Musical Leadership for the Non-Musical

Catherine BrownFrom the Archives

Enjoy this article from our print archives.


You’ve agreed to lead an afterschool activity club at your church.  Then you realize that music is an expected component of the program.  You don’t play a musical instrument and singing has never been your strong point.  You panic and think about backing out of your commitment.

Wait!  Before making that decision, please consider the following strategies and practical ideas that I have found useful in incorporating music into Sunday school and small-group Christian education sessions:

1)  Invest in a good quality CD player.  Set the tone of the class by having music playing when the children enter.  Find age-appropriate songs on CDs at a Christian book store or from your church library.  Establish routines, such as no talking while the music is playing and everyone seated and still when the music stops.  Have students bring in their own CDs.  Preview them to use the following week.

2)  Have fun with body percussion.  Using an up-tempo CD, have participants snap, clap, patsch (slap thighs), stomp, or click the tongue to keep the beat.  Choose volunteers to lead this activity.  Remind students that praising God should be a joyous activity.  Make a joyous noise to the Lord (Ps 98.4).  Have them learn and look up some scripture passages concerning praise, such as Clap your hands all you peoples (Ps 47:1).

3)  Use rhythm instruments to encourage student participation.  Be sure that each person has an instrument to play.  For inexpensive activities, use soup spoons in pairs to accompany a Celtic chorus.  Have a woodworker at your church make sets of sticks (claves) from wood dowelling.  Put children in pairs or groups of four to make up a routine on the spoons or sticks and perform them for the whole group.  Ask your church to purchase ready-made rhythm instruments, including tambourines, maracas, triangles, cymbals, and bells.  Use Psalm 150 as a springboard for discussion.  Have someone read it aloud, while others play the instruments between the verses.  Choose a student as the conductor.  Vary the volume of special effects.

4)  Sing your heart out!  That’s right.  I said, “Sing!”  If you can speak, you can sing.  Repeat that last sentence three times.  You may not win the singing award of the year, but that’s not the point.  As Henry Van Dyke said, “The woods would be very silent, if no birds sang except those that sing best.”

Choose simple songs that you know well.  These could be camp songs with actions, hymns or choruses. Sing them a cappella (without accompaniment), if you can.  Seek out the assistance of your church music director to record some pieces on a CD for you.  Have your minister ask the congregation for volunteers to assist you with singing.  Contact local high school teachers for possible teen helpers.  Send a note home with your students to recruit parents who have musical expertise.

In my experience, singing has been the single most effective element in bonding a group.  It is a life skill; it’s fun; and it’s biblical.  The word sing is in the Psalms almost too many times to count.  Be good to yourself and sing every day.  You may wish to take a few lessons to hone your skills.  Bring a karaoke machine to class and have a blast.   O, sing to the Lord a new song (Ps. 96:1).

5)  Take music to another level.  Spice up your program to keep your students interested and challenged.

  • Have a “talent time,” where students can present musical selections to their peers.
  • Invite musicians in your faith community to be the “guest of the month.” They could play an instrument, sing a favourite song, or share their musical experiences.  This makes a great intergenerational activity.
  • Watch a Christian music video/DVD. Discuss the lyrics and the message.  Have students create their own video.
  • Enlist a drummer to demonstrate some rhythmic patterns. Have a drumming workshop.  Purchase a djembe drum to accompany your singing.
  • Make up raps to memorize Bible verses.
  • Bring in a dancer to choreograph movement to a Christian song.
  • Learn to sign a simple chorus. Present this at worship.
  • Give the children puppets, or have them bring in their favourites. Let the “puppets” sing along.

Admittedly, leading music with minimal background or formal training may seem daunting.  However, pray, equip yourself with new strategies and adequately prepare.  Then make music a vital and joyful component of your program.  Say, “Yes, I can!”  The rewards are endless.  Your students are waiting.

After completing a bachelor of education degree at Lakeshore Teacher’s College, Catherine Brown began a teaching career that lasted 33 years.  While teaching and raising a family, she completed a B.A. in religion and culture from Wilfrid Laurier University and a vocal music specialist from York University.  Catherine served as Music Director at First Presbyterian Church in Collingwood, ON from 1987 to 2009, and currently serves as Director of Pastoral Care.