Wednesday, December 16, 2015

"The Shepherd's Carol"--a Pipe Chimes Activity

Pipe chimes in Primary
Pipe chimes just sound like the perfect instrument to use during Christmas time, don't they? That's probably because there are so many carols about bells.  (By the way, if you didn't catch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's performance of "Carol of the Bells" earlier this month, watch it here!)  I borrowed a set of pipe chimes from a friend in the next ward, and I'm bringing them into Singing Time this Sunday.

Fantastic Chimes and Where to Find Them

My friend's pipe chimes set was homemade by a relative. The idea of cutting metal is daunting to me, but if you're braver than I, you can find detailed instructions for making them on Sugardoodle, here.  If you prefer to purchase them, check out the ones on my wish list, on Etsy, here.  These particular ones cost $30/set of 23 chimes.  Way better than the cost of hand bells! (See my post on hand bells here.  Their usage is very similar to chimes.)

Different Ways to Play a Song

Each chime plays one note when hit with a striker (a long, smooth piece of wood or metal, typically).  There are two basic ways to play a song with chimes: 1-play each note of the melody, or 2-play background chords while you sing the melody.  

I prefer playing the chords, as I can have the song go faster, and then as we repeat with new chime players, more children get a turn.  (That's especially important in my large Primary!)  I specifically chose "The Shepherd's Carol" (Children's Songbook p.40) because it only uses two chords.  That makes it easier when I'm conducting the children.

An Intro to Chords

If you've never used the chord notation in the Children's Songbook before, open up to the song in another window and take a look. Above the piano music is written the abbreviated name of the chord. "The Shepherd's Carol" only uses Dm (D minor) and A7.  I'm not well enough versed in music theory to know what notes those are, so I look them up. :)  I like the site, but there are lots of similar ones.  For this song, these are the only two chords you'll need: Dm=D, F, A.  A7=A, C#, E, G.

When you look at the piano music, the placement of the chord name above the staff indicates when in the song you should switch to the listed chord. It does not mean that you can only play the chord at that moment. When I conduct chime players, I have them strike on the syllables "Mar-"(Dm), "hush" (A7), "child" (Dm), and then I repeat the Dm again on "Jo-," since I don't want to leave the silence that long, and there hasn't been a chord change yet.  I follow that pattern throughout the song.

Presenting Chimes to the Children

When I bring out pipe chimes in Singing Time, I dramatically play one note before giving any introduction. Wow, that's a surefire way to get the children's attention! :) Their eyes are on me, and they all immediately hope they'll get a turn.  With that attitude in place, I give the rules about treating the instruments gently and only playing when directed.

I choose players to come up front, giving each child a chime and a striker.  I divide them into two groups, one for each chord.  I have them practice playing their chord when I point to their group, and then we launch immediately into the song.  Since the pattern of chords in this song is so simplistic (Dm-A7-Dm; Dm-A7-Dm; etc.), I don't use a chart at all. I just conduct the two groups, signalling each on their turn to play.  After one play-through, we trade out chime players and then repeat.  Since there is no chart, I find that this style of play is simple enough for my Junior Primary, unlike the more complicated way I use hand bells.

Added Challenge for Older Children

If your children in Senior Primary know "The Shepherd's Carol" well enough, you can sing this song as a round. Helpfully, the chords follow the same pattern through each phrase, so you can play chimes with the round, and the chords will match both parts.  Enlist help from a confident singer or two (either child or adult) to lead a second group, and have fun with it!

Happy singing,


  1. Do you use two different A chimes for the chords? Which octaves for which A chime? This sounds like a fun idea.

    1. Teresa, wow, thoughtful question! You only have to use one A, and you could use either one. Sometimes I'll choose based on if the melody line has been moving down or up, and I'll try to have the chimes match. If I can, though, I use both As, so I can get more children playing at once. Thanks for the question!

  2. It's taken a little while, but the Primary kids in our ward (at least the Senior Primary) have really learned how to respect the instruments. Maybe my class was just having an 'off' week, but they were completely respectful, waited patiently for the bells, didn't ring like crazy, etc.

    Michelle's comment about using the chords for a faster pace is hugely important when there aren't enough chimes to go around.

    Another thing I've noticed is that they actually want to make it sound good. When they first heard the quality of their first playthrough, a light went on in some of these kids' heads and they completely zeroed in on playing their parts perfectly.

  3. Can I just mention that I love your heading "Fantastic Chimes and Where to Find Them" ??? Hahhh. Great post!

    1. That was for you. :) Also, I'd just watched the preview when I sat down to write this post...