Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

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,

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Beat vs. Rhythm--a Movin' and Shakin' Activity

Beat vs. Rhythm--which one will it be?
   Sometimes it's fun to prepare nice pictures, word puzzles or codes for Singing Time, and sometimes it's nice to have an activity that requires no preparation at all!  Beat vs. Rhythm is a simple activity with zero preparation that still engages the children while they sing.  This activity is full of movement, so I use it for a change of pace between activities that tap into the visual or word learning styles, as in my Singing Plan, here.  I find that Beat vs. Rhythm works best with quick songs with a strong beat, such as "The Church of Jesus Christ" (p. 77) or "Follow the Prophet" (p. 110).  I have done this activity with egg shakers or just with hand tapping, and both work well.

The Basics

"Let's pretend we're drummers, and we have to step on the pedal for a bass drum with our foot, once for every beat."  Immediately start singing, and tap one foot on the beat.  If children in the back can't see your feet, you could nod your head or pat your lap to help them stay with the beat.  

Once they have that down (perhaps after one time through the song), switch to only hand tapping, and tap on your lap the rhythm of the melody, one tap per syllable sung.  

Challenging Junior Primary

For Junior Primary, here are a couple ways to add a challenge, and thus make repeating the song fun.  Challenge One:  Choose a couple confident, older children to lead half the room in tapping their feet on the beat. At the same time, you lead the other half of the room in tapping their hands with the rhythm of the words.  Switch halves of the room and repeat. 

Challenge Two:  Ask one child to stand by the light switch and prepare to turn it off and on while you sing .  Have all the children start tapping the beat with you as you start the song.  When the lights go off, switch to tapping the rhythm.  When the lights come back on, switch back to tapping the beat.  

Challenging Senior Primary

Challenge One above will likely bore your Senior children to tears, but Challenge Two is still fun for them.  Here is the real challenge, though:  tap both the beat and the rhythm at the same time. Crazy hard! I normally mess up a couple times, but that's okay.  The older children love doing something that is actually difficult to master.  Just have fun with it!

Happy singing,

Friday, August 21, 2015

Circle Code: A Senior Primary Activity

Cracking the Circle Code

     Here's a closer look at Circle Code, the new activity I mentioned in my SingingTime post earlier this week, here.  I got the idea from Sharla over at, and then I changed it to meet my needs.  (You can read about her original Color Code activity here.)

A New Code Needed

In Sharla's Color Code, she created the code for the first verse of "Come, Follow Me" (Hymns #116).  My children already knew that verse, so I wanted to use the code for verse 4, instead.  As I sat down to apply Sharla's code to verse 4, I quickly realized it wouldn't work.  She had circles of different colors stand for words that started with a certain letter. (eg. Orange circles for words that started with "C.")  That worked well for verse 1, but in verse 4, only the letter "W" was used with any frequency higher than twice.  So I set out to develop my own code, using her basic idea of one circle per word.

Interpretation of the Circle Code

My Circle Code

Here's what I developed, after looking at the song and verse I wanted to highlight.  You can use a similar process to adapt Circle Code for any song.

Dark blue circles=baseline, one syllable word
Light blue circles=one syllable word starting with the letter "W"
Shadow=add to a circle to indicate the note is longer than a quarter note
Small white circle=add to a circle to indicate the word has more than one syllable

So, the first line of the poster corresponds to this line from the song:  "Not only shall we emulate..."

Making the Poster

The pictures make it hard to see how simple the poster really is.  It's truly just poster board with paper circles glued on.  I used a plastic cup to trace the larger circles onto construction paper, and I used a depleted roll of scotch tape for the smaller circles.  The shadows are just large black circles that I aligned a little lower.  

I lined up all the circles before gluing them down, so I could double check their placement and my coding.  My favorite glue to use is a dot glue runner, as I've found that liquid glue will pucker the paper, and a glue stick doesn't have very good staying power.  

Presenting the Activity

Place the poster on the board and ask the children what they notice.  Receive their answers.  Ask them to crack the code while you sing.  Point to each circle as you sing the corresponding word, and after the first sing-through, ask what their guesses are.  Sing through a couple more times, emphasizing different words as necessary.  

Now you're all set!  Prepare to be amazed at how quickly your children rise to this new challenge. :)

Happy singing!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Rhythm Band: Recycle Bin Edition

    Confession:  the first time I tried this activity with my Senior Primary kids, it totally flopped.  I realized--after the fact--that I hadn't given them enough experience with a single rhythm instrument to be able to follow the more complicated instructions given with a band.  So I rolled it back, giving them symbols on the board to correspond to actions and rhythms with a single instrument.  (See examples of this in my posts on egg cartons and sand blocks.)  Once your children know how to follow this style of notation, they'll be ready and eager to try it in a band setting!

The Instruments

The makings of a rhythm band
You could use any rhythm instruments you like, really, as long as you have enough for every child.  I normally choose 4 of my recycle bin favorites:

Ice cream buckets (to use like a drum)

Egg cartons (with a rhythm stick for tapping)

Pairs of paper plates (to use like cymbals)

Paper cups (for tapping and clapping)

Sheets of paper (for both patting on your lap and shaking quickly)

I tend to shy away from my nicer instruments for this activity, since those are more interesting in their own right. Also, this is the only way paper can be interesting.  Also, buckets are only tolerable when there are less than 20 of them going at once.  (*cringe* Yes, I learned this one the hard way!) 

The Patterns

Now that you've chosen your instruments, you need to choose a short pattern for each one.  Using simple symbols, write each pattern on the board on separate lines.  The following picture shows how I write the patterns on the board, so that the symbols vertically line up for the same moment in time.  Here, each instrument's pattern takes four beats to complete.  I've added vertical lines for you (which I won't use for the children) to show where the four beats are.  

Rhythm band patterns

Here is the interpretation of my symbols.  Please note that you don't have to use mine! Use whatever symbols and rhythms make sense to you.  This is just one idea.

Paper plates:  The long arc represents a cymbal crash where they make a large circle with their arms extending up, then out.  The two diagonal slashes represent one paper plate crossing to tap the opposite shoulder.

Buckets:  The first two beats represent syncopation with flat palms hitting the drum:  eighth, quarter (hold your palms there!), eighth.  The tiny zigzags represent light finger tapping, using two alternating fingers on both hands. I have them tap sixteenth notes for the first of those beats and eighth notes for the second beat.

Paper:  The two flat lines are eighth-note taps on their laps, then they rest for one beat.  The wavy line represents holding the piece of paper in both hands, letting it hang down and shaking it very quickly.

Egg cartons:  The pointy swoops represent scraping the carton back and forth with a rhythm stick.  They then tap with the stick, two eighth notes and one quarter note.

Presenting the Activity

Demonstration:  To teach the children how to do this activity, I start with all the instruments up front.  I demonstrate each one individually, singing as I do so, and I invite them to follow my hand movements, even though they don't have instruments yet.  I let them know that we'll be trading around instruments periodically, so they should learn each part.  

Rules:  Right before I ask children to help me pass out the instruments, I remind them that in a band, all the musicians have to follow the conductor.  I try to make it a game, where they have to sit up straighter when I dramatically raise my hands, and they have to instantly freeze when I cut them off. We practice that a couple times, and then it's finally time to begin.

Distribution:  I ask children to pass out the instruments so that each item is scattered around the room.  While they're doing that, I start singing and pantomiming the actions for one instrument.  I don't hold an instrument, so that I can switch quickly between the four.  I'll point to a line of symbols then do those actions for a line or two before switching to the next. 

Breaking it down:  If I see the children are having trouble, I'll use the earlier practiced motion of cutting off the music.  Then I'll break it down, one instrument at a time, to go over the pattern. I sing as I'm demonstrating, so that even as it seems the activity is going slowly, the music learning never stops. 

Shaking things up:  Once they have it, I call out, "Switch instruments!"  Then I hold up ten fingers and begin to count down, to let them know they have a deadline for trading with their neighbor.  As soon as I reach zero, I begin the song again, and we repeat. 

This is one of my favorite Primary music activities.  The kids can tell when you're having fun, and your smile will be contagious. :)

Happy singing!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Pealing of the Bells

Hand bells
Last Sunday, I experienced Primary music bliss.  I walked into the room carrying some black cloth cases, and the children's eyes got wide. They grinned, whispering excitedly to their neighbors as they pointed at what I was carrying. Yes!--I confirmed with a grin and a nod. It was hand bells day. 

I don't blame them at all! I feel the same way. The bells are colorful, the tones are clear, and the feeling of everyone working together to make beautiful music is just impossible to beat.

Choosing Bells

The bells that I use are a basic 8-bell diatonic set for the key of C, from middle C to the C one octave above, (meaning no sharps or flats). Mine are Schylling brand, from, here, but there are different brands on sale all over. Each color is a different note.  There are also add-on packs with accidentals, higher notes, and lower notes. I mostly just have multiples of this basic set, in order to get more children playing at the same time. My senior Primary has 50+ children there every Sunday, so mass involvement is crucial to me!

The full set of hand bells

I also got carrying cases, since the initial packaging isn't really made for long-term use. 

Hand bells in their carrying case

How to Chart the Songs

I searched long and hard on Pinterest to get ideas for charts to go with the bells, and I settled on one from a blog called Imagine Our Life.  I don't know anything else about the blog, but this felt pattern and I fell in love at first sight!

Movable hand bells chart
I opted to go with this chart because it's movable. I don't have to make a new chart for each new song I teach with bells; I can just move the colored notes--which adorably match the colors of the bells--as needed, since felt adheres to itself pretty well.  I also love that it utilizes a music staff. I don't teach the musical notation at all, but the children who can read music find it helpful, and I feel that I'm helping to establish a foundation for all the rest.

I found all the needed supplies at my local craft store. I got a yard of white felt for the base, and the small colored felt squares were something like $.35 each. Nice.

Supplies for making a movable bells chart.

Here's a close-up of the ribbon, felt circles, and magnet clips that I use to hold up the chart on the chalkboard.  Well, the circles are basically circular. I used a toilet paper roll as my stencil.  If you're interested, hop over to the other blog for the tutorial.

A close-up of the chart components
In my picture of the chart above, you can see that I use the notes from the guitar chords listed in The Children's Songbook.  The song shown is "Did Jesus Really Live Again?"  I use a drop down menu on the Church's interactive music player to change the key of the song to C to match my bells, and the listed chords are transposed, as well. What a dream come true!  While in Primary, the children play the chords like an accompaniment, and we sing the melody over the top. I make sure to print out a copy of the transposed song for my pianist, so she can play the melody line with us.  Next time I bring in the bells, I plan on having the children play the melody line, to change things up. On my very favorite Primary music site, To Teach a Child a Song, there is an example of how to mix in harmony notes, too.

Introducing the Hand Bells

I've found I have to go over the ground rules each time I bring in my hand bells. When you get your bell, you immediately bring it to "resting position," sitting lightly on your shoulder.  You keep the bell there until your turn to play, and afterwards you return the bell promptly.  This ensures you can actually hear the desired notes. :)

Resting position is no joke.
Before I pass out the bells, I have the children practice the motion with me: hand on shoulder, straighten arm to play, hand returns to shoulder.  We practice again in unison, pretending to ring our bells at the exact moment I reach up and touch a chord on the chart.

Then we pass out the bells. I have roughly half as many bells as children, so I have them trade off with a neighbor after each time singing through the song. If you're new to using complex activities in your singing time, be aware that you might be singing the song completely by yourself.  Even children who know the song well may be so focused on their playing that they forget to sing. That's okay!  They are hearing the song over and over again, in a new and interesting way.

One final note:  be sure to bring in hand bells for songs with a slower tempo.  If the notes move too quickly, the children will find it difficult to keep up, and they will become easily frustrated. And after all, singing time is all about finding joy in music as well as in truth from Our Father in Heaven. :)

Happy Singing!