Consider these three scenarios:
The children are concentrating hard to do the body rhythm pattern the music leader is leading as she sings the song. They are moving to the beat and intensely interested.
But they are not singing much.
The children are involved and engaged in putting together the different puzzle parts on the front board while the music leader is singing the song. You can see the wheels turning in their heads.
But they are not singing very loud.
The children are on the floor in groups figuring out which word comes next in the song. They are putting major words of the song in order for the envelope game as the music leader is singing.
But they are not singing out loud, only in their heads.
But they are not singing!
Over the past three months, I have had comment after comment about how other leaders (not the necessarily the singing leader) are concerned when a child isn’t singing during singing time, even if they are participating, involved, and enjoying the experience.
Because I have answered the question over a range of time (years), and people, and experiences, I would love to address the situation.
Will the children really learn the words to the songs if they do a variety of different activities that don’t really emphasize and drill in the words?
One of the reasons that music affects us deeply as human beings is that the words (and also the meaning of the words) ride on beat, rhythm, and vibrations (such as pitch or harmony or timbre … the tones of different instruments or voices). In order for the song to touch a child deeply, they need to experience so much more than words!
What the ‘nay sayers’ may not realize is that when you teach a song, the words will ride solidly on the music if we do activities with the music, not just the words. The words come in the back door of the brain, and the children just think they “always knew” the song.
The children aren’t singing as they do this activity so they will never learn the words.
Line upon line and precept on precept isn’t just a scripture for adults, it is also a true principle for how a child learns a song.
One week we emphasize the beat and rhythm through an activity.
One week we emphasize the feel and mood of the song through a really appropriate visual activity.
One week we emphasize the rise and fall of the melody through a melody map or a body movement activity.
And one week we emphasize the words by a Crack the Code or a Missing word or another like activity.
Line upon line, we build the song as a whole, …giving all the memories of learning that song an attitude of intrigue and interest by the variety of ways we have presented the song.
The subconscious mind
One of the amazing abilities of the subconscious mind is the ability to let the words of a song slip in the back door of the memory. When a child is engaged and interested in the activity, the words lodge subconsciously into the memory little by little.
Yes, it is good to bring words to a conscious area of the brain at some point, but it doesn’t have to happen right at first. In fact, if there is too much emphasis placed on the words throughout the learning process, the song never grows in feeling, mood, or meaning within a child’s heart. It doesn’t have time to be nurtured by all of the other elements of music taught through the different activities.
The children are not going to remember the words because they don’t sing them every time. The children don’t know the song because they don’t sing the words.
Both of those statements have some untruth to them.
Remembering words to a song does not come only through singing. There are many, many experiences that help us as humans remember songs.
Experience and Review
We have a unique situation where teach children a song, then ask them to remember 6 to 8 months later in a performance! Remembering the words so that you can sing them 6 to 9 months after you learn them comes best by:
- A variety of experiences with the song (so you can really come to know it), and
- Built in monthly reviews of the songs done in a variety of ways. I review a song as part of singing time every week starting at the end of March. Because the brain has a nightly brain dump as part of its efficiency, you have to bring memories “back around.” Help the brain know “you want to remember” something by reviewing it occasionally in a fun and interesting way. It would be best if the review stays true to the feel and mood of the song. (post coming in April)
Song of the Heart
Just because someone is not singing, does not mean they aren’t learning the song. A song can enter someone’s soul in many different ways.
And singing is RE-producing a song. It has to be inside before it is successfully sung outside with true power, or the song is not really in someone’s heart and soul. Even in adult choirs that is a true principle.
Hopefully each child will choose to sing once the song is inside of them so that we can all join in one unified voice through the singing of the song together. There are children, however, that hold the song in their heart, but don’t really like singing. I think the Lord honors that “song of the heart,” too.
So do I encourage my children in my Primary to sing? Yes, after many, many experiences with both the song and the Spirit.
Do my children sing well for the program? Yes, and the audience is deeply touched without knowing exactly why. When you hear someone sing with their whole soul, it is a moving experience. The children know the songs as friends. They experience the beat, the rhythm, and the tempo with their bodies. They have felt tender experiences through stories of how the song has helped or guided or lifted someone else. They know the mood of the song. They know the louds and softs of the song. They know how much breath the song takes to really soar. The children have experienced these songs as their friends. They know the songs much deeper than just the words.
And if you truly teach a child a song, the song can then truly teach the child.