How to Teach a Song or Anthem by Rote

How to Teach a Song or Anthem by Rote

Working with young singers can be such a fun and rewarding experience, but it can be challenging to teach a new song or anthem to children who aren't yet reading (words, let alone music!). What do you do? How do you teach something new, quickly and effectively?

For children who are not quite reading, teaching by rote is the way to go.

What is Rote Learning?

Rote learning is based on imitation and repetition (source). This is how young children learn best! Hearing, seeing, and experiencing things over and over again.

If you've spent some time around young children, you know one of their favorite words is "again" - "do it again," "read it again," "sing it again," etc. This is how we learn.

When teaching music (an aural art form), it's important to help children develop their listening skills and auditory memory from the beginning. Teaching by rote is a great way to do this.

The Church Choir's Guide to Vowels: Part II

The Church Choir's Guide to Vowels: Part II

Earlier this week, I shared Part I in a new series called "The Church Choir's Guide to Vowels. Part I included everything you need (and ever wanted) to know about vowel production, vowel placement, tone, and diphthongs and triphthongs.

Today, I'm sharing Part II with some of the most common "problem vowels" and helpful strategies for fixing them in rehearsal.

But, before we can get talk about problem vowels, we need to talk about what they look (and sound) like and how to diagnose them.

Here are some common choir problems you may have faced:

Problem #1: My choir has a tendency to sing flat or sharp.

This might be related to a lot of things - breath, posture, vocal production, etc. But, it might also be a vowel problem. If that's the case, manipulating the vowels a bit might do the trick.

The Church Choir's Guide to Vowels: Part I

The Church Choir's Guide to Vowels: Part I

Whenever I think of vowels, I think of this scene from Singin' in the Rain:

Any other Singin' in the Rain fans out there?

All jest aside, vowels are a vital component of the English language - spoken and sung. We talk a lot about consonants with our choirs, particularly with words like "God" and "bread" and "heart" that have strong beginning and/or ending consonants. But, what about vowels? How do we talk about them?

For those of you who studied voice or have read up on vowel production, you might know the difference between pre-, post-, and medio-palatal regions off the top of your head. For the rest of the world, the subtleties of vowel production, tongue placement, tone, and IPA symbols are a little more vague and mysterious.

And when it comes to talking about these things with your choir? Well, you can imagine how that might go (and all the jokes the basses will make).

But, no matter your background or the level of your choir, vowels are a significant and vital part of choral-singing. In fact, "Vowels are just as important for intelligibility as are consonants." (source

Clap Your Hands: 16 Clapping Games for Children's Choir

Clap Your Hands: 16 Clapping Games for Children's Choir

Remember those clapping games we used to play as kids? Between the silly (or nonsense) lyrics and the fast-paced sequence of claps, taps, snaps, and crosses, clapping games provided hours of entertainment. It might seem like just fun and games, but there's actually more to it than that. Clapping games can be beneficial to children's development.

Dr. Idit Sulkin has conducted research on the topic of children's hand-clapping games, noting:

"These activities serve as a developmental platform to enhance children’s needs — emotional, sociological, physiological, and cognitive. It’s a transition stage that leads them to the next phases of growing up.” (source

Clapping games are a great way to incorporate rhythm and movement into your choir rehearsals while reinforcing gross motor skills, rhythmic concepts (such as steady beat and subdivision), coordination skills, and the concept of sequencing (source). If you're working with a younger group, try modifying the clapping sequence to fit their ability level (scroll down to the bottom of this article for a few helpful tips).

Tips for Working with Middle School Youth Choirs

Tips for Working with Middle School Youth Choirs

Working with a youth choir can be a fun, inspiring, rewarding, and deeply meaningful experience.

As a director, you balance the responsibilities of building community, integrating service, sharing meaning, inspiring purpose, and fostering musical development.

But how do you approach musical growth and development for adolescent voices? How is it different from working with children's voices or adult voices? What do you do when voices begin to change?

Here are a few helpful tips for working with 6th-8th grade singers:

How to Start a Church Choir

How to Start a Church Choir

This fall, SD and I are starting an intergenerational (youth and adult) choir at our church. The church has a strong children's choir program (through 6th grade) and a good size adult choir (30-40). Our program is a short, 8-week session designed for people who love to sing - no prior experience necessary. We meet once a week for an hour and at the end of the session, we'll combine with the adult and children's choirs to sing an anthem in worship.

We created this group for people that like to sing but feel uncomfortable jumping right into the adult choir, those who can't make Wednesday night rehearsals or don't feel they can make the year-long commitment, and those who've never formally sung in a choir but want the experience.

It sounded good on paper.

We gave the invitation by email, print mailings, and the weekly bulletin. We made an announcement in church one Sunday. We shook hands with people we didn't know at Coffee Hour.

One week before our first rehearsal, we had four people signed up.

How to Create a Children's Choir Rehearsal Plan

How to Create a Children's Choir Rehearsal Plan

How do you write a lesson plan?  How do you know how long things will take in rehearsal?  Is it best to start with something new or something familiar?  What do you do when they stop paying attention? These are some of the questions I had in my first years of teaching and I'm sure they resonate with many of you, as well.

The answers to these questions really depend on what kind of teacher or director you are or want to be and what kind of group you're working with.  After a few years of working with children's choirs, I found a quick pace with lots of music and related activities seems to keep everyone's attention while still working toward my learning goals for the ensemble. 

Teaching Hymns to Children - Part II


hymns, hymnody, teaching, children, singing, church music, worship, church service, choir, choir rehearsal, tradition, children's choir Now that we've talked about some considerations for teaching hymns to children, here are a few ideas for hymn selection and ways to incorporate them into worship:


Range considerations • Choose hymns that fall in a comfortable singing range for children (typically, no lower than D above Middle C and no higher than Treble D)

Repetition and variety • Find opportunities in hymns to teach the children about musical form: AABA, ABA, verse/chorus

Good text • Connect the hymns you choose to an overall theme, Scripture reference, or season of the church year • Give children an opportunity to sing in another language: German, Latin, Spanish, Zulu, Cherokee, etc.


1. Have children process into the service during the opening hymn 2. Plan a joint choir anthem with adult choir, children's choir, and handbells for a special service (ex. We Gather Together) 3. Create a special music slot for a children's choir anthem before the children's message 4. Plan a hymn festival to celebrate the church's legacy of hymn-singing

How have you used hymns with your children's choir? Have any other suggestions not mentioned here? Please leave a comment below!

Image Credit: personal

Previously: Teaching Hymns to Children - Part I

Teaching Hymns to Children - Part I

Is there value in teaching hymns to children? Are they effective teaching tools? How do you incorporate them into rehearsals? Here are a few thoughts:

Why teach hymns to children?

Church heritage

  • Connect the children to the church's history and invite them to be a part of the legacy
  • Help develop their identity as a choir. How is a church children's choir different than an elementary school or community choir?

Spiritual formation

  • Connect the hymn texts to Scripture verses
  • Discuss the meaning of the text and communicate its relevance for today

Music education

  • Use hymns to teach children about singing: unison, 2-part, canon, vowels, consonants, shaping
  • Identify elements of tonality and rhythm once the hymn is learned: recognition of patterns, phrase structure, meter, melodic lines
  • Introduce the children to the various genres of music represented in the hymnal: spirituals, folk melodies, etc.


Hymns in rehearsals

  • Choose a hymn to use as a gathering or welcome song
  • Select a hymn of the month (I tend to use only the first verse)
  • Connect hymns to anthems and other special music with a common theme or musical element

Hymns in worship

  • Use hymn arrangements as anthems
  • Have the children lead the opening hymn for the congregation (from the front or while processing in)
  • Give children an opportunity to be active participants in the service

Role in worship

  • Children in leadership
  • Emphasis on purpose over performance

Check back on Wednesday for Part II of this discussion - hymn selection and suggestions for worship!

Hymn Sing

Hymn Sing.png

There's something truly inspiring about community singing.  The act of bringing people of all ages and all professions together and singing something - in unison or in harmony - is a tradition rich in history and meaning.  Picture this scene from the early 20th century:

April 5, 1919

“At the first session of Farmers’ Week Mrs. Steele faced a packed house. 

There were the reserved farmer and his family, the classic self-conscious professor, the shy freshman, the all-wise sophomore and the learned upper-classman.  In addition, townspeople of all ages and professions were present. . . .With breathless suspense we waited to see what Mrs. Steele would do with this unusual gathering.  Was it possible to make this audience sing?  If Mrs. Steele had any trepidation or misgivings she did not betray them but stepped forward in her inimitable manner and said:

“First, I want everyone in this audience to know that he can sing.  Why, everyone can and everyone wants to sing.  It’s the simplest thing in the world.  All you have to do is to forget about yourself; it’s self-consciousness that prevents most persons from trying.  Can you sing?  Of course you can.  I know it.  We are going to sing the first verse of The Star-Spangled Banner.  Stand erect, hands straight down at your sides.  Now open your mouths and sing.” 

And with one movement of her baton the entire audience, led by the university band, the university glee club and the trained chorus of county agents, burst forth. . . .

"Don’t you see that you can all sing?” said Mrs. Steele. 

“People get confidence in themselves when they hear others who have no more training than they have singing along with them.  Now you know what Community Singing is. . . .It is the expression of the mass soul in song.  A singing of the people, for the people, by the people.”

Trosper, B.B. (1919). “Community Sings,” excerpt. The Country Gentleman, Vol. 84. Luther Tucker & Son (63-64).

Isn't that great?!  I especially love that last part: "Community singing. . . .is the expression of mass soul in song. . . .of the people, for the people, by the people."

Last Sunday, Steve and I walked to church for "Tent Sunday" - the one Sunday a year where choir members, pastors, and lay readers move outside the walls of the Sanctuary; where the organist plays a Casio keyboard; where the pages of the Bible on the altar flip back and forth in the wind; where the congregation sits in folding chairs and bulletins are used as fans. 

The service began with a good, old-fashioned hymn sing. 

For those of you who might not be familiar with the tradition, a hymn sing is a time when hymn favorites are called out by members of the choir and the congregation for all to sing.  Together, everyone turns to "#77," for instance and sings 1-2 verses.  Folks generally have their favorites ready to shout out at the conclusion of each hymn.  Hands go up, numbers are called out, and murmurs of, "Oh yes, I love that one," are heard above the fluttering of hymnal pages.  With a brief introduction, the crowd joins together with fullest voices, truly singing their hearts out.

Isn't this what it's all about?

Music is often considered an outward expression of the soul.  Creating music together - with children and babies and grandmas and youth; with those who read music and those who know the words by heart and those who are experiencing it for the first time  - that is the expression of all of our souls combined.  How great is that?! 

"Of the people, for the people, by the people" and how sweet it is.