How to Start a Worship Arts Team

How to Start a Worship Arts Team

The arts - whether it's music or dance or drama or visual - are a wonderful way to enhance the worship experience, engage the congregation, bring stories to life in new ways, and create meaningful, memorable experiences for all involved.

Related post: Integrating Visual Arts in Worship

The term "worship arts" means different things at different churches, but often times, it includes things like:

  • altar decorations
  • paraments
  • banners (including ribbon and streamers)
  • visual aids for worship
  • flower arrangements, wreathes, and other decorations
  • visual art
  • audio and visual technology
  • dance
  • drama

There's been an effort at my current church to incorporate more of these things into our worship services on a regular basis, so last year, I started a worship arts team.

An Inside Look at My Creative Process

An Inside Look at My Creative Process

Creativity is one of those illusive things that’s hard to wrap your mind around sometimes. What is it? Does everyone have it? Can it be developed?

One of the big things I’ve learned about creativity over the past few years is that, more than anything else, creativity is a way of thinking. It’s a way of looking at the world, interacting with it, challenging it; studying things, testing things, and a relentless desire to explore new territory.

Some people naturally tend to think this way, but that doesn’t mean creativity is limited to certain individuals. Creative thinking is a strategy; it’s a skill that can be developed.

Let’s delve into theory for just a minute:

Creative thinking (in any context) has four main components: Flexibility, Fluency, Originality, and Elaboration (source). 

Integrating Visual Arts in Worship

Integrating Visual Arts in Worship

There’s no denying it: We live in a visual age.

Statistics show that only 10% of people remember things they hear and only 20% remember things they read. But, a remarkable 80% of people remember things they see and do. (source)

Visuals play a huge role in how we learn and process information. Did you know that our eyes process visuals 60,000x faster than text? (source). Understanding the power of visuals and the role they play in our everyday lives is crucial to planning and creating meaningful, engaging worship services.

”The visual arts used in worship bring the gospel to life.” (source)

Modern worship is informed by a rich heritage, a collection of sacred symbols and icons, and tangible things like bread and wine. How can we integrate visuals into our worship services on a more regular basis? How can we depict the story of the gospel through art and media? How can we enhance the spoken Word, the prayers, the rituals, the music with visual art forms?

How to Create Your Own Doxology Transitions

How to Create Your Own Doxology Transitions

There are lots of ways to add musical creativity into worship:

hymn harmonizations
transpositions for the last verse
a trumpet obbligato for "Now Thank We All Our God" 

traveling music as the choir moves into place
a soprano descant (that your sopranos can sing) for "O Come, All Ye Faithful" 
newly-composed parts for the praise band

But every week? Who has time for that?!

There's one thing I’ve been challenging myself to do every Sunday since July. It’s helped me grow as a musician and proved meaningful for congregation members. And now, it’s something I look forward to as part of my planning and preparation for Sunday each week. It is:

Creating transitions from the offertory to the doxology. 

40 Ideas to Inspire Creativity in Your Students

40 Ideas to Inspire Creativity in Your Students

"To stimulate creativity, one must develop the child-like inclination for play.”- Albert Einstein

As a piano teacher, I love teaching young beginning students. I love their enthusiasm, the questions they ask, their excitement over little successes, and most of all, their creativity.

Young children are naturally curious and inquisitive, with vivid imaginations. I love finding ways to bring that into our piano lessons and their practicing at home. I added a "Creativity Challenge" to the bottom of my assignment sheets a few years ago (available as a free printable here) and each week, I write a short prompt to encourage creative exploration, discovery, and music-making during the week.

How to Channel Your Inner Five-Year-Old

How to Channel Your Inner Five-Year-Old

I love working with five-year-olds. I love their creativity, their fearlessness, their willingness to try new things, their crazy imaginations, and the way they make everything silly and fun. Five just might be my favorite age.

Some suggest that thinking like a five-year-old is beneficial for creativity, leadership skills, and growing a business (source). After all, five-year-olds are about as creative as they come (try asking one to explain why the sky is blue). Next time you need a fresh spark of creativity or you want to see the world from a new perspective, channel your inner five-year-old. Here's how:

Ask questions. Have you been around a five-year-old lately? They ask lots of questions. Want to challenge the status quo? Ask more questions. Want to understand the heart behind that decision? Ask more questions. Want to create something unique and innovative? Ask more, well, you know.

How to Create Instrumental Arrangements for Worship

How to Create Instrumental Arrangements for Worship

Have you ever needed an instrumental piece for worship at the last minute? If you've found yourself in this situation, then you know it can be complicated and time consuming to track down a piece that will work. Because, after all, you're not just looking for any piece of music; you're looking for something that fits the theme of the day, is the right length, is in the right key, is manageable enough to put together the morning of, and is easily accessible (i.e. downloadable or something you already own).

As someone who's been in this situation many times, I've come up with a quick and easy solution: creating instrumental arrangements from music I already have (choral octavos, solo piano music, hymn harmonizations, vocal collections, etc.). 

Valentine Composition Project

As a young piano student, I had a teacher that assigned Valentine composition projects. 

The task was to create a song with words for a friend or family member, notate it in lessons with her guidance, and perform the musical valentine for the person you chose. I remember sitting at the piano in our living room, playing with patterns and ideas until something stuck.

Here is a little sample:


Somehow, I always managed to create something beyond my reading abilities (e.g. Gb-major, anyone?) but my teacher was extremely patient and caring and by Valentine's Day, without fail, I had a newly-notated composition in hand. 

This was always a fun time of year for us and I remember feeling such pride in seeing my composition in written form.

Ashley Danyew | Valentine Composition 1
Ashley Danyew | Valentine Composition 2

This year, I'm passing on the tradition to my piano students. I decided to structure the project a bit - the first version (above left) is for my 1st grade students (based on a 5-finger scale) and the second (above right) is for my elementary students who have some experience composing 2-part music.

Valentine Composition Project Worksheet by Ashley Danyew

Free Download

A great way to incorporate composition into your elementary lessons. Includes two versions: 5-finger position (hand position is limited to the C major pentascale) and 2-part (grand staff).

Feel free to download these PDFs to use in your studio (for your personal use only). Happy composing!

Six Ideas for Fall Piano Lessons


Do your students love Halloween as much as mine do? 

Every week they come to lessons so excited to tell me about their costume plans and the decorations in their classroom or at home so this year, I decided to introduce lots of Halloween and fall-themed music and lesson activities during the months of October and November to celebrate the season.  Here are some of my favorite ideas:

Six Ideas for Fall Piano Lessons

Please note: some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you decide to purchase through any of them, I will earn a small commission. This helps support the blog and allows me to continue creating free content. Thank you for your support!

1. "Trick-or-Treat" warm-ups

A great way to review scales and warm-up patterns!  Have students draw a few technic patterns from a bowl (or perhaps a festive jack-o-lantern!).  Will they stumble (trick) or master the pattern on the first try (treat)?  Of course, some sort of treat will make this challenge all the more fun!

2. Creativity challenge

My younger students LOVE making up their own pieces each week.  This month, I've been assigning Halloween "creativity challenges" and I love hearing the things they come up with during the week!  Here are a few examples of "creativity challenges" for Preparatory B/Level 1 students:

- Make a piece about Halloween using your new warm-up (5-finger scale in A minor).
Make up a song about Halloween using four rhythm patterns (notated on assignment sheet).  Don't forget to write words for your song!

3. Rhythmic speech match-up

I saw this idea on Pinterest and knew it would be a great activity for lessons leading up to Halloween.  Create a list of seasonal phrases (i.e. "acorns falling from the trees" or "pumpkins are round, orange and brown") or use this list of Halloween phrases that match a series of set rhythm patterns.  Have students read the phrases out loud and choose the rhythm pattern that matches.

4. Seasonal pieces

There are so many great pieces out there for fall and my students love having a "special piece" (usually something not from one of their books) to work on in addition to their other assignments!  Here are a few of my favorite pieces for fall for Preparatory B/Level 1 students:

- The Haunted Mouse (Faber & Faber, Level 1, Lesson Book)
- Song for a Scarecrow (Faber & Faber, Level 1, Lesson Book)
- Pumpkin Boogie (Faber & Faber, Level 2B Lesson Book)
- Whirling Leaves (Faber & Faber, Level 2B Lesson Book)

5. Candy corn dictation

Such a cute idea from Emily at The Sweetest Melody!  This is another fun rhythm activity for fall lessons, appropriate for all ages, as the rhythms you choose for dictation can be tailored to the individual student.  For example, I might choose duple rhythms with triplets for one student (to reinforce her understanding of triplets), duple rhythms with quarters and eighths for a first-year student, and patterns with more subdivisions for an intermediate level student.

6. Duet improvisation

I love playing duets with my students during lessons, especially ones that we create together in the moment.  The Haunted House improvisation in The Music Tree, Part 2B has the perfect programmatic title for Halloween-themed lessons!  (Note: Since this is an improvisation activity, it's really suitable for a range of levels, since the musical material provided is just a starting place.)

Happy fall teaching!

On Being an Entrepreneur

Do your best. Hold fast to your core values. Create something that matters. Do good work. Help others. Be kind. Add value to those around you.

These statements are very much in line with my core values as a teacher and business owner.

I want to encourage creativity in others, share learning experiences, and inspire those who have a passion for making music.  The words above remind me to focus on the things that add value, promote excellence, and make a difference to someone.

It was never about how to make money or be "successful" (as others define it).  Those of you who consider yourself entrepreneurs or creatives know what I'm talking about.  We do what we do because our heart and soul demand it.  It's not about power or prestige, it's about creating a legacy that you can be proud of.

It's about holding on to your values and the things that make you YOU.  It's about being honest and authentic in the work you do and the relationships you build.  These things are at the heart of our passion, aren't they?  It's that desire to do something meaningful, make something beautiful, and see things from new perspectives.

I find an immense amount of hope and inspiration and possibility in these words - I hope you do, too.