I have been the Primary Music Leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints multiple times. I’ll share some resources and other ideas that I’ve done in Primary or things I have come across that are worth checking out.
Teaching a Song
Reviewing a song and enjoying singing is so easy. Teaching a song can be a challenge if you have never seen an effective Primary Music Leader in action. I love this CTR Music Wheel. It reminds us to “sing” to the children more than we chant, explain, or play games. They learn by hearing you sing it first.
Children need to hear the song many times before asking them to join in. Longer listening leads to faster learning. Sing the whole song or a large chunk (ex: the entire chorus) and ask the children to listen for something and do something while they are listening. Short listening experiences (echo) and piecing phrases together actually make the learning process longer and less enjoyable. Whole-part-whole learning is like looking at a picture of the puzzle and then fitting the piece into the larger picture. It’s easier to put that puzzle together if you can see (in this case “hear”) where it goes.
Pat Graham (www.grandmamusic.com) and Sharla Dance (www.toteachachildasong.com or http://teachingprimarymusic.com) are some of the best examples of master teachers.
I like to get organized and usually make a cover for a binder that holds the yearly schedule (in table format), monthly schedule (table format), lists of children/classes, ideas I’ve seen or want to do and make. Ideas for Primary Music.cover
A Capella is Awesome
Children will learn the song faster if they hear you singing (not chanting) the melody. It’s the most effective and efficient way. Add the piano AFTER you have taught the song. Play “Don’t Sing.” They don’t sing. They listen first. You are the singer. You might feel like you are singing a solo. Well, if you don’t give the children something to do and something to listen for while you are singing, then the focus will be on you. But if you give them something to do while you sing (Ex: Eraser pass game), the focus is on the activity and not your voice. My voice has wavered or cracked many times. I just keep exercising it by using it. It’s okay that your voice isn’t perfect! Children need to experience music making as a natural part of Primary.
How did you learn Twinkle Little Star? You mother didn’t have an elaborate chart or visuals, but most likely sang to you during the day or before bedtime. She may have added simple actions, but you listened first and then sang along when you had heard it enough times.
If you have anxiety singing to the children, find ways to have them hear it. Have the piano play the melody with you as you sing it. Have other teachers sing with you. (Make sure they know the melody and words well enough.) You can also play the recorded version and stop and ask questions about what they heard when you played the recording.
Movement & Multiple Senses
Children learn through their senses and we are ALL children of God. Children especially need to learn to move and move to learn. If you don’t give them an opportunity to move with you, they will find ways to move without you. They will squirm in their chairs. They will not follow you or listen to you because they need to move.
Body rhythms, actions, and sign language all direct the children to move with you! I want the children to mirror my actions so I learn things with the opposite hand. When I move my left hand, the children move their right hands.
Scarves, paper plates, streamers, rhythm sticks, egg shakers, cups, puppets…these are all body extenders. You don’t need to use any of these, but I do because why leave them at home on the shelf?
Scarves add color, too. I use WHITE for baptism and temple. Or even snow!
Red, white, and blue scarves are patriotic and I like to turn the Primary room into a flag!
Various colors are autumn leaves and rainbows (When I Am Baptized, CS 103).
Pretend Play can happen with scarves, rhythm sticks (When We’re Helping We’re Happy), and pretend instruments or sounds. Cups make the sound of horses hooves (I use this sound in pioneer songs). Sticks can mix cookies, roll the dough, tap a rhythm, play a pattern, and more.
Theme & Variations
If you know one version, why not give it a twist? Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes can become a snowman: Hat, twig arms, buttons, scarf. Cole eyes, no ears, carrot nose!
Rain is Falling has variations suggested at the bottom of the song: sun is shining, wind is blowing, snow is falling.
Once There Was a Snowman can also be “Once there was a sandman” and in the waves he melted. Once I was a baby…and more.
Do As I’m Doing is so fun Polynesian style. Have the pianist play rolled chords to feel like the waving hula dance motions.
Do As I’m Doing can also be President Uchtdorf style. Sing it in German! I’ll have to check the spelling. Tu was ich tue. Volga, Volga mir.
Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes is sung and acted out differently in Spanish. I learned the hard way when I went to visit a Spanish branch. I brought my magnet board, my different parts, and asked what the words were for each in Spanish. They taught me a new, fun way. I’ll have to scan the music and post it.
How do you get the children to watch you?
Give them a reason to watch you. Here are some suggestions:
Add a fermata.
Extend the ending of a phrase or the song by moving across the room so they hold a note before adding the ending sound or cutting off when you conduct them. I saw Pat Graham do this in a workshop and I have used it ever since.
Only use one Primary Music Leader. It may be tempting to have two music leaders in the aisles leading the children so everyone can see when you are singing in the chapel. This practice is confusing and shows that there is no communication between the pianist and conductor/music leader. You not only want the children to follow you, but also the pianist. Give a prep beat so the children breathe together before coming in on the first note. Give the pianist a prep beat so the tempo you have chosen is the one the pianist will take, too.
Don’t use a helium-filled balloon at the back of the chapel as a meter to show how loud or quiet to sing. The children will be looking at the balloon instead of YOU!
I have never held up a sign with the words for the CSMP, but if you feel that is needed, go for it. Just keep the words in front of you so they are focused on you and not something or some place else.
Music in Nursery
Here is what I do in nursery. It’s so easy to have an object or action for each song. Everyone participates whether they sing or not. Sing in their range and they will sing with you when they are comfortable. Adults usually sing too low for children to match pitch!
Simplified Piano Music
My piano students have a binder of the music outlined in the CSMP (Children’s Sacrament Meeting Presentation). I found simplified versions online and simply put them all in one place so they can play for Family Home Evening (FHE), prelude for Primary, or their own enjoyment. I use “I Can Play It” from the Friend (www.churchofjesuschrist.org) and other simplified Primary arrangements. I even made two of my own and often play them at baptisms. Here are my simple arrangements of Come,_Follow_Me and The Church of Jesus Christ
Chime Charts & Music Map
I like to use chimes are harmonies instead of melodies. However, when a chord or harmony is outlined or a melody sounds bell-like, I like to highlight it. Here are some examples:
We Welcome You, CS 256 (ring on “sing this song for you.” A F G C C’)
He Died That We Might Live Again, CS 65 (“Rejoice, Rejoice and Sing, Sing, Sing!” D F A C’ F G A F)
Our Bishop, CS 135 transposed to C Major (“He’s Our Bishop” is highlighted three different ways: 1). C’ A G D 2). C’ A B G 3). C’ A B C’)
I also like to wave my hands and have all the bells ring together. Show the sign for “stop” and they stop (usually).
Here are some of the charts I have made for chimes/bells with chords/harmonies:
Putting two or three songs together is easy. You can change any song in the Children’s Songbook or Hymns to any key on http://www.churchofjesuschrist.org (music).
Be careful when lowering a song. Children’s voices should not go lower than a B-flat below middle C. Depending on the key, B-flat can even be quite low for the children (ex: Families Can Be Together Forever, I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus).
For Mother’s Day, I put together “I Often Go Walking” together with “Teach Me to Walk in the Light.” Click here for the sheet music (Mother’s Day Medley 2015.3songs). I’m going to have the children sing “When We’re Helping” in the key of E-flat Major before the medley. Here is the 2016 Mother’s Day Medley (mothers-day-2016).
For Father’s Day, I put the second verse of “Love is Spoken Here” together with second verse of “The Family is of God” and added a little coda or tag. Click here for the sheet music (Father’s Day Medley 2015). Click here for the 2016 Father’s Day Medley (fathers-day-2016).
CSMP (Extra Instrument)
My Heavenly Father Loves Me Violin (Suzuki Book 3/4 Level)
If I Listen With my Heart.Violin (Suzuki Book 1 after Etude)
The_Miracle.Lower Violin Version (Suzuki Book 2 after Two Greandiers)
The Miracle by Shawna Edwards was published in the Friend, June 2018. Click the button for a link to the free sheet music.
Gethsemane by Melanie Hoffman was published in the Friend, March 2018. Click the button for a link to the free sheet music.
I was a Stake Music Chairman and thought it was important to have ongoing training and a place to share ideas. Here are some past workshops I have taught.
Be Joyful Workshop: be-joyful-training-10-27-2016
Primary Music Leaders, Salt Lake Hunter East Stake, May 2, 2019
Movement is so important to learning. Latter-day Prophets is so fun with all these actions for each prophet. I learned it at a Primary workshop at Day Murray Music, January 2015. Thanks to Jared Day for sharing this with all of us. Don’t explain, just do it. Say to the children, “See if your hands can follow my hands.” Ask what different actions mean after they have had a chance to do them in the song. Use a whole-part-whole approach when using sign language, action word actions, and movement. Experience first, label afterward.