Sharla Dance was finishing her degree in Music Education at Brigham Young University when she took a children’s music class from Susan Kenney. The principles and methods used in that class changed the way she wanted to teach music. When her daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age seven, Sharla delved into research about how the brain learns, Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, and the body’s role in learning as taught by neurologist Carla Hannaford. Since then, some of her research and experience has centered around music in a group setting for special needs children. She also started applying her research to Primary music and has continued to learn and teach workshops, helping church music leaders learn principles and brain research that can make them more effective in teaching children.

Sharla has taught piano and voice lessons, group preschool, and school age music classes in her studio, Dance Sing and Play, for twenty five years. She has served as ward or stake Primary music leader in over ten different wards and stakes, and as a youth choir specialist in her stake for twenty years. She has served several times as ward choir director and stake music chair, and is currently first counselor in her ward Relief Society. Sharla is the mother of five children and she and her husband live in Washington state where she is also a full-time caregiver for their daughter who had that brain tumor so many years ago.


04:00 Sharla is the Primary music leader. A Gospel Doctrine teacher for children through music. She shares her resources with other leaders.

06:10 Sharla shares her background and how she got into music.

10:00 Resources Sharla shares for Primary and why she got her website started

12:50 The overall breakdown of what you should do during music time is to teach three different songs with three different activities and bear your testimony in one or two sentences.

15:50 Each child should be actively involved with a specific song. Help the children use their senses to learn and practice the songs.

22:00 One thing that researchers have found that helps the frontal lobe develop is purposeful movement with a steady beat.

23:30 When children learn music with props, beats, and movements it creates an experience for them and brain hooks that help them remember that song.

24:20 Sharla believes that when we teach a child music with these different hooks that the song will come back to teach the child and to teach them doctrine when they really need it.

26:00 Drilling the words of a song and practicing them over and over is what we commonly see in Primary. However, Sharla teaches that we need to focus on the beat, rhythm, and the melody while singing the words. This is way easier for the brain to connect everything.

30:20 The process of audiation is singing a song in your head. It’s the strongest way to remember a song. Leave out words and have the kids fill them in and sing it out loud.

31:00 Sharla explains why movement while singing and to a steady beat is so important and useful for children. It activates the whole body and turns it into a thinking machine.

34:00 Line upon line is a great way for the brain to learn, especially when we sing the whole song.

37:20 Parents have found that even the children that don’t really participate in Primary are singing at home all the time.

40:00 Sharla does activities that can involve all the children and the songs that they are learning, especially because there is only twenty minutes to do it in.

41:30 Research shows that to keep the attention span of an adult active and attentive we need to change the pace every ten minutes. Children need a change of pace every six to seven minutes.

45:30 The teachers need to be involved in music time too.

46:40 Each child takes in information in a slightly different way and the brain craves variety. We need to teach in different ways to reach different children.

53:40 Bear a short, sincere testimony every week. Consider the children the biggest group of investigators in the church.

55:45 Tips for a sacrament Primary program. Remember that the Primary program is not a culmination of the children’s experience.

59:50 Sharla shares her final thoughts and testimony of teaching children through music.


Watch on YouTube
YouTube @TeachingPrimaryMusic
The Teaching Primary Music Podcast
To Teach a Child a Song
Facebook: Sharla Dance Teaching Methods
Facebook: Latter-day Saint Primary Music Leaders
Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head
Read the TRANSCRIPT of this podcast
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