Monday, August 4, 2008

Long overdue

A very long time ago I had started what I thought would be a blog series on  "How to teach your children hymns".  It's been awhile but now I am finally coming back to it.

In our family Phillip and I know the first verse of many different hymns and since we are without a hymnal and a piano we've just been teaching the kids the hymns that we know (or at least the first verses).  Sometimes we pick a hymn that goes along with what we've been learning in church, sometimes it's one that goes along with what we've been reading in the Bible or another book, sometimes we pick something that suits a child's particular need (example: child is working on being thankful so we teach them "For the Beauty of the Earth")

Some of the easiest songs to teach a young child are things that are straightforward, without imagery that is beyond their comprehension.  You can't expect a kid to understand  "Crown Him with many Crowns" without a lengthy explanation about who the Lamb is, why he is on the throne and the hope that we have of heaven that is found in the book of Revelation. (Or maybe you can, I'm a terrible explainer.) There are also ones that are a bit too vivid like "There is a fountain full of blood that flows from from Emmanuel's veins" - we are not going there for a few years!

Another thing that make a song easy to learn is if it has a simple refrain.  Three examples of this are :

Christ the Lord is Risen today.  (Even if the child can only sing the "Hallelujah" that's a start!)
What Can Wash Away my sins?  (Great question and answer song)
Hallelujah Thine the Glory (we are teaching this one to our kids now since our catechism questions are dealing with the trinity and they already know Holy, Holy, Holy)

You can also teach them the music the way illiterate congregations learned throughout history.  Have Parent A "line out" the song.  This means that they sing the first line, and then Parent B can join the kids in repeating it.  If you are a terrible singer and still want to teach your children hymns without damaging their ears you can do this with a recording and hit pause after every line.  The only problem with doing things this was is that if you try to teach your kids all 57 verses of a favorite hymn they aren't going to have the attention span.  I would suggest explaining the song for them line by line, going over the song a few times in whatever way works best and then singing it together as a family throughout the week.  If mama is singing the same song as she does the dishes, the laundry and as she fixes dinner even if the kids aren't practicing they will still be picking it up.

One of my friends also told me that just about any song you can think of has been recorded and posted on youtube.  Just as a suggestion, if you decided to use youtube please select a singer or choir with good diction and good sound recording quality beforehand to prevent any problems.

I've found that some of the best music that the kids respond to is anything sung by kids.  The Cedarmont Kids have great recordings. I also like the ones put out by Joni Ericson Tada and Bobbi Wolgumuth (these recordings include hymn stories for kids in a book that comes with it.)

Last year we taught the kids songs that went with the seasons, taught them a few favorites and found some great arrangements that we hadn't heard before and have enjoyed learning as a family.  I normally hate hymn arraignments of any kind since I find many of them to be sloppy and of a very poor musical quality (who knew I was such a snob?) but Phillip and I have really enjoyed Hymns for All the Ages and Hymns from Around the World  (if you heard me sing at the Women's Conference, I borrowed some of their ideas when I sang Softly and Tenderly.)

One last resource that I recommend is the index in your hymnal.  Depending on what kind of hymnal you have you can look up hymns by Title, First line, Author, Meter and Subject.  This is very helpful for browsing as well as finding something fast.  One of the things I really love to do is find a hymn with great words that maybe doesn't have the most tuneful melody.  If you know how to use your imagination or you know how to look up a hymn by meter you can find a hymn tune that you like and use it on any hymn that it fits.  One example of this is Anne Steele's beautiful hymn "Father whate'er of earthly bliss" which sounds much better to the tune of "There is a Balm in Gilead"  It takes a wee bit of work to make it work but it looks like this when you are done (I omitted a few words here and there to make it work.)

(to the tune of the refrain)
Father, whate’er of earthly bliss
Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne, let
My humble prayer, arise:

(to the tune of the verse)
Give me a thankful heart,
From every murmur free;
The blessing of Thy grace impart,
And make me live to Thee.

(to the tune of the refrain)
Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine
My life and death attend,
Thy presence through my journey shine,
And crown my journey’s end.

It would also work to lead into "There is a Balm" since the pain behind the one hymn goes beautifully with the hope behind the other. As none of these songs have any copy writes on them it is fine to do what people have been doing for centuries when you mix and match hymns and hymn songs.

If you decided to do some hymn arraigning at home you can teach your kids several songs to the same tune (like you may have done with the Abc song and twinkle twinkle little star). This might make more songs accessible to your kids with a little less work involved and you don't have to get very fancy since many songs can be sung to the tune of Amazing Grace.

Since all of this makes perfect sense to me I'm sure I did a terrible job explaining. Go ahead and comment if you have a question. If you couldn't tell, I love music, I love singing and I love the great spiritual truths we can find in hymns. I think I'm going to brush up "Father whate'ere" for tonight's bedtime routine. What are you singing to your kids?


Jacquelyn said...

Oh, and don't think that we do this every night or that I spend hours working on lengthy hymn arrangements, we do it when we can as best as we can which might be only a handful of times a month :)

Kristen Borland said...

well, we're mostly still on jesus loves me. but since the kids were newborns, my favs to sing to them are amazing grace and for the beauty of the earth. they are our special soothing songs. i love singing through our hymnal and look forward to the kids being able to sing along.

joy said...

i think it's amazing how quickly kids really pick things up. we've been working on come thou fount and they pretty much know all 3 verses now. sounds like you guys have been having tons of fun back east. so great.

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