I have been playing in church since I was 16 years old. I would have started earlier had it not been for my self-consciousness. Either way, I was able to get a lot of experience through those years and developed a strong sentiment for hymn arrangements. So much so I have arranged quite a few myself.
Of course, classical music is imperative with musical learning. Someone once said that “We make rules so we can break them” and that is true of classical repertoire. The famous mastermind behind all those masterpieces invented the structure and “rules” of music. We have based our theory on their musical ideas. If you have ever heard medieval music before the classical era came into existence, you’ll know there was nowhere near the structure and harmonious sounds in those songs. In fact, they were not even transcribed. They learned by rote because there was no form, no rules. That’s when these famous “old guys”, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Clementi and many others that perfected their art and invented the classical sound. By doing so it has allowed us to build from their foundation. We are still playing their works today, as we should!
As a christian, I believe sacred music is some of the most beautiful music of all. It is simple compared to a Mozart Sonatina or Chopin’s Etude but it has unexplainable meaning and depth. The simple harmony of “Amazing Grace” or “It is Well with My Soul” bring to our minds the words we all know and love. The stories behind the men and woman that have composed these songs are incredible. The melody, the harmony, the words and the stories touch our hearts in different ways. Some speak simple truths such as “Trust and Obey” while some have thoughtful, convicting words like “Come Thou Fount”. I have so many favorites I could give as examples. So how could we make this useful in musical education?
As a teacher, I have tried to give a well-rounded musical experience. I wouldn’t necessarily encourage ALL musical repertoire but an occasional Pop/Jazz/Ragtime piece is good for anyone! It shows appreciation for all music. I focus on the classical, but as students work through their method books I try to incorporate something not in their books every 2-3 months. Supplemental music is what we call it.
I start with the FUN PIECE. I have had kids choose a song of their choice. I don’t even care what it is! It is something fun for them to do. I have had one student pick Star Wars, another teenage student picked a modern day pop piano arrangement (I’m not exactly sure what to call it!). As long as it is something they enjoy–go for it! Along with their fun piece, we will pick a sacred piece. It can be of their choosing or I will assign it to them. What is nice about the curriculum I use is they make the same Hymn book to go along with their level. If a student is not in a the same curriculum I will let them pick something from my stash and spend at least 5 minutes on it in every other lesson. Here is the process we usually go through.
- Choose a hymn/scared piece
- Teach the background story/reflect on the context of the time it was written.
- Learn the arrangement
- Find opportunities to perform!
Just a few tips…..
- Focus on the piece for short periods of time during the lesson that way it doesn’t take away from their regular repertoire.
- Make sure the student knows this piece has to be left until everything else assigned has been practiced.
- If a student really loves it, sometimes it’s good to do this first before anything else in the lesson. If you can hook them with something they love, they will more than likely be willing to work on the stuff they don’t want to!
Once the arrangement has been perfected with expression and delivery, if the student has an opportunity to perform this piece for a gathering or church service, I try to push them to do that! There is nothing more rewarding that performing not just for a crowd so they can applaud your skill but to perform a piece that brings the audience closer to God. Whether believers or not, the audience will recognize an individual that does not seek their own glory in a performance but rather humbly offers their talent and gifts to praise Him.
These opportunities build upon each other and teach a student that music lessons are more valuable than just being able to enjoy it for one’s self or for others. It truly is a gift from God that we have the ability to play, sing and make music. Once students have realized this, I believe it makes teaching them so much easier. I don’t have a problem getting a student to practice or to learn their scales for the week! Incorporating hymns into my teaching has had a way of keeping music in perspective. Why are we taking so much time to learn how to do this? Because there is a greater purpose that is more meaningful when you are doing it for the Lord.