This is a blog post to one of my best friends who was just called to be a primary chorister.
This is her first time with the calling, but I’ve had a little bit of experience with this calling. She called me for some tips, and I was super excited for her. I inundated her with information, and I know that she was probably thinking…okaaaayyyyyy.) So – “Thing One” – here are the tips (in no particular order), I hope that you have fun with the calling. I know that you’ll be great…
- You are more of a performer than a musician.
Kids love to be entertained. They love to have fun, move around, and play. To do well as a primary chorister, remember that you need to be able to perform. The best visual aid you have will be YOU! I know that you can be animated, and – especially when it comes to the junior primary – going over the top is not possible. I mean, these kids, for the most part, are obsessed with things like Yo-Gabba-Gabba and the Wiggles…So – go all out. Use big hand gestures. Open your eyes wide. Be expressive. Act like you were one of the kids that were in musical back in high school… 😉
Now…all of that being said, once the older kids get in, you have to watch it. Don’t treat them like babies. Be funny. Be expressive. But don’t be like Yo-Gabba-Gabba. You can’t be boring, but you can’t be lame. And the ten-year-old boys can sniff out lame, so you have to be careful with this. I find that self-depricating humor works really well with the older kids. Don’t be afraid to make a little bit of a fool out of yourself. Get them to laugh. Get them to relax, and then they’ll sing.
- Don’t be afraid to use actual music
Even though I just said that you are more of a performer than a musician doesn’t mean that you should not teach them music. Kids love music, and if you make it fun and age-appropriate, they will be eager to learn actual elements of music.
Consider bringing in instruments if you have them – like chimes, recorders, whatever. Encourage the kids to bring in instruments and maybe they could learn to play a primary song and perform it for the primary. This especially works better for senior primary. Most of them are probably taking musical lessons. Let them participate in a practical way.
When teaching music, there’s no need to say “sing soft or loud.” Go for the music! Refer to “piano, forte, staccato, legato, rest, crescendo, etc”. Encourage the children to be more comfortable with music. The most important thing is to keep your expectations realistic. They are kids. They won’t sit there like a choir. But you can teach them musical elements. Even the younger children will easily remember staccato and legato after just a few times of teaching them. And the coolest part they will like it!
- Repetition is one of the best ways for the kids to learn music…But do what you can to keep it from being boring. Use these printable signs to encourage the kids to sing in different ways (opera singer, monster, baby, etc). I have used these every time I’ve served as a chorister. All of the kids love it. Senior primary, junior primary – they are all obsessed with singing like little lunatics. And, it is so much fun! Of course, when you use these signs, you need to be a good example: of whatever sign comes up. So don’t be afraid to look goofy. You will look goofy. But the best choristers are the goofiest.
- Behavior is best controlled by keeping the kids active and engaged
It is simple. Boredom = naughty behavior. There are many ways to keep the kids engaged. Play games. Teach the gospel. Sing. But if they feel bored, then you will begin to wage a battle that is almost impossible to win.
- Get a mullet wig, or something ridiculous to wear on your head
This is a special “singing hat”. The class who sings the best wins the chance for their teacher to wear the wig. This game is a big winner in both junior and senior primary. The kids love to see the adults act goofy.
- Consider kids vs. adults (rather than boys/girls)
When playing games, I’ve found that it helps to unite the kids. One way to do this is to have the teams be kids vs. adults. This is especially helpful in the senior primary. You’ll be amazed to see how good the kids are at the songs and how horrible the adults are!
- Have Children write original lyrics to a song; perform in sacrament meeting
I did this with the senior primary. You’ll find that the senior primary learns songs very quickly and bores easier than the junior primary. So, take advantage of this time to let them do something original.
One time, I found a simple song (two lines) and had the children write their own song.
Give them some kind of topic or direction and divide them into groups (according to class). Have each group write a verse. Then, practice the song that you’ve written.
There may not be much “singing” in this activity, but the kids will learn. They will learn to think about the gospel, they will learn how to express an idea of the gospel. They will then learn the song, and they will sing it.
When I did this, a mother told me, “The strangest thing happened today in church, my son told me that his favorite part had been singing time – because they were making up their own song.” (Her son was a nine-year old boy. She wasn’t expecting that!) All of the children, were excited about the song – they felt proud of it. They had ownership and were allowed the chance to be creative. It was awesome for all of us.
- Teach a song in sign language
Check it out – you can learn the songs in American Sign Language here. Again, this is something all of the kids loved doing.
- Use the scriptures
You are a gospel teacher. Think about it – What do you remember from when you were in primary? Do you remember the lessons? No! Do you remember sharing time? No! Do you remember the songs? Yes! Each song is a sermon.
A way to keep the older primary engaged in the song – is to teach them the doctrines of the gospel. You can find scriptures relating to each song. Think of incorporating these scriptures into your lessons and games. Get kids thinking about the gospel. Help them to learn the meaning of the song
- Utilize descants, etc. in songs – especially with older kids
They love the challenge. If you need a descant, email me, and I can make a simple arrangement for you. These slightly more complicated musical arrangements help to keep the kids from getting bored. Plus they are doing something they can be proud of. And it sounds nice. Everyone wins.
- Help teach children to direct music – time/etc.
- Remember your audience
Most of these children have been sitting in church for at least an hour. Be honest with yourself, how reverent are you when you just spent an hour sitting in sacrament? Instead of trying to force them to be reverent, remember that “reverence is more than just quietly sitting…” be flexible. People and Children love music. Use this natural love to your advantage.
- Make the boys forget you’re their enemy…
As much as children love music, most choristers are the bane of every 9-12 year-old-boy’s existence. Try to cut out the cutesy stuff for them. They respond better to someone who is challenging them. Involve them. It is likely that they are learning an instrument. Think of a way to involve them in the music, rather than trying to reign them in.
- Be happy and fun, yet firm
If you let the kids get out of control, then they will be out of control. But there isn’t usually a need to get heavy on discipline if you are properly prepared. That being said, the kids will try you. Stick with simple yet effective disciplinary actions. Eye contact. Silence. Waiting. Rewarding good behavior. Reward the entire group for good behavior, and often kids that try to act up will have positive peer pressure – enticing them to be good.
- Communicate with the primary presidency and utilize teachers
This is not break-time for the presidency or other adults. You need their help. The children need their example. Many times they are willing to participate, so encourage them to do so. Their participation is a good example to the rest of the primary children.
- Bear your testimony
You are more than a music teacher. You are a gospel teacher. Bear your testimony of the principles taught in the songs you sing. Your testimony will reinforce the music and the message of the gospel.
- Love the children
If you love the children, and if you go to the Lord, He will guide you on how best to teach them. Everything else I’ve mentioned on this list is secondary to the love you have for the children.
I hope that this has helped!
If anyone else has good ideas, please comment! The more, the merrier.