New and refurbished ideas for LDS Primary Music Leaders (a.k.a. Primary Choristers)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Kids love rhythm sticks or claves (Klay-Vays—African/Latin) probably because they make loud noises and they get to bang them together.  Hey, when it comes to kids, it doesn't get much better than that especially when it comes to instruments.  Songs with an upbeat tempo such as “Choose the Right” and “Follow the Prophet” are great for using rhythm sticks.

You will need two sticks per child.  If you don't have enough, you can take turns by class.  You can purchase rhythm sticks for around  $2 and up a set.  Here are a couple of places on the Internet you can purchase them from: Front Row Experience and Amazon.  There are other various versions of the sticks as well. Purchasing rhythm sticks can be a bit costly though.  

If you don’t have a Primary budget for it, here are some options.

  • You can make your own by purchasing 5/8” diameter dowels and cutting them into 8”-12” lengths.  You could fancy them up by painting them or keep them au naturel.  To even save more on the cost, you could go with a smaller diameter, but they won’t make as loud of a noise, which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it.
  • You can also make them from ½” - 1” diameter PVC pipe
  • You could buy pencils, especially during the back-to-school sale time.  Because of the size, the pencils will not make as loud of a sound.  Is that good? Bad?  Like I said before . . . your preference.  Oh yeah, don’t sharpen the pencils.
  • Check out your local Chinese specialty grocery store and get some inexpensive wooden Chinese chopsticks, the ones with the blunt tips, not the Japanese ones with the more pointed tips. They usually have fairly inexpensive ones.  You could even collect those cheap disposable ones for free from the restaurants whenever you go and eat Chinese.  Just go out with a bunch of family or friends and have them all ask for a set, of course, wash them well after eating with them.  Cut off the tips and sand down if they are still a little too pointy. The best ones are the ones that you don't have to pull apart, but if that is all you can find, then make sure you sand down the rough edges where they are torn apart.  Maybe if you ask nicely, the restaurant will give you extra ones for free or for a nominal charge.  They aren't very expensive for the restaurants when they buy them in bulk—usually a few cents each or you can probably buy some in bulk off the internet for $5 or less for a set of 100. 
  • You could check with your stake to see if they have some rhythm sticks that you can borrow.  If not, maybe you could suggest to the stake music leader to purchase some that can be shared with the wards in the stake.
  • If you know someone that works at a school, you could borrow from there.  I’m fortunate to have a sister who works in a school that I am able to borrow the sticks from about 2-3 times a year. 
If you have never used rhythm sticks before, introduce them first by showing the children how they are tapped together to make a sound.  Explain that when the music is played or you sing the song, rhythm sticks are tapped together to the beat of the music (# of beats in a measure or can also be the tempo) or the rhythm of the music (sounds and silences in the music with differing lengths or gaps between them—basically the patterns of the notes/words being sung).

Before passing out the rhythm sticks, you must make sure you have made clear your expectations regarding the use of them.  I always explain that I know that they will treat the sticks nicely, that they will make sure they don’t poke, hit or hurt others with them, that they know stick fighting with them is not right (yep, all those boys I have), that they will keep them out of their mouth and when I say “sticks up” or have my sticks pointing upward, they must also have their sticks up and quiet.  Also let them know that if they choose to not follow the rules that the consequence will be to have their sticks taken away from them.  And most importantly, you must follow through if any children do not behave properly.  You can always return them to the child after a short time has passed with the reminder that they will be taken away again if they choose to not use the sticks right.  Setting the ground rules up front is a real important step to remember to do with anything you hand out to the children to use so that you can keep some semblance of order. 

WARNING!  This activity can be real fun for the children, but it can also get out of control if you don’t maintain control of the group.  Does it always go reverently—quietly?  Of course not, but having the guidelines and following through helps a lot.  Also, there will be some noise with the sticks hitting together, which is part of the experience, so, as an adult, if you are a bit sensitive to noises, rhythm instruments may not be for you or just use smaller diameter sticks. Yes, this is one time that Boyd K. Packer's quote of "Reverence . . .does not equate with absolute silence" will be generously utilized.

Here are some suggestions on how to use them:

  • Have them tap the sticks together only on certain parts or words of the song.
  • March around the room as you play the sticks.  This is mainly for JR.
  • Sit on the floor in a circle or in a group and tap the sticks on the floor in front 4 times then tap sticks together 4 times. Repeat.  Add another tapping version to the mix, such as 4 taps above the head, after they have mastered the pattern taught.
  • They can be played with a partner similar to hand clapping patterns I have explained in the "Books in the Book of Mormon" post here. (Scroll down to the bullet points.) This is usually too complicated for JR.
  • Use the dynamics in the song to direct how to play the sticks; loud vs soft, staccato vs legato.
  • After doing a few basic movements with the sticks, ask the children if they can think of a different way the rhythm sticks can be tapped together.  E.g. above the head, down low to the ground, behind your back, on the left side, on the right side, on the floor in front of you, on the floor to the right, left or either side of the legs, on the lap, on the shoulders, with a partner, turn then tap, kick a leg forward then tap, stomp-stomp-tap-tap, step to the left-tap, step to the right-tap, oh, the list could go on and on.  Oh yes, you can get a good workout from this!

As you can see, playing rhythm sticks is not only fun, but they are also great for reviewing a song over and over, teaching the rhythm and beat of a song as well as the children are able to use movement in their singing.

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