Category Archives: Singing

Non-Core Hour Ideas: Music

Okay, so we Missouri homeschoolers all know we need 600 hours of core subjects per year, but how do we fill the 400 non-core hours? Sure, you could just have your child reinforce core skills – we aren’t required that the remaining hours be something other than math, language arts, social studies, and science. But why do that to your children? Give them a much-needed break and allow them to enrich their lives by offering some creative topics for study. Some areas are rich with classes for homeschoolers. In our immediate area, we have gymnastics, archery, art, choirs, and bands. These are just the non-core offerings, and there may be even more that I am not aware of. Whether or not you have access to homeschool classes, almost every area will have a music teacher of some sort.

Putting your children into music lessons is a sure-fire way to fill some of that time. Here’s what I recommend: a 30 minute lesson once a week and 30 minutes of daily practice time. (Including lesson day, and here’s why: the sooner the student gets to the piano after his lesson, the better his retention will be – thus making it easier on him in the long run and improving his progress overall.) That totals an hour of music on lesson days, and 30 minutes on subsequent days.

If you would like to stretch those daily half hour sessions to an hour, I have come up with a few ideas for you. (If an hour or 30 minutes is too long for your child’s attention span, you can easily break the practice and extras down into 15-minute increments.)

Piano Play: Allow your child to sit in front of the piano and just make things up. Show him how to make simple chords (you can YouTube it or ask your music teacher) and improvise a melody. Or just let him experiment and see what kinds of sounds and rhythm he can come up with on his own. Children often enjoy this unstructured play time, and it can be a great stress reliever (especially if you allow them to express their emotions through the volume and tempo).

Flashcards/Theory: If you really want to get your children’s music lessons off to a flying start, flashcards are a great way to reinforce primary concepts. You can help your child make some (look for tutorials online), you can download them for free, or you can find an app that quizzes your music-learner. You could even go all-out and buy a pack. 😉 Spending time with flashcards each week will greatly increase a beginner’s sight-reading capability.

Listening: Choose some classical music (or any other genre they are interested in) and allow your child to soak it up as they eat, play, or do homework (best if there are no lyrics). I would even count contemporary music listening as non-core hours if I were making it a point to analyze it in some way after listening: what makes country music different from pop? What instruments, rhythms, or techniques does this specific genre use that gives the listener a clue to what kind of music he is hearing? If the student is advanced, you could even discuss chord progressions and voicing.

Singing: Find some songs on YouTube or a sing-a-long, and have your children learn the words and melody. This reinforces their memory skills and can be quite enjoyable. Also, you could look for songs that would benefit other subject areas, such as math, science, history, etc. (If you have several kids, they can play musical chairs while learning by rote. I use this technique with my choir kids, and it’s a great way to get them to sing the same words over and over and over again without showing the slightest sign of boredom!)

Make Instruments: Help your kids make a cigar-box guitar or a bean shaker. You can find tutorials online. Percussion instruments can be made from almost anything. Next, model rhythms for your child, and have them mimic you on their very own hand-crafted instrument. (You can play the same game with melodies instead of beats if you feel like singing, lol.) Carvalho Carvalho

These are just a few non-core activities off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many more that I am missing. Subscribe to my blog, and be on the lookout for ways to get music-themed CORE hours.


Can you think of any more non-core ideas? Leave them in the comments below.

Bible Verse Songs

Well, I have been writing my piano curriculum, but not in any particular order. I went through Psalms the other night, and arranged eight or ten verses to rhythms. Yesterday, I went through my favorites and put them to music.

When I eventually complete the curriculum, I’d like to dedicate several pages to just middle C and D in the treble clef, followed by middle C and B in the bass clef. I’m going to be sure that they are actually learning to read the notes, instead of finger numbers. In fact, I don’t intend to include finger numbers at all until the music gets more complicated – not even initial fingering because I’m going to have them play the two- and three-note songs beginning with different fingers. I am really tired of having kids get stuck in hand positions.

When I say that I’m going in no particular order, I mean that I am choosing a Bible verse and deciding whether it would sound okay with just two melody notes, or whether it needs three, four, or five. Then I arrange the song the way I like. I’m really lacking two-note songs, but I will find some eventually.

Anyway, it occurred to me that these songs would also be good for voice students who have a limited vocal range of a fifth or so. I have six songs so far; here are the two that I like best: one for voice (although I also made the simplified right-hand only arrangement for piano students) and one for piano. (The piano one can also be sung as a round, so it will work for voice students too, especially with groups of siblings or friends.)

I own a copy of Finale from my university days, but my computer that has it installed isn’t working right now. So the other day, I downloaded a copy of MuseScore 2, and I must say that I like it very well. After using Finale, it was pretty intuitive. A few things were different, but it is less complicated and I actually like it better for my purposes. Best of all, it’s a free program!!

He_That_Dwelleth-1He_That_Dwelleth (voice PDF)







In_the_Beginning (piano PDF)In_the_Beginning-1


What does God sing about?


The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.

Zephaniah 3:17

I wish I could put into words how this verse makes me feel. We’ve all heard John 3:16 so many times, that we tend to overlook its deep meaning. We’re desensitized. I think people get the feeling that God is trying to guilt them into serving Him.

But this verse in Zephaniah is fresh. It proves to me how much God really does love me. Enough to give His son, of course. But even more than that. Enough to sing over me. I am precious to Him. He enjoys my company; desires my fellowship.

It kind of reminds me of my relationship with my husband. I told someone the other day that I really like my husband, and they said, “Well, you love him!” But to me, liking my husband is even more important than loving him. I love a lot of people – I care intensely about them and what happens to them. But I really like my husband. I like being around him, talking to him, spending time with him. This is the way God feels about us! Not only does He love us, but He likes us too!

This verse does a couple of things for me: first, it makes me feel deeply loved (and liked!).

Second, it makes me really wanna hang out with my best friend, who also happens to be the Creator of the universe.

Third, it helps me forgive others because I realize that this verse can apply to anyone walking the face of the earth. Even those who aren’t saved yet still have the potential to get saved, and to bring this much joy into the heart of God. It helps me remember how precious each and every person is.

Choir as a Ministry

Yesterday, as part of my Assisting Silent Seekers program, I wrote about Starting a Homeschool Choir. Katherine Trauger from Home’s Cool! had some great questions, and in this post, I answer them to the best of my knowledge and experience. I truly encourage you to leave comments and/or questions down below!

Q: Our church is looking for a way to reach out to its low income, mixed heritage/language neighborhood. If the children are from moral backgrounds, do you think this could work for that purpose? Not so much for excellence, but for corralling kids to learn a bit of English, Scripture, and of singing.

A: I think it could absolutely work! It might also be fun to teach the English-speaking children some songs in another language as well. This will reinforce that the culture of each child is important, and that it can be fun to learn new languages.

Q: Given a lack of a musician during the week, could the children practice with recorded accompaniment until closer to time for performance, and then add practices with live music near the end? Does a cappella work? Guitar? What is a good pay rate for a low-skilled pianist, in an economically depressed area, for a few sessions and one performance?

A: A recorded accompaniment could work as long as the conductor is able to keep the children with the music. So the conductor would need to know the music very well, rather than sight-reading the score.

Also, you need to be sure that your accompanist is good enough to play the music as fast as the accompaniment, and in exactly the same manner. Give your accompanist a copy of the recording, and have her pay attention to things like dynamics, fermatas, ritardandos, etc.

When your kids are first learning the piece, you may have to teach it to them a cappella. Just work on bits at a time. It just wouldn’t be efficient to go through the entire recording over and over again as they learn.

As far as pay rate goes, remember that a low-skilled pianist will have to practice way more than one that is highly skilled. I once practiced three hours a day for more than a month trying to learn the score from Mozart’s Impresario. Had I been a better pianist, a half-hour per day would probably have done the trick.

It also depends on the amount of music being played, how long rehearsals last, what time of day rehearsals will take place, whether they will be on weekdays or weekends, and the level of difficulty. Ask around to see how much they’d be willing to play for, knowing how many rehearsals, and the dates of the final rehearsals and performance. Then, if I were you, and if I could afford it, I’d give them 10-20% more than they asked for (as long as you think they were being reasonable to begin with). Off the top of my head though, I’d say maybe $100? That’s what I would want, unless I was part of the church group, and then I would do it for free.

Performing a cappella could work; just try to keep your kids in tune as much as possible. (Slow songs are really hard to keep in tune.) Considering that your parents will be happy to see their kids singing and learning about God, whatever accompaniment method you choose should be just fine. Guitar is quite nice.

Q: Do you find that the style of music changes the behavior of the children during practice? For instance, would a peppy piece cause mischief or a slow piece cause boredom?

A: Slow pieces can cause boredom if there isn’t anything going on musically. If I really want to do a slow, plodding piece, I will have the children march around, taking one step per quarter note, and sing at the same time. This helps establish the underlying beat, especially if you are singing a piece with long notes like half notes or whole notes. If the kids can feel the tempo per beat, instead of per measure, they will be able to bring more energy to the piece.

A peppy piece is a pretty good idea as long as the words themselves don’t encourage mischief (Grandma Got Ran Over By a Reindeer). I don’t tend to like this sort of song anyway. Too much giggling. Fun is definitely okay and encouraged; fast is okay too, as long as the children can keep up. You want to pick something that requires concentration, but is still easy enough not to be sloppy. That way, their attention will be on the song the whole time.

Q: What ratio of children to adults do you recommend? Should parents be required to attend/assist?

A: I work with homeschoolers, who are all pretty well behaved, and I have a ratio of about one adult per five children. It works out pretty well for me. And if I need something, one of the adults is almost always willing to help. I wouldn’t require parents to assist, but depending on the attitudes of your kids, you might want the parents to at least be around. Or someone who is responsible for each child. (Perhaps a woman can bring her own kids and her nieces and nephews, and be responsible for them all?) You don’t want to turn choir into a babysitting hour, unless that is just part of the ministry. You probably would get more kids to show up if you didn’t require the parents to be present, so just weigh your options. You can always change your mind later, if need be.

Q: Are auditions meaningful? I mean, is it good to try using children who just cannot sing?

A: Here, it depends on the purpose of the choir. If it is to glorify God, to make parents happy, to provide opportunities for children, or to bring people together, my answer would be a definite “no, don’t audition.” The sweetest sound I ever heard was a girl with Down’s Syndrome singing We Are the Reason at church camp in front of hundreds of people. And remember, everyone loves the cute kid in the back singing twice as loud as everyone else and out of tune. Kids are kids, and they are precious, no matter what their talents. If, however, you were going to take some to contest or something like that, then just take a select few, and have auditions just for that purpose.

Q: What about misbehavior?

A: I have a behavior program in my choir. Well, at least I did the first year. I haven’t used it even once though, so it’s kind of a moot point for me. Anyway, it went something like this: I collected contact information for each child’s parents on the first day of class. (The parents aren’t required to attend, but a couple do anyway.) I have each child’s name written on a sheet in my binder, along with the contact info. If I had to call someone out, I would place a checkmark next to her name. After three checkmarks, I would contact her parents. (I would write down what each mark was for, so you can have a helpful conversation if you need to contact a parent.) I wouldn’t reset the checkmarks until the end of the semester. If you have more trouble than that, maybe you should just require a responsible adult to be present with that particular child. Other than that, just use whatever behavior management methods your church already uses in Sunday School, etc.

Q: Should singing lessons be available, or should they be required, or just part of the total experience, as needed?

A: I would make singing lessons available, as long as you have a suitable voice teacher who could teach them. Other than that, I would teach good health and voice habits as part of the overall experience. When a song would benefit from a particular technique, teach it to the whole class as an exercise before singing the song, and then incorporate it into that specific song. When you have one or two people who are demonstrating poor sounds or habits, address it as though you are teaching a new concept to the entire class. This will keep your not-so-perfect singers from feeling like they are being singled out of the group.

Two final tips: Make things fun for the kids (incorporate sign language, costumes, props, rhythm instruments, etc). Glorify God in everything you (and your kids) do.

That Sweet, Sweet Spirit


I have often wondered what I am missing in my personal Bible study and prayer time. Why do I seldom feel that sweet Spirit at home that I often feel in church while surrounded by people, as I struggle to resist the overwhelming desire to weep aloud and praise God with my whole being? The answer came to me quite unexpectedly yesterday morning as I researched and meditated over the life of…

Oh, wait…I can’ tell you that yet; it’s a secret. You’ll have to read Homeschool Enrichment Magazine in the spring to find out. Suffice it to say that I was very inspired by the life of this person who lived 300 years ago.

I was reading that this man used to invite his friends over after God answered a special prayer. They would then proceed to worship God together as a group, thanking Him for His recent blessings. Now, I’ve heard of prayer meetings where people get together and petition God for something, but never just to thank Him. The verse was quoted:

O magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. Psalm 34:3

After reading about this, my mind wandered to several places that I’m having trouble tracking, but a few minutes later, I found myself trying to remember several praise and worship songs that I learned as a teenager.

When I look into your loveliness, when I gaze into your righteousness, when all things that surround become shadows in the Light of You.

I worship you, Lord; I worship you, Lord. The reason I live is to worship you.

You are awesome in this place, mighty God. You are awesome in this place, Abba Father. You are worthy of our praise; to you our hearts we raise.

I worship you, Almighty God; there is none like you. I worship you, Almighty God; that is what I long to do. I give you praise, for you are my righteousness.

I couldn’t remember all of the words to the songs, but you should be thankful, because I would probably sit here typing them out and singing them in my head all day long if I could.

As I sang bits and pieces of songs from my youth, I was impacted by the presence of God in my life. By His incredible love for me, His mercy toward me. I reached a point where I could sing no longer, but merely sit and weep, and try to take it all in.

The missing element:

Singing! When I sing, I glorify only – I’m not busy asking for things or being otherwise selfish. I am bearing my soul to testify of His worth. For the purpose of this post, I am changing the meaning of this old expression by slightly altering the spelling of the first word.

Baring. My. Soul.

When I think of baring something, I think of revealing it, making it naked, exposing it for what it truly is. When I come to Him in humility, worshipping Him for His wonderfulness, nothing stands between me and God. He sees me and understands me fully at all times, but when I sing, I am aware of Him looking back at me. And I don’t quite know how to deal with that.

Something about singing reveals our human qualities; the imperfections of the voice mirror the imperfections of the soul. Singing takes away the façade, stripping us down from how we want to be seen to the nakedness of who and what we really are. To the transparency of our utter dependence on Him.

It is difficult to pretend to be something that you’re not when you are singing, unless one has been highly trained to do so. Even then, if the trained singer once breaks focus and contemplates the message he is yielding forth, he is in danger of losing his composition, becoming that shattered and hopeful spirit once again as he struggles to physically cope with the majesty that is God’s love and grace.

Memorizing a Foreign Language Song

Our studio-wide music festival is just around the corner – only ten more days, to be exact! Because the homeschool choir has been so busy practicing for contest, I have allowed the individual members of the choir to work on their own to prepare for solos and ensembles. Well, they haven’t been entirely on their own. The day I assigned solos, I also handed out my own personal plan for perfecting them on time. It’s the same method I used as a voice major in college. While a college student will need to move at a much faster pace (they will usually be memorizing six to eight songs per semester and performing three or four), this schedule is perfect for a beginning singer; it is especially useful when singing a foreign language song for the first time.

Week 1: Know when to breathe (between phrases, at commas if needed, etc. Never in the middle of a word or idea). Begin looking ahead at words and melody.

Week 2: Have a solid knowledge of the melody when reading from the score.

Week 3: Have a solid knowledge of the interpretation of the song. Be ready to give a short synopsis to the class. (If you can’t find a word-for-word translation online, try using Babel Fish.)

Week 4: Have a solid knowledge of the pronunciation when reading from the score.

Week 5: Be able to sing with accompaniment.

Week 6: Be able to sing the song using the words written on an index card (no peeking at the score). Bring the index card to class with lyrics written on it already. (I started using this little trick after reading Joan Frey Boytim’s book The Private Voice Studio Handbook.)

Week 7: Entire song from memory with accompaniment (no peeking at music or index card).

Week 8: Dynamics memorized and diction perfect.

Now, having a plan is all very well and good, but just how does a beginning singer go about learning the words to a foreign language piece?

The easiest way is to choose books that have CDs with pronunciation help on them. I love the books in The Vocal Library series, published by Hal Leonard. The CDs in this series also include the accompaniments.

What if you already have your music picked out from another source, and you don’t have access to a recorded pronunciation?

Well, you can do one of two things: You can learn the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) just for that song, and this isn’t too difficult, as long as you are willing to dedicate an afternoon or two to research. The information is out there, and readily available, but learning it can be a little time-consuming.

For the serious student of voice, I recommend studying the IPA in-depth, for at least French, German, and Italian (Spanish and Latin are easy enough without knowing IPA). If you decide to learn IPA from scratch, begin with Italian. Not only is it a great starting place, but I have had trouble finding Italian pronunciations on CD.

The other thing you can do is find a good online text-to-speech converter (Google “online TTS”). The free online versions aren’t great sounding, but the diction is usually pretty accurate, so they are a good choice if you are willing to put up with listening to an electronic-sounding voice. Some sites allow you to choose either a male or female voice in many languages. Some let you slow down or speed up the playback, and others even let you download the result as an mp3. It’s faster than learning the IPA, but more annoying and less educational.

Have fun practicing!