Different Versions of Amazing

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Last month, the Women’s Ministry at our church held it’s annual holiday banquet. As part of the evening, several different hostess decorated various tables in the Fellowship Hall for the evening’s festivities. While I did not attend the event, I did have the privilege of seeing the room decorated. I can honestly say that this is the nicest that our Fellowship Hall has ever looked. Each table was meticulously decorated, but each was totally different. It was amazing.

In many ways, this concept of “distinct beauty” is a metaphor of my vision for this website and ministry. At First Baptist, we are very passionate about Kids Worship Arts Ministry, but our exact ministry could not easily be duplicated in another setting. No one else has the same exact set of people and material resources that our church possesses. This is how it should be. Instead, our dream is that other churches will embrace the principles that we are espousing, that of developing young worshipping artists, but we want each church to put their own “spin” on the ministry. We desire is for every church inspired by our approach to ministry to develop it’s own “beautiful table” of kids worship ministry that uniquely reflects the people and resources that only that church possesses. If that happens, that will be amazing indeed.

A Good Christmas Music Resource

If you are looking for a good basic Christmas music book to use with sing-a-longs at Christmas time, The Christmas Music Fake book a great resource. Made primarily for guitarists and keyboard players who can chord, the strength of the book is that all the songs are in the key of C. This is also it's weakness because that key is not necessarily the best one for the average singer. However, it is still a valuable resource to have in one's library, and a guitar capo can do wonders for helping move a song into a more singable range.

Easy-to-Plan Christmas Service


Each year, our church does a candlelight Christmas Eve service. The church is packed! We dim the lights and focus on the simplicity of the Christmas story. The service basically consists of Scripture narration and congregational hymns followed by the Lord’s supper. At the end of the service, we light the candles that everyone was handed when they entered the building. With the room lit with only candlelight, we end the service singing “Silent Night.” It is a very simple service in structure, but it is very meaningful to our congregation. The service can easily be adapted for a kid’s program since the songs are already familiar to the kids and the congregation.

Scripture: Luke 1:26-33
Song: “Emmanuel”
Scripture: Luke 2:1-14
Song: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
Scripture: Luke 2:15-20
Song: “O Come, All Ye Faithful”
Song: “Away In a Manger”
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
Solo related to Christmas
Song: “We Three Kings”
Devotional Thought
Lord’s Supper
Lighting of Candles
Song: “Silent Night”

Games with a Purpose


Sometimes, it is helpful to have a quick way to focus a group of kids in a fun and purposeful manner. For those times, I love to use drama games (also called theater games). Here are three of my favorites.

Dr. Know It All
Two or three people sit in chairs facing the audience. These kids are the “Doctor” who knows everything. The doctor answers questions from the audience, but the answer can only be stated one word at a time from each kid in turn. For example, a question might be, “Doctor Know It All, how do you make a sandwich?” The Doctor, which in this scenario is three different kids, then answers by each of the three kids saying just one word at a time,  “First - you - take - a - piece - of - bread…” The kids playing the Doctor have to answer using just one word per person, and they cannot confer before answering. It is a lot of fun.

Two Truths and a Lie
The person who is “it” has to tell three facts about themselves. Two of these facts have to be true. One has to be false. The rest of the group then tries to guess which fact is the lie. Once this is done, another person is selected to be “it,” and the game continues.

Crazy Family Pics
This one involves the entire group. It helps if the director has a camera. (A phone camera is just fine for this.) The entire group is told that they are a strange family who will be having their family picture taken. On the count of 3, the group must strike a pose that represents the family “business.” After the countdown, the group freezes. The leader then quickly snaps the picture with the camera. The leader then lets the group know the new “family business,” and the process begins again. Ideas include, circus workers, fire fighters, thieves, super heroes, baseball players, etc.

Drama games are a lot of fun, but they also serve an educational purpose. They teach the students to be expressive, creative, and confident in their speech and actions. This carries over to other artistic aspects including drama, speech, and music. There are many books available for drama/theater game ideas. Search Amazon for options.

Happy Reformation Day - 500 Years!

Today is the 500th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther's desire was to have an honest scholarly dialogue concerning some major concerns he had with the Catholic Church of which he belonged. His actions, however, started a major chain of event which resulted in what we now refer to as the Protestant Reformation. Check out this short stop-motion video for more information.

Portrait Photography with Kids


A few summers ago, I taught a photography class to a group of kids at a state-wide music camp. Many of the students that attended the class had marginal cameras at best, but they learned to take good photos with the equipment they owned. That experience got me to thinking that a track which focused on photography might be a good option for our KWA kids at some point. Having been an amateur portrait photographer for several years, I’ve gleaned a few pointers to help beginners get started. The tips below apply mainly to taking portraits, but they can also be utilized in other forms of photography as well.

In my opinion, the primary difference between a snapshot and a portrait boils down to two things: lighting and composition. If one can grasp these two basic concepts early, then the other components of the photography art (posing, lens selection, camera settings, etc.) usually can be conquered later as the student continues to develop. Furthermore, neither of these primary items necessarily requires expensive equipment. 

Concerning lighting, one of the easiest and least expensive ways for a novice photographer to get great portraits is to shoot outside about an hour before sunset. At that time of day, the sun has moved behind local trees and/or buildings. Everything is still well lit, but the large open sky is providing the primary illumination - not the harsh sun. With a typical consumer camera, one will have about thirty minutes or so before it starts to get too dark to shoot. When shooting at other times of the day, I try to position my subject on the edge of "open shade" - still in the shadows, but just barely. Cloudy days are also great for portraits. The main point to remember is this: To make the most pleasing outdoor photos in most locations, avoid direct sun-light when possible.

Regarding composition, the general rule of thumb is this: Portraits usually look best when the subject's eyes are about 1/3 from the top of the frame. Most pictures also look the most pleasing when there is a bit more room in front of the subject than behind.

The other compositional component of which to be mindful is the background. Make sure everything complements the subject. While there are always exceptions, a good default approach is to make sure the background is not overly bright or distracting. Never be afraid to reposition your subject if the current location does not lend itself to a flattering portrait. Other than that, just experiment with what looks best. Move the camera position and/or your subject around within a scene until a location/angle is found that works best.

With these basic tips in mind, quality portraits are easily within the reach of almost any photographer regardless of their equipment, age, or experience. 

Former KWA Student Leads Youth Praise Band

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One of our former KWA students will be leading our newly formed youth praise band. Brianna is now in the eighth grade, and she has been taking guitar and voice through our Worship Arts Academy for two and a half years. Our immediate plan is for the youth praise band to accompany our youth ensemble as they lead worship a couple of times this fall. In the spring, this ministry will expand to leading worship on a more regular basis.

The picture included here was taken this past Sunday afternoon as the team rehearsed. The band's first worship leading opportunity will be in a few weeks. Our Youth Worship Arts Ministry is scheduled to lead a thanksgiving service for a halfway house ministry that our church supports in a nearby town.

While we've had talented singers in our Youth Worship Arts Ministry for years, having skilled youth instrumental leader has been a challenge. Hopefully, this is changing. Through the efforts of our Kids Worship Arts Ministry (large scale ministry) and our Worship Arts Academy (private lessons), our goal is to equip the next generation of instrumentalists and singers for worship leadership in the Kingdom. 

It's Christmas

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If you are looking for a good anthem to sing with any combination of kids, youth, and adults, "It’s Christmas" should be on your short list. Made popular and written by Chris Tomlin, the song includes a medley of "Away in a Manger," "Go, Tell it on the Mountain," and a new refrain entitled, "It’s Christmas." Our particular arrangement is arranged by Jay Rouse and is published by Word Music.

The included traditional Christmas carols have been given a jazzy/syncopated rhythmic treatment. Our kids seem to really enjoy it. We are singing the anthem as part of our Adult Choir Christmas program, and we are inviting any KWA kids present in the audience for that presentation to join us on stage as we sing it. We are also planning on incorporating the song into our KWA Celebration night the first Sunday evening of December.


Chimes that Chord

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My previous post mentioned how we use baritone ukuleles in open “C” tuning to quickly play songs. There is another thing you can do with the same set of music. We have a set of tone chimes. These can be used individually to play melodic lines, but we also like to use them in groups to play chords. 

By assigning a different color to each chord, the kids can quickly know what chord they are playing. Currently, our chimes have a red piece of tape on the “C chord” notes, a yellow piece of tape on the “F chord” notes, and a blue piece of tape on the “G chord” notes. In our setup, I tell the kids holding “red” chimes that they only play on the C chords in the music. The “yellow”chimes only play on the F chords, and the “blue” chimes only play on the G chords. 

The kids catch on pretty quickly, especially when the groups are separated into distinct areas of the room. It is also very helpful for the director to be very overt with gesturing to the group that is supposed to be chiming at any given moment. The chimes can be used to chord a song alone while someone sings the song's melody, and they may be used at the same time as the baritone uku’s on the same piece of music. As the kids advance, the chimes can also be used to play the melody of a song. They are a very versatile tool to have one's ministry.

Baritone Ukulele Resources

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My son, Daniel, is in the second grade. The other day, he expressed an interest in learning to play the Baritone Ukulele. I showed him the basics, and he was quickly making music on his own. Remembering that experience, I thought it might be a good time to briefly discuss some ukulele resources we use with our KWA kids. 

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Baritone Ukuleles are normally tuned similar to a guitar, but we have chosen to turn ours to “open tuning” (key of C). We tune the four strings of the instrument as follows: C (lowest string), G, C, and E (highest string). Strumming with the right hand without pressing any strings with the left hand plays a C chord. Using the left hand to press one’s finger across all strings at the 5th fret yields a F chord. Pressing all the strings at the 7th fret yields a G chord. 

With these three chords, kids can play many songs, although some songs may have to be simplified to work.  Our biggest challenge has been to find simple songs that have an appropriate vocal range for kids when played in the key of C. Here are a few we have discovered that work well:

- Jesus Loves Me
- Father Abraham
- Deep and Wide
- Amazing Grace (sing down an octave)
- Silent Night
- Joy to the World
- I Saw the Light
- Amazing Grace / My Chains Are Gone

Teaching Rhythms to Kids

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I’ve found a great resource for teaching basic rhythm to large groups. The book is called “Sing at First Sight: Level 1.” It comes in two varieties. One is for individual purchase by the students. (It has a blue cover. I use that one with my private voice studio students.) The other one, pictured here with a purple cover, grants permission to make photocopies of the book for one’s class. This is the one we use for KWA. 

I primarily use this resource with my third and fourth graders. Right now we are only learning quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, and eight note rhythms. Each of these note-values also has a corresponding rest value. I first teach the kids to clap and speak the rhythms. Then, we pass out a single drum stick and play the rhythms on a garbage can drum. Finally, the kids repeat the rhythms again and do “drum rolls” on the half and whole notes.  It is fun to make games out of the exercises (i.e. girls against boys playing different rhythm lines at the same, etc.). The kids seem to really like it, and I’m enjoying helping them develop as musicians.

The Next Generation of Church Tech Personnel

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I had lunch with a good friend the other day, and he has agreed to teach an audio tech class to our older kids starting in January of 2018. It is our hope that several of those young students will get inspired with audio/visual technology in the church and decide to further develop their skills. The next generation of tech ministry personnel may come from this group of kids.

The teaching plan is to primarily focus on the audio side of church tech, but lighting and media may be covered as well, if time allows. We have several pieces of sound equipment sitting in a production closet that we use for various things throughout the year.  Starting with a small mixer, a couple of mics, a couple of speakers, and an amp, the class could easily cover the basics in a few weeks. Following this they could scale up to using more advanced equipment as time and student talent/interest allows. I’m really excited about this new addition to our KWA ministry.

Multi-Generational Worship

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After weeks of rehearsals, the day finally came! At the beginning of our offering time of our second morning service yesterday, I quickly asked our Kids and Youth Worship Arts students to come to the platform. As students from all over the building poured into the isles, our youth narrators began to quote from Psalm 103. This was followed by four youth soloists singing verse one of the anthem. Then it happened. At a specific prescribed measure of the song, our combined Kid, Youth, and Adult Choirs began to fill our church with praise. It was glorious! What struck me was was not so much the quality of the singing, although I thought everyone did a outstanding job, rather, it was something much deeper. What we were expericing was a picture of what God desires of the church. From age 7 to age 70 worshippers and worship  leaders were uniting their voices together in praise. It was a wonderful taste of Heaven.

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.)