words receive musical emphasis?

7. Are there interesting or memorable rhythm patterns in the song? How do the rhythms relate to each other within the form or phrases of the song? Do any of the rhythm patterns relate to the words in a particular way?

8. What questions could I ask that can be answered by listening to the music? How could I demonstrate or illustrate some of these interesting musical ideas? What activities or experiences could I suggest that would help the children perceive, feel or sense the music?

P.S. If you feel like you need help understanding the musical questions, please ask. I have three posts scheduled later this week that gives examples of some of the things I might find. If you have zero music training, it would really work best for you to sit down with the primary pianist and go through a song. He or she could help you by giving examples of what the musical questions ask. If the pianist is unavailable, you could ask the ward organist or the ward choir director or another musical friend. Please don't think this process is impossible because you aren't a trained musician. You can learn a lot by listening carefully to the song several times on the songbook CD's published by the church. You can even listen to the songs online here.

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