Friday, February 24, 2017

Conducting With Straws: a Guest Post


I'm thrilled to have a guest post today by a talented friend of mine. Imani has a background in music, and she is the current Primary Music Leader in our ward.  I hope you have as much fun learning from her as I do!




Conducting with Imani

Two of my biggest challenges when teaching primary music are using movement in my teaching style and adapting activities to the Junior Primary. Since I learn best by reading and following instructions, I have to stretch myself to create opportunities for non-readers to learn the songs. I was inspired by my research online to meet both those challenges by teaching time signatures with leading wands.



Materials


A straw for each primary child to lead the music from their seat
A large drawing of a staff to display on the board (You can also draw the staff on the board)

It’s important to set expectations for behavior when you pass out the straws. I tell my primary kids that I am looking for reverent children every time I choose a name from the can of popsicle sticks, and I say it slowly and often so they have enough time to check their behavior and get ready to participate.


Presentation


Explain what the time signature is and where to find it on a piece of music. The number on top is the number of beats in a measure, while the number on the bottom is which kind of note gets the beat. The explanation can be very simple for Junior Primary and more complex for Senior. I have a background in music, but explanations for time signatures can be found online, including in this conducting manual by the LDS church:  Conducting course.  I stick to the different numbers, and how the beat sounds different when we hear it, but I don’t really go into note values or fractions.

On the board, write down the most commonly used time signatures: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/8. Demonstrate the patterns for each, which can be found in the hymn book.
Commonly used time signatures



Two patterns for conducting 6/8


I use descriptions like “a fish hook” or a “giant cross.” I also emphasize the downbeat or the “one” as I demonstrate the patterns and have them follow along.

Now for some fun! In the table below are the time signatures of the songs for this year’s program. Have the pianist play a few bars of each song without you directing, and see if the children can guess the time signature by beating the pattern with straws. Call on someone to make a guess, then sing the song together while they join you in directing the pattern.

2/4
When I Am Baptized
3/4
As a Child of God
Stand for the Right
4/4
Nephi's Courage
The Wise Man and the Foolish Man
Choose the Right
6/8
I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus



Finally, choose three or four children to each lead a section of the primary. Space them far apart in the front and see if the primary can sing together with each one conducting at their own pace. Emphasize the need for one conductor that everyone can follow. Next, choose one conductor to lead the primary, but have everyone cover their eyes while singing. Emphasize the need to watch the conductor closely and listen to the piano. You can explain that the piano also follows the conductor so we can all sing together. Choose a child to conduct a song where the pianist cannot see him or her, and see if the primary can sing together. End by leading the primary with all of their watchful eyes on you. (Hopefully!)


Planning to Be Flexible


Colorful straws for everyone!
I usually plan more than can be completed in one Sunday, and this lesson is no different. Often I find myself finishing a lesson the next week, and repeating the parts the children enjoy the most.  If you need to fill more time, try a couple of the challenges below. I like this lesson because it uses movement to learn the songs and is easily adaptable to Junior Primary. I also like that it teaches some basic musical concepts we can build on in the future. 

Challenge #1: See if the children can fit the 2/4 pattern into all of the songs.

Challenge #2: Introduce some less common signatures like these from the hymn book:

     "High on the Mountain Top" 2/2
     "Lead, Kindly Light" 3/2
     " ‘Tis Sweet to Sing the Matchless Love" 6/4


Hope you enjoy singing as much as I did! 

-Imani


Looking for more?     Check out my blog post here for ways I've taught the Activity Day girls to conduct music. 

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