Music Mind Games

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While doing some research, I ran across the website, Music Mind Games. It is a secular music education site with an interesting approach to teaching music fundamentals. I really liked the solfege video of an original song entitled "Daily Do."  It is from a workshop the instructor did with a group of music educators in Spain. The music and corresponding explanation can be found here.

This is not an official endorsement of the Music Mind Games site, as I don't know anything about the site or the instructor running it. Having said that, I do plan on further exploring this resource as a potential asset for my ministry. I really like the concept of using games to teach music reading concepts to kids. Experience has shown that when kids can enjoy the learning process, they stay motivated to embrace the ideas being taught. Teaching with style is a core value of Kids Worship Arts.

Do, re, mi

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This semester I've decided to focus on teaching our kids to sing via an music education method called "Solfege." The "do, re, mi system" was made popular in our culture by Julie Andrews in the movie, The Sound of Music. However, this system has been around a very long time. It was invented in the eleventh century ago by a music theorist and teacher called Guido d' Arezzo. He was a monk who desired to devise a method to make it easier to teach music to his students. He utilized the opening syllables of a particular chant sung in his monastery. His system has been modified through the years, but the basic premise is still in place.

Today many music educators, including me, utilize a version called "movable do." Each pitch of a scale has a specific syllable associated with it. In this manner, the melody, or harmony part, of a song can be taught in a very singable manner. This gives the singers aural "handles" in which to learn the music and the skill of sight singing. In the nineteenth century, a man by the name of John Curwen added hand motions to the syllables. These motions, too, have been modified, but Curwen's original system can still be seen.

This brings us to today. By teaching my kids to sing Solefege, it helps them learn new music faster and makes them better musicians. It did wonders for my ability to sight sing once I learned this system in Seminary. It is a means to an end - the ability to sight sing choral music. However, it is a proven teaching tool toward that end, and the kids really seem to enjoy the teaching process of using the syllables and hand motions to learn a song.

Drumming KWA Kids

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For the past several weeks, my friend, Brandon, and I have been tag-team teaching our third and fourth graders. He teaches basic drumming, and I teach mini-keyboards and music staff reading. The kids really seem to be enjoying the class. The pic accompanying this post shows a few of the girls enthusiastically getting into what Brandon is teaching. It is amazing what a creative teacher can accomplish with just a set of inexpensive plastic garbage cans and a pair of drum sticks. Tonight, Brandon was transitioning the kids from the fruit rhythm counting (grape, kiwi, blueberry) he had utilized for the past couple of sessions to the more traditional beat counting method (1&2&3&4&). The kids caught on pretty quickly.

The full third and fourth grade class is pretty large for how and what we teach, so we divide the class into two groups each week. This evening while the girls were drumming, the third and fourth grade boys were taking a baritone ukulele class next door. The girls had just returned from that class a few minutes prior. (For more information on how we utilize fruit syllables in teaching rhythm, check out the blog post dated October 18, 2016. For more information about our baritone ukulele class, see the blog post dated October 19, 2016.)

Best Teaching Method?

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We've purchased the anthem, "Saving One," from Lifeway Worship to use with our combined Adult, Youth, and Children's Choirs. It is a wonderful multi-generation anthem - well written and with a vocal range that is just perfect for kids. Tonight, I'll begin the process of teaching the refrain to the kids. I've only allotted about 10 minutes of rehearsal time to teach it to them. As I see it, I have basically three choices: teach it by rote (play the song for the kids and then let them repeat it back), use solfege syllables (do, re, mi, etc.), or use numbers (1, 2, 3, etc corresponding to the pitches of the song's key, which in this case is F major.) There is really no wrong answer here, but one of these methods is probably better for teaching this particular group of kids. (See the included pictures below for examples.) The ultimate musical goal for this learning process is for the kids to learn the tools to be able to follow along in their choral music. (There are spiritual goals as well, but that is a different post.)

In subsequent weeks, I hope to pass out the anthems we've purchased and sing from the music. Of course, the anthem sheet music will not have either Solfege or numbers to guide them. They will have to follow the melody line on their own. I'll teach them to musically connecting the dots with their eyes as they learn to make their voice follow the rise and fall of the top notes of the melodic line. My desire is for the kids to be able to follow their pitches in the music and not merely just sing the words. 

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We're Off and Running!

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School has started back and we, too, are back into full swing around here with our Kids Worship Arts Ministry. For this semester, we are continuing our basic ministry structure. For the first 1/2 of our time, grades 1-6 are in a large room, and we do a lot of singing/worship discipleship. The tone is upbeat, and I really work hard at keeping things interesting.

For the second half of our time together, the first and second graders have a dedicated space and choir time. The third and fourth graders move upstairs for a music exploration class. Our fifth and sixth graders have a choice between handbells, sign language, and drama.

I'm in charge of the third and fourth grade breakout class this semester, but I'm got some awesome folks leading along with me. We are starting out with basic sight singing, garbage can drums, and baritone ukuleles. As the semester progresses we may add hand chimes, Boomwhackers, and mini-keyboards. We are basically just exploring various forms of music, as the "Music Exploration" name implies. The class is full and the kids seem to really be enjoying the journey. (As a matter of fact, we have so many kids in the class that we are having to divide them. While one group is doing ukuleles in one room, the other group is doing garbage can drumming in another. After a few minutes, the kids swap and experience the other instrument.)

The Adventures of Captain Obvious

This should be obvious to me, but last week I was again reminded that if all I do in rehearsals is have the kids sing songs, I'm churning out singers, not worshippers. It is important to make sure the kids not only learn the notes but also absorb the meaning of the songs. Case in point, last Wednesday we were scheduled to sing a fun song about love. I set up the song by letting the kids tell me their favorite super hero. We continued the conversation with my asking about the coolest super power they wished they possessed. Their answers varied. I then focused the discussion by talking about how love was the greatest power in the universe because God is love. Then, I had some kids read the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13. We then sang the song, "If I Don't Have Love." Takeaway: Look for teachable moments.

Worship Arts Academy Resumes Soon

Our church's Worship Arts Academy is beginning its third year this fall. We offer private lessons in guitar, piano, organ, drums, and voice. Our piano and drum studios take students as young as first grade, and our guitar and voice studios start kids in the fifth grade and up. (We have had great success with adult students as well.) It is really cool to see how God is using this component of our music and worship ministry at FBC. Our goal is to help each student discover and develop his/her God-given talents in a manner that will glorify Him.

Hymns! and More!

As I was downloading the newest curriculum from Celebrating Grace for our 1st-2nd Grade Choir, I noticed that they have a hymn emphasis as one of their curriculum's components! I'm really excited about this because it ties in with my plans to use hymns this year as a teaching tool to help our kids learn to read the music on the staff. So many of the songs the kids typically sing today have rhythms that are way to complex for the kids to actually read from sheet music. As a result, those songs can only be taught by rote. This has it's place, but they will never reach their fullest potential as musicians unless they learn to read from printed music.

What I've come to realize is that the hymn book is full of wonderful songs that are musically appropriate to teach beginning musicians how to follow along on the staff. The added benefit is that the kids are also learning doctrine from the hymns, and they are also learning the historical songs of the church. It is a win-win situation.

The awesome folks over at Celebrating Grace are way ahead of me. Each semester in their graded choir curriculum they include several hymns - providing printable melody line sheets for the kids, full accompaniment sheets for the pianist, demonstration CD's for the kids to hear how the song goes (with kids singing in a proper but not affected manner), and accompaniment trax for the songs.  Cool. (To be fair, the hymn emphasis is just a small part of their curriculum, but I love that they are including this component in addition to all the other musical and doctrinal things they are teaching the kids through music.) Their company is certainly worth a look if you are looking for a quality way to enhance your children's choir ministry. www.Celebrating-Grace.com

The A-Team (or is it KWA Team?)

The success of any ministry rises and falls on its leadership. At FBC, we are blessed to have some of the most awesome team members to make our Kids Worship Arts Ministry a success. What a privilege it is to serve along side such a dedicated group of talented folks. The accompanying picture was taken at our faculty debrief meal we had last night at a local restaurant. Not all of our team members could attend, but those that did really enjoyed the time of fellowship and planning for next year.

The Day After...

How do you spend the day after a major production? Well, if you are like me, you take a deep breath, and clean up the mess. All the stuff that took hours to put up yesterday afternoon has to be put away. The dirty shirts have to be washed and sorted, the sound equipment has to be reset for next Sunday, and I have to make time to focus my attention to all the little things that I put off last week due to prepping for the musical. But it was all worth it, because a group of energetic kids got to hear and proclaim the gospel to their families and our whole community (via our radio feed). My prayer is that his Word will not return void as many of these kids are probably currently dealing with their need for a savior, or they will be soon. Our job is to be obedient and help them know about God's love. Hopefully, we succeeded. Now we can take a few weeks to catch our breath and make future ministry plans as our church calendar switches over to Summer Schedule. KWA will resume the first Wednesday in August.

Setup for Sunday's Musical

With our musical coming this Sunday PM, tonight's rehearsal is very important. We removed our choir railing, setup the puppet stage in the back of the choir loft, and setup some chairs and stands for our guitar players.

 

 

 

Over to the side down on the main floor, we also set up a series of inexpensive guitar stands for the players to use after their song is over.

Final Rehearsals for our Musical

We rehearsed in the Sanctuary last Wednesday evening to begin to work out the logistics for our upcoming musical. We put the black puppet screen on the back row of the choir loft. For our presentation, we'll have the white choir railing and pulpit rug removed. Soloists will come out of the choir loft to sing into the mics down stage. 

Shirts for Everyone!

We've decided to purchase shirts for all the kids for our upcoming musical. To make sure we had the right sizes, I ordered a few samples in all the size options. Last night I had my leaders help me get a list of the sizes we needed for each kid. This morning I placed a large order with an online company.

Our plan is to have the kids wear jeans and a white t-shirt to the dress rehearsal which is scheduled the afternoon of our musical. We'll furnish each child a blue shirt to wear over their t-shirt for the performance. After the performance, we'll take the shirts back. I have a church member that has graciously agreed to wash the shirts. Hopefully, we can get three years+ use out of them this way. I ordered several extras to give us some options for the future.

Behind the Scenes

This is a quick pic of a typical Wednesday night tech setup. The computer is connected via an HDMI cable to a TV. We use the laptop/TV combo to display the text to the songs we are singing.

Beside the computer is a small audio mixer. There are two mics connected to the mixer. One is for me, and the other is for my vocal assistant. The computer has an audio output that runs into the mixer. I also use an iPad loaded with any tracks that we might be singing, and the audio from the iPad feeds into the audio mixer as well. I do not mic my guitar since our room is small enough that it projects fine without application.

The audio mixer is connected via two microphone cables to two powered speakers sitting under the TV which is on a cart. (Although the picture is not very clear, you can see these black speakers on the bottom shelf next to the stacked books.) These are pretty small speakers, but they work well for our setup. The room we assemble in gets utilized for many other things throughout the week, so any equipment we use has to be easily transportable. I keep everything in a small tub. It takes me about 20 minutes to set all this up each week.

Teaching Sight-Singing to Children

I purchased this book, 5 Wheels to Successful Sight-Singing, a few months back, and it has proven to be filled with down-to-earth advice on how to develop excellent sight readers. Its format is a bit different than most texts of this nature. It is presented as a fictitious narrative from the standpoint of a young teacher being mentored by a seasoned children's choir master. It is an interesting approach to keeping a potentially "dry" topic interesting to the reader.  My primary complaint with the text is the seemingly lack of interest in the concept of teaching the kids in our church choirs to become worshipers & worship leaders. However, the many choral technique tips I gleaned from these pages still made the read worthwhile. It has certainly inspired me to do more to teach my kids to become better musicians, and it has inspired me to utilize hymns as a significant means to accomplish this task.

Puppets

Our 3rd & 4th graders are adding a puppet component to one song in our upcoming musical. Working a puppet is hard work because it does not take long for one's hand to get really tired, but these kids are doing a great job. Our challenge is to find a puppet curtain large enough for the entire class to hide behind. (There are 8-10 kids in this particular class.) Our current plan is to use a long PVC pipe connected to a couple of lighting T-bars with a large piece of fabric draped over this contraption.

Numerical Sight-Singing Video Tutorials

In the category of "a picture is worth a thousand words," I decided to make a few brief videos to demonstrate the simple concepts presented in last week's blog post regarding numerical sight-singing. The "singing via numbers" system is certainly not original to me, as it has been around for many years, but I've just recently started using it in a focused manner with some of my choral groups and with the students taking private voice lessons from me through our Worship Arts Academy.  Numerical sight-singing has proven to be quite a useful music education tool within my ministry. Specifically, it is proving invaluable in teaching inexperienced singers how to sing their part with confidence.

Numerical Sight-Singing Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, a new voice student joined my private studio. She was a bright fifth-grader with a pleasant voice, but she had a limited musical background. This made her the perfect candidate to learn to sight-sing via numbers. We started with the huge staff I had laid out on the floor of the Choir Room. (See my March 20, 2017  blog post for a description of this teaching aid.) 

My student had heard of Every Good Boy Does Fine for the names of the notes on the treble lines and FACE for the letter names of the notes on the treble spaces. Since she was already somewhat familiar with the notes of the staff, we started our teaching session there to give her some confidence. As I called out a random note letter name, she responded by stepping on its location. I was very purposeful to brag on her every time she got it correct.

Before long, I moved on to the next step. I began to tell her how the music staff worked. If the first note, which I referred to as a “1”, was on the line, then the next ascending sequential note, which I referred to as a “2”, would be on a space. When “3” was on a line, “4” would be on a space, etc. Using the first line, E, as a reference point for our "1" note location, we applied what we had just discussed by my calling out sequential numbers starting with "1" and moving upwards to "7" and back down.  As I did so, my student moved to that note's location on the large floor staff and stood. I stayed within an octave span, and I never went below “1” for this session. Soon, I explained the other staff "situation" - the instances where “1” fell on a space. In that case, “2” would be on a line, and “3” would be on a space etc. We then did some simple exercises using the bottom space, F, as our "1" reference.

Once I was confident my student understand the basic principles above, I then showed my student the pattern of “odds” and “evens.” When going up (ascending pitches), all of the “odd” numbers shared the same line/space designation. The even numbers always followed a similar pattern. For example, if 1 were on a line, then 3, 5, and 7 would also be on a line, and 2, 4, and 6 would all be on a space. If 1 were on a space, then 3, 5, and 7 would also be on a space, and 2, 4, and 6 would all be on a line. She grasped the new concept very quickly. Armed with the information above, my student was now equipped to quickly find any of diatonic intervals within a single octave. The next step was to move "1" around the staff. We'll explore that in part 2 of this post.

Numerical Sight-Singing Part 2

(This post is part two concerning the topic of Numerical Sight-Singing. If you have not yet read part one, please do that before continuing here.)

After teaching my student the basics mentioned in the previous post, the next step was to move “1” to different positions on the staff.  Over a period of about five minutes, I moved a roll of gaff tape around on the giant floor staff to various locations. With each new position on the staff I made sure my student knew that this new location was now “1”.  Each time “1” moved, we went through some simple exercises discovering where pitches 2-7 were in respect to that new location of pitch 1.

I need to point out that I never mentioned key signatures. There was no need. In my head, I knew that we were only concerned with exploring the major keys. When I declared the bottom line as a “1”, in my mind I was thinking that we were in the key of either Eb major or E major. My pupil did not need this information. She just needed to know that any note on that bottom line was now the “1” note. Any note on the second line was a “3” and the line above that was a “5”, etc. If we moved “1” to the first space, I recognized that we had now “modulated” to the key of F major or F# major. My student did not need this information. She just needed to know that “1” was now on a space and everything else moved relative to that. (i.e., 3, 5, and 7 would now be on the adjacent ascending spaces, and 2, 4 and 6 would be on the lines.)

This whole process until now took about ten to fifteen minutes, after which she could easily calculate any note’s scale number within an octave span.  Although given a bit of time, she could name all the note names on the staff, she did not need to know the name of any of the notes to sing with the numbers.  She merely needed to know the location of the “1” note. Finding any other note on the staff then simply became a simple exercise in patterns. It is a simple concept, but it worked.

It was now time to apply what we had learned by introducing her to her first vocal literature piece. I chose a classic worship song in the key of C that she had never heard before. Once I showed her where “1” was, we slowly worked through the refrain singing by numbers. In no time she realized that what we had been working on with the huge staff on the floor also applied to the printed sheet music. We’ll spend parts of many future voice lessons building on this concept, but in a mere few minutes of instruction, an inexperienced musician had learned to sight-read a new song. Awesome!

How does this apply to Kids Worship Arts? This post and the previous one refer to an individual student’s journey. I chose this example because it was the easiest way for me to covey the numerical sight-singing concept. However, I’ve used this method with larger groups with just as much success. The process usually moves a bit slower when the numbers of singers increases, but the principles work whether it is a single voice student or a full choir. Sight singing by numbers is an awesome tool to help any singer become a musician. All that is needed is appropriate guidance. Be their guide!