Music Leader Tips

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_6886.jpg

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.

Everything we do in Primary falls into three categories: Do (experience), Learn (teach), Review (play with a song).

Teaching a Song

Reviewing (a song) and enjoying singing are 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 ( and Sharla Dance ( or 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.

Different Languages: I love to share the Spanish version of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. It’s Cabeza, Cara, hombres, pies. Elder Soares speaks Portuguese, English, and Spanish. I went to a Spanish branch and thought I would use my magnet board with different parts and find out the name in Spanish. They taught me they sing a different version. I love it! (See Below).

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 Elder Uchtdorf style. Sing it in German!

I also love sharing Do As I’m Doing in German, Tu, was ich tue! I use a photo of Elder Uchtdorf as an attention getter. I tell the children, “Look! It’s Elder Uchtdorf” so they know how to pronounce his name. Then we use sticks and sing. Instead of singing the words for the third line, I just sing, “Tu tu tu tu…”

“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. Head, face, shoulders, toes, and a complete turnaround!

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!

Posting Words?

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 someplace else.