Sunday, November 9, 2014

"HOW" To Teach A Song

I had a reader contact me with the following question and wanted to share my response just in case it may help others out...

Here's the question:  "How do you actually teach a new song?...Do you print words on paper, have the kids repeat what you say, use pictures to represent words? This is where I am stumped. The 'how'. Jr Primary doesn't have a lot of readers so posting words wouldn't work well for them. Any advice you can give would be great...

Before you read my response below, I'd suggest you go to The Children's Songbook preface which has some FANTASTIC information!  You can find it all HERE.  There is also a link on for Primary Music HERE that has wonderful information as well.

Here was my response:  "I believe there are only a few key components in teaching singing time:

The 1st one is YOU!  You are the most important tool in teaching the kids - not the props you bring, not your lesson plan, not even your musical capabilities, but YOU and your attitude you bring to primary!  If you don't know the words to every song you are teaching, GUARANTEED neither will they.  If you don't sing confidently (and note, I didn't say "well"), neither will they.  If you aren't enjoying yourself, they most likely aren't enjoying you either.  If you aren't able to feel the spirit with the music, neither will they.  They are all little sponges and will imitate and mimic how you act, sing and behave in singing time.  Your attitude will be reflected by their actions.  They can sense when someone interacting with them doesn't want to be there with them.  If you go in with a great attitude, sing with love and are full of happy energy, they will copy you!

The 2nd component is repetition.  The only way non-readers [I'd even say readers as well] will learn a song is to hear it over and over again (how do you think we come to memorize songs merely from hearing them on the radio?).  I like to get creative and repeat as differently as I can so neither they (nor I) get bored.  I've found the best way to keep the little guys' attention as we repeat is to keep their hands busy.  Give them props to hold, actions to complete, or things to point to.  It can be something as easy as giving them some sort of stick/wand and they follow your movements as you repeat, repeat, repeat.  Simple sign language is great too - you can even have them help you make some up.  Or point to pictures that you've placed around the room as you sing a phrase of a song that relates to it, then do it all OVER and OVER and OVER again.  The repetition is the only way they will come to be familiar enough with the songs that they will be comfortable to eventually sing it.

I would maybe suggest looking through some of my lesson plans of particular songs if you want more specific ideas of how I teach.  I don't have a set method as I feel the variety is best.  You can find the link HERE (or the tab at the top called "Index" is the same link) and click on any of the songs.

The 3rd component is to bear testimony.  It doesn't need to (and probably should't) be elaborate.  Try to leave one minute at the end of your allotted time to reinforce the meaning of the song and to bear your testimony of its message.  After all, our main focus isn't learning songs.  It's learning doctrine and feeling the spirit through music.

And I suppose there is a 4th component that is probably the most important - the Lord.  If you are struggling, turn to Him.  You were called for a reason, and if you hang in the calling long enough (I suggest at least 3 months), you may find out why.  I was called in a previous ward and there was a little 11 year old boy who was the dreaded primary child.  He detested primary and I'll be honest, most of the leaders felt kind of the same way about him including me - at first.  I prayed for a way to reach out to this boy.   My answer didn't come overnight but by the time he graduated, he was my best helper and singer in primary.  To help him feel needed in primary, I unofficially made him my assistant and amazingly he gladly did anything I "needed" help with.  Sometimes I had him "officiate" our review activities.  As he was "officiating" he'd be in the front of the primary singing his little heart out.  Eventually he'd come up to me when I was setting up and ask if he could help.  I loved him and he knew it - therefore, he loved me and in the end, loved primary.  I truly feel like I was placed in primary at that time to help this little boy who was struggling.

If you follow my schedule, I try to make it easy for other choristers to keep things simple, yet engaging through a variety of learning techniques for the kids.  Your style may be different from mine but you'll eventually figure out your own style."

So I ask you..."HOW" do you teach a song??  Leave a comment with any ideas you'd like to share!


Di~ said...

Your ideas are right on BUT! I thought that picture of you was a video! I clicked on it hoping to watch you in action! next time, kay? :)

Camille said...

Thanks for making my day! That would really be putting myself out there - ha!


Ben Bennett said...

Camille - I think you are right on with what you wrote... it's exactly what I would have written. Sometimes I feel like a rock star - - kids come up to me before church, at Wal-Mart, and even walking around the neighborhood on Halloween I heard over and over "Hi Brother Bennett!" or "Hey! There's Brother Bennett!". The kids FEEL when you love them and care about them. I NEVER had the music book in front of me - - If I don't know the song well enough to pay attention to the kids instead of the words, we don't sing it. I also expect alot from my kids.... I expect them to be quiet, or I sit down and we don't sing. I expect them to learn harmonies, I expect them to sing (especially the boys) and I make sure they know what I expect.... and when they know what you expect, they deliver! I also talk to the kids alot about why we sing in the first place - - to show love to our Heavenly Father and Jesus, and to feel the Spirit. I have helped them understand that our whole purpose in doing a primary program each year is to help do missionary work by helping others feel the powerful Spirit they can bring by their singing. Our Primary Program is now like a Stake Conference - - standing room only..... friends, relatives, neighbors are all invited, and we have had baptisms in our ward that have been sparked by the primary children. I try to help them understand that they can hasten the work that President Monson speaks about even at their age. I also try not to use alot of visuals.... I might use some to introduce the song and get them singing - but then put them away - - I don't want them to be reliant on seeing them. And then it's ALOT of repetition made fun through different review methods. Finally, I get involved with the kids..... I get down on the floor when we sing "Once there was a Snowman".... we have a 'see how fast Sister Anderson can play Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes' time.... and, as you guys know, I like to do different arrangements of our primary songs that make it more interesting to the kids.... We only did 1 song this year in our program directly out of the primary song book. This all sounds like alot, but it's really not - just love them. I have felt Heavenly Father's guidance SO much in this calling - probably more than any other I have had. He knows and loves His children, and He will help with your singing time!!