Making the Most of Music; Ideas for Using Instrument and Song

Dear God,
Church is alright but you sure could use better music. I hope this does not hurt your feelings. Can you write some new songs?

Your Friend, Barry*

Worship planners often forget about children. Even when choosing music, some pastors, liturgists, organists, and choir directors pay little attention to making selections that will appeal to and involve the younger members of the congregation. As a result, many children find our church music dull and uninteresting. Like Barry, they see much room for improvement. If we want our children to become involved in worship, music is certainly one of the areas we should concentrate on, for it is an area that offers limitless possibilities for meaningfully involving children of all ages. On these pages Mary Jane Voogt, director of music for Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas, offers a wide assortment oj ideas for leading children to join in worship through instrument and song.

For Early Elementary

Children in kindergarten through grade 2 are often overlooked in worship. We chuckle as we watch young children run up the aisles to listen to a children's sermon, then forget them as they leave for a separate service or fidget in the pew as the congregation continues to worship. But with a little planning—and a little cooperation from the children's choir director and/or the church school worship leaders—we can use music to make these little ones active participants in our liturgy.

Singing Hymns

Even small children can introduce a hymn of the month or lead hymn singing during worship. Choose the hymn carefully so that the children can understand the concepts of the chosen verses and accomplish the rhythmic and melodic demands with accuracy. The index "Songs for Children" on page 1045 of the new Psalter Hymnal is a good starting point for selecting appropriate hymns. Some suggestions follow:

Humble Praises, Holy Jesus (PH 484). After the children have mastered this hymn, arrange with the pastor to have them sing the two verses as an appropriate part of some upcoming service. Perhaps the congregation can join in on the refrain.

Hear Our Prayer, O Lord (HB 535, PH 624, TH xiv). Have the children sing this prayer after the prayer of intercession, perhaps from the back of the sanctuary.

Holy, Holy, Holy/Santo, Santo, Santo (PH 626). This hymn, which is offered in both Spanish and English, offers a variety of possibilities. Young children are fascinated with foreign languages. Teach them the Spanish verse and sing it on Worldwide Communion Sunday (All-Nations Heritage Sunday) to emphasize our ties with all nations.

Rejoice in the Lord Always (PH 228). Have the children learn this Bible song and share it antiphonally with the congregation during worship. One or more children could add tambourine or other rhythm instruments to this very rhythmic Bible song.

Musical Sermons

All young children in the congregation—even those who do not attend church school— can participate musically during the children's sermon. In her book Dandelions (Paulist Press) Mary Lu Walker offers several songs that can be used as children's sermons when sung with guitar. Some of these songs include refrains simple enough for young children to join in singing without preparation. In "The Good Samaritan" (see box), for example, the leader sings the story and invites the children to join in on the repetitive response.

Hymnal Awards

Many churches honor children of a designated age or grade with the gift of their own Bible. Why not try the same system with hymnals?

Perhaps at the end of the first-grade school year each child could be awarded his or her very own hymnal to carry to church school on designated Sundays. This system would give the church school worship leader the opportunity to help children become acquainted with the hymnal—to teach them how to read the verses of the hymns, how to find the numbers, and how to use the indexes.

Exploring the Hymnal, by Mary Keithahn and Mary Louise VanDyke (Choristers Guild BK-44) offers reproducible helps for teaching children about their hymnal.

For Upper Elementary

Children in grades three through six have developed many musical skills that can enhance worship. Worship leaders can uncover almost limitless possibilities for involving these older students in congregational worship. Often congregations limit themselves by assuming these children appreciate only music that has a syncopated beat, reflecting popular secular music. This simply is not true.


An exciting way to introduce children to participating in worship through singing is to join in an anthem with the adult or youth choir. For example, "Antiphonal Psalm" by Hal Hopson (Agape HH3901), based on Psalm 150, is easy to learn since each phrase is repeated exactly. Teach the children the song during church school song time, dividing the group for an antiphonal effect. When the children know the anthem, they can join with the older choir in singing it for worship. Be creative in the placement of the two groups for the worship service. Joining an experienced, older group will give the children confidence and a real feeling of contribution.

Call to Worship

Teach the children a call to worship such as "Lo, God Is With Us" or "Sing a New Song" from Twelve Canons for Children's Choirs (CGA-329). If your church does not have Orff instruments, the instrumental suggestions can be adapted to rhythm instruments and/or handbells. With very few weeks preparation, the children can learn to combine singing in unison with playing their rhythm instruments or handbells and can then call the congregation to worship.

In this same collection of canons, you will find selections appropriate for use as benedictions, prayer responses, and even anthems. Through taking a meaningful part in the liturgy, the children will not only contribute to the worship of the congregation but will also develop a deeper understanding of the order of worship.


If your church has handbells, children of this age can introduce the first hymn with tolling. This is a glorious way of opening a service, reminiscent of the random tolling of church bells that calls people to worship on Sunday mornings in older European cities. No knowledge of music reading is required—just a basic lesson on how to ring a handbell.

Choose only those handbells that correspond to the notes of the hymn the children are to play. For example, to introduce "Holy, Holy, Holy" (NICAEA), which is in the key of D Major, begin with the lowest D available on your handbell set. The first ringer will have only low D. The next ringer will take the next two ascending scale notes. Continue to assign two scale notes per ringer until you have used up all the notes on the D scale, preferably ending on D.

The first ringer plays a firm low D, then swings his/her arm back and forth (tower swing). After two or three repetitions of this playing and swinging, the second ringer joins in, playing a random pattern with two bells. Each ringer should decide on a pattern and repeat it over and over. After one repetition of the second ringer's pattern, the third ringer begins. Continue to add ringers until all are playing. Then the last ringer drops out, and after one pattern the second-to-the-last ringer drops out, until only the low D is heard, still ringing and swinging. At that point the organ introdues the hymn, and the congregation stands to sing. The ringers should be positioned all around the sanctuary so that the congregation is surrounded with random bell sounds.

Children in the third through sixth grades can master a number with handbells by practicing during two church school worship times. If possible, they should also practice once in the sanctuary before worship time so that they know where to stand and how to get cues from the previous ringer.

The suggestions in the box below are only that—suggestions! The patterns should be random and created by the children.


Role-playing and acting also encourage the enthusiastic involvement of older elementary-age children. And it is possible to combine this interest with a study of the background of some of the standard worship hymns of the congregation.

Choristers Guild, an organization that all children's music leaders should belong to, offers hymn-study sheets that are geared to this age group. Background information, as well as teaching tips, are included. It is often possible to write a dialogue, narration, or scenario based on the information in a hymn-study sheet (see "A Hymn Story" in box, p. 18). Church school teachers can be enlisted to help with the writing, directing, and rehearsing of scenes. Then, when the children are prepared, use the scene to introduce the hymn to the congregation.

The Lips of Children

Once you begin to look for ways to make children active participants in worship, you'll discover talents and enthusiasm that many adults never realized existed. And both children and adults will grow in a richer and more complete worship as the family of God.

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your
name in all
the earth!

You have set your glory
above the heavens.
From the lips of children and
infants you have
ordained praise…

Psalm 8:1-2

For Further Reading

The materials listed below can be used during the church school group-worship time to prepare children to participate musically in the worship service.

Antiphonal Psalm by Hal Hopson (Agape HH3901)

This anthem can easily be taught to elementary school children and then sung antiphonally in worship with a youth or adult choir.

Choristers Guild Letters

A monthly magazine for members of the Choristers Guild which contains suggestions and music to use with children in the preparation of worship music. To join the guild, write

Choristers Guild
2834W. KingsleyRd.,
Garland, Texas 75041'

Come on Down, Zacchaeus, a French-Canadian folk song arranged by Robert Leaf (Augsburg 11-1654)

Use this easy anthem during church school worship time and sing it during congregational worship on a Sunday when the Scripture and/or sermon deal with Zacchaeus.

Dandelions by Mary Lu Walker

Songs for Young Children by Mary Lu Walker

These two collections of songs adapt well to use as children's sermons. They must be presented by a guitar-playing leader and offer possibilities for children's participation. Both collections are available from Paulist Press, 997 MacArthur Blvd., Mahwah, NJ 07430.

Exploring the Hymnal by Mary Kiethahn and Mary Louise Van Dyke (Choristers Guild BK-44)

Teaching aids to help you teach children about their hymnals,including reproducible worksheets, games, and puzzles. Hymn Study Sheets

Single sheets available from Choristers Guild on numerous hymns. Each sheet provides the historical background of the hymn along with teaching suggestions and a copy, in large print, of the hymn.

Intradas and Obbligatos for Eight Hymns (Choristers Guild A-372)

Suggestions for intradas for children's voices. Orff instrument accompaniments, percussion and handbell ostinati, and optional descants to be used with eight hymn in Our Heritage of Hymns (see below). Our Heritage of Hymns (Choristers Guild BK-43)

A leader's guide on eight great hymns. Visual aids, teaching suggestions,projects,historical information, and worship suggestions are included for these hymns: "How Firm a Foundation" (FOUNDATION), "Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus" (STUTTGART), "Angels We Have Heard on High" (GLORIA), "As " With Gladness Men of Old" (DIX), "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" (ST.THEODULPH/VALET WILL ICH DER GEBEN), "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" (EASTER I HYMN), "Come Down, O Love Divine" (DOWN AMPNEY), "All Creatures of Our God and King" (LASST UNS ERFREUEN) Psalms Together and Psalms Together II (Choristers Guild CGC-18 md CGC-21)

Simple unison settings of the psalms. The children can learn the cantor part and lead the congregation in the antiphonal singing of the psalm. By planning ahead with a lec-tionary, the music leader can prepare the children to replace the reading of the psalm with a musical version on its scheduled day.

Twelve Canons for Children's Choirs by John D. Horman (Choristers Guild A-329)

This collection of easy introits, benedictions, and prayer responses in canon form also offers rhythm, handbell, and Orff accompaniment suggestions—all accessible to children in the upper-elementary grades.

A Hymn Story

The following dialogue on "This Is My Father's World" is an example of what you might do with some of the background information in a Choristers Guild hymn-study sheet.

Dr. Babcock

Narrator: Dr. Babcock was a minister who loved the beautiful world that God created. He often said…

Dr. Babcock: I am going out to see my Father's world.
(Dr. Babcock walks, carrying his Bible and note pad. Looking around at the world, he soon stops and sits to write.)

Narrator: Dr. Babcock was a poet as well as a pastor. He wrote a very long poem called "Thoughts for Everyday Living."
Three stanzas from this poem should be familiar to you.

Dr. Babcock: (Stands and reads 1,2, or 3 stanzas of "This Is My Father's World" from his notebook.)

Narrator: Many years ago people thought that planets and stars each sent out sounds of different pitches. That's where Dr. Babcock got his phrase "and round me rings the music of the spheres." What a great musical sound that would be! We also can make a great musical song with Dr. Babcock's hymn, "This Is My Father's World." Let's all sing it together.

—Adapted from Choristers Guild hymn study CGH-10
by Mary Jane Voogt.

*Reprinted by permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. Copyright © by Marshall & Hample.

Mary Jane Voogt is Director of Music Ministry at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Kansas City, Missouri. She was also a member of the editorial council of Reformed Worship.


Reformed Worship 12 © June 1989 Worship Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. Used by permission.