Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Musical Compass

This activity is especially good for reviewing songs which have to do with Obedience, Commandments, or the Plan of Salvation.  

First, print two copies of the document at the bottom of the page.  Display one page on each wall of your primary room, N in the front, S in the back, W on the left and E on the right.  Reinforce the other set by attaching it to pieces of card stock, laminating it or placing it in sturdy page protectors.

Bring a map and a compass (or a picture of a compass) and briefly explain to the children what they are and how they work.  Stress the importance of following directions and how doing so keeps us safe and helps us reach our goals.  

Divide the children into four groups and have each group stand along one of the walls associated with one of the cardinal directions.  (The North group will have to sit in the front row so that they can see).   Then choose a child to stand at the front of the room of the room and hold up one page at a time.   As you sing the practice song, have the children sing only when their group's direction is showing.  


  • Hold up more than one page at once, perhaps even using two sets of cards and/or two children to hold the signs.
  • Have the entire primary sing the song, but have the children in the chosen group sing in a silly way (with their tongues out, with their noses plugged, etc.)
  • Have one group consist of only teachers!

Lesson Plans: February 2014

  • Introduce the difficult words in the song "I Will Follow God's Plan" using one of the methods described in the first section of this post.  I suggest including the words "purpose," "seek," "direct," and "fast"
  • Teach the song "I Will Follow God's Plan" using the flipchart and activity found here
  • Or, since this month's song is short, you might try teaching the sign language using the easy-to-follow video on the church website.  (Links to the videos are on the right side of the page)
  • Review the difficult words with the Secret Word Game.
  • Practice this month's song or other songs with the reinforcement activity, the Musical Compass. 
  • In Senior Primary, try the fun Review Puzzle!
  • In Junior Primary, sing some familiar songs that go with the weekly themes to see if the Sunbeams know them.  Review if necessary.
    • Week 1:  Heavenly Father has a plan for His children:   "I Lived in Heaven."
    • Week 2:  Heavenly Father commanded Jesus Christ to create the earth as a home for His children:  "My Heavenly Father Loves Me."
    • Week 3:  My Body is created in the image of God:  "The Lord Gave Me a Temple."
    • Week 4:  Agency is the gift to choose for myself:  "Choose the Right."  
  • Talk about the ways Heavenly Father shows us that He loves us with the Valentines Activity

Song Chain

Start by singing the song that you're working on.  Ask the children to listen to the words in the song and come up with another song which shares a word.  For example, If you began with the song "I Will Follow God's Plan for Me,"  you might use the word "plan" to link to the song "I Lived in Heaven."

"My life is a gift; my life has a plan." 

"Then Heavenly Father presented a beautiful plan,"

Then you might use the word "true" to link to the song "Dare to do Right"

"I lived in heaven a long time ago, it is true."

"Dare to do right.  Dare to be true."

Then use the word "right" to link to the song "Choose the Right."

"Dare to do right."

"Choose the right when a choice is placed before you."

Continue until you run out of songs that haven't been sung.  If you play this game often, try keeping track of how long your longest chain is so that the children can try to break their record.

Secret Word

Get the children singing a song over and over without even noticing that they're practicing!

Choose a child to leave the room for a moment (with an adult if necessary).  Together with the rest of the primary, choose one secret word.  When the child from the hall returns, have the primary sing him or her the song, omitting the secret word.  See if he or she can hear which word the other children do NOT sing.

This is a great activity to use

  • When you have extra time at the end of Singing Time
  • When you want to draw attention to words (and themes) which support the message of sharing time
  • When you want to discuss words which you think the children may not understand
  • When the children have difficulty remembering short pieces of the song you're learning

Review: I Will Follow God's Plan for Me

(To teach this song, find my art here.  More lesson plan ideas for the month are here.)

This game is one of my kids' favorites!  It looks intimidating, but it's super easy once you understand the idea. 

To prepare the game:
1.  Download the PDF at the bottom of the page.
2.  Print the first four pages
3.  Print the fifth through eighth pages on the back.  (Or just write the words on the back if you have trouble getting them to line up)
4.  Cut out the strips.

Now you should have a puzzle with the picture on one side and the lyrics to the song on the other.  Cut a piece of clear shelf paper big enough to cover the entire puzzle.  Remove the backing and attach it to the blackboard, sticky-side-out, with magnets or tape.  Note:  an anonymous commenter left the suggestion to use press-and-seal kitchen paper so the puzzle lasts for multiple uses.  Y'all are geniuses!  (I wish I could get that stuff in Holland!)  Attach the puzzle pieces, lyrics-side-out, to the blackboard with magnets or clear tape.  
Tell the children that they need to learn the song so well that they can recite it inside-out, backward and forward.  They're going to see if they can sing the song from the end to the beginning.  Take the strip that reads "And in my home above." and place it at the bottom of the piece of shelf paper.  Explain that this is the last line of the song. 
Ask them to sing the song with you and listen for the line that occurs just BEFORE this one.  Sing through the song and ask the children which word strip belongs just above the one that you've already posted.  Have them find the word-strip and carefully attach it to the shelf paper above the first. 
Continue the game until all the word strips are on the page in the correct order.  When the lyrics are complete, remove the magnets holding up the shelf paper and turn it around, showing the children the picture side of the puzzle. 

I Will Follow God's Plan for Me

(For a fun review activity, look here.  And even more lesson plan ideas for this month can be found here.)

Because this song is so short, I'd plan to teach it quickly and move on to other activities.  One way to accomplish this is to post the pictures in a circle around the board.  Sing the song to the children one line at a time.  Ask them which picture they think might go with each line.  Point at each picture around the circle and ask the children to raise their hands when they think you are pointing at the correct picture.  Continue until you have constructed a song chart in the middle of the board.    You should be able to easily get through the entire song in one Singing Time.

My life is a gift; my life has a plan.

My life has a purpose; in heaven it began.

My choice was to come to this lovely home on earth

And seek for God's light to direct me from birth.

I will follow God's plan for me,

Holding fast to his word and his love.

I will work, and I will pray;

I will always walk in his way.

Then I will be happy on earth and in my home above.

Friday, January 17, 2014

How To Lead Music

I've seen the question come up several times recently,  

Do you need musical talent to teach Primary Singing Time?

My answer is: not necessarily.  The most important part of being Primary Chorister is helping the children to learn the principles in the songs we teach through the Spirit.  We can show respect, reverence, and love without an ounce of musical ability.  

Before I was called, I was a symphony musician and private music teacher, but I was terrified of singing and had a lousy voice.  In my first week,  I related the story of President Heber J. Grant's attempt to learn to sing.  I loved his attitude that Heavenly Father doesn't care about our talent nearly as much as He cares about our enthusiasm for worshipping Him.  I told the children that I can't sing well, but I will always try my best because it shows love for my Heavenly Father.  Admitting that I'm not perfect gave the children permission to try even when they thought they weren't doing a great job.

With that said, I do think it's good to show the children how to follow a chorister.  But don't worry- directing music doesn't have to be difficult.  Below is a basic overview of how to conduct almost any song.  Admittedly, it's not the best guide for an in-depth understanding of conducting, but it's the easiest way I know to get you leading songs quickly.  I've used it many times with my Primary kids and it always works.  Once you understand the basics, practice with every song you hear on the radio, on television, in the grocery store, etc.  You'll be a pro in no time!

1.  First, you'll need to understand what a measure is.  Most music is divided into small sections of 2,3,4 or 6 beats each.  These sections are marked by vertical lines through the staff.  This is what one measure looks like:

2.  The first beat of each measure is called the "down-beat." This beat is usually stronger than the others.  You should be able to hear it when you listen to a song.  For example, if you were to listen to the song "I am a Child of God," you might hear a slight accent on certain syllables:

I am a child of God,
And He has sent me here,
Has giv-en me an ear-thly home
With par-ents kind and dear.

These accented words fall on the down-beats.  Try singing or listening to several songs and tap the table or your lap when you think you hear a down beat.  90% of leading music is directing the down-beat.  If you can't direct every beat, focus on hearing and directing the down-beats. 

3.  To lead the down-beat, begin with your right hand directly in front of your face and lower it, ending at chest-level on the beat.  Every down-beat you direct for any song you ever sing will be conducted this way.

4.  Next, you need to understand time signatures.  The time signature is found at the beginning of each song.  It looks like a fraction.  In order to direct music, you will only need to pay attention to the top number- it shows how many beats are in each measure.  

The two time signatures below, for example, each have two beats per measure.

5.  To direct a song with two beats per measure, the first beat is directed with the downward motion we just learned.  Most choristers will curve this line slightly to the right, as shown, but it's not necessary if that's too hard.  The last beat is directed by simply returning your hand to the beginning position in front of your face.   In every time signature, the last beat in a measure is directed by sweeping your hand back up to the beginning position. 

As you sing the beats 1 and 2, think "down, up, down up."  

(These pictures are mirror images so that you can follow along.)

6.  Songs with three beats per measure will have a time signature like this one:
As always, the first beat is down and the last beat is up.  On beat two, you'll move your right hand outward from mid-chest to your right.  As you sing beats 1, 2 and 3, think "down, out, up, down, out, up."  

Again, if this is too hard, focus on the down-beat.

7.  A four-beat time signature will look like this:
The first beat is conducted "down."  The last beat is "up."  And the beat before that is "out."  These are all the same motions as in a 3-beat time-signature.  For the second beat, add a movement across your body.  When you sing beats 1, 2, 3 and 4, think "down, across, out, up, down, across, out, up."

8.  A 6-beat time signature looks like this:

Faster six-beat songs can be conducted with the same movements of two-beat songs.  Divide the beats as shown:

Slower six-beat songs are directed almost exactly like a 4-beat signature, but with small bumps in the "across" and "out" movements.  As you sing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, think "down, across, across, out, out, up, down, across, across, out, out, up."

This one looks intimidating, but I almost never have to direct six beats this way in Primary.  

9.  Once you know the basics, all that's left to do is practice, practice, practice!  Try conducting along to some of the recordings available in the church's primary music library as you follow along with the Children's Songbook.  And keep in mind, directing music is like riding a bicycle- it feels awkward and difficult at first, but in time you'll do it without even thinking.

For more information, be sure to check out a more in-depth description and advanced techniques on the church's music training page!

Saturday, January 11, 2014


One way to repeat a song many times while keeping the children's attention is by adding dynamics. Begin by asking the children to sing the whole song, starting as quiet as they can sing and ending as loud as they can sing while still showing respect for the subject, the building, and the other classes. Ask them to pay special attention to pacing themselves.

Sing the song again, from loud to soft.

Next, have the children follow you as you raise and lower your hands to indicate volume. Allow several children to try leading the dynamics as well.

When the children understand HOW to sing dynamics, explain to them WHY we sing dynamics. Consider sharing a recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Ask the children to use their hands to show you what dynamics the choir is using. Then ask them how they felt in the quietest and loudest parts.

My favorite recording for this purpose is from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir album from 2008, "Called to Serve."  Track #11 is a great arrangement of "He Sent His Son."  It is available on iTunes for $1.29.

There is also a video on YouTube which is a medley of "He Sent His Son" and "I'm Trying to be Like Jesus."  It has some interesting dynamics, particularly after the 2:15 mark.  Using this video to teach dynamics in January would be a great transition if you are planning to use the Character Traits of Christ review activity.  Be sure to ask the children why the composer chose to put these two songs together.  What is he or she trying to say?

(Facebook Commenter Christine even found the sheet music to this arrangement here.)

For Junior Primary, you may end the lesson here. But for Senior Primary, you might continue by teaching the children where the dynamics fit in the specific song you are working on. This could be accomplished in several ways.

  • Consider printing sheet music for the children. Teach them the symbols for crescendo < and decrescendo > and ask them where they see the symbols. 
  • Ask the children which parts of the song they think should be loud or quiet.
  • Post your flipchart on the board and show the children where the dynamics could be with a chalk  line which moves up for loud and down for soft.