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Thread: Hymn writing?

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    Senior Member 4/4player's Avatar
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    Question Hymn writing?

    Hey guys!

    I just had a quick question that I'm seeking answers for: Is there a set structure for writing hymns?. I know the process is somewhat similar to songwriting, but I wanted to try my hand at composing some hymns I'll look forward to your replies! Thanks!
    4/4 player
    " 'Penitence!'
    'No!'
    'Penitence!'
    'No!'
    'Penitence!'
    'No!'
    'Yes!'
    'Nooooooooooo!' [Dragged down into Hell]
    - Act two: Finale of Mozart's "Don Giovanni"

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    the answer will depend upon your definition of hymn.
    if by that term you mean only the biblical generalization, then any selection in praise of diety counts as an hymn.

    if you mean to refine that by bringing in hymns in hymnals, a characteristic is that they have no chorus between verses. i see many in a standard aaba form.

    i suggest you visit websites of hymn associations for further data.

    dj

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    If you study several hymnals (I would recommend The Hymnal 1982 (Episcopal) or its predecessor The Hymnal 1940, The Hymnbook (Presbyterian), and The Presbyterian Hymnal (various editions), you will notice a variety of forms. Many have no refrain, but some do. The metres will vary; it all depends on your text. The Psalms are a great source for text, as is the Christmas story. My suggestion is to choose a text and set it, taking care that your setting has the important words on the strong beats (this may require a pick-up measure). I would say you learn to write hymns the same way you get to Carnegie Hall--practice!

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    Senior Member hreichgott's Avatar
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    Technically the "hymn" is the words and the "tune" is the music. Hymns in any of the frequently used meters can be sung to a variety of tunes. (Amazing Grace, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing, O God Our Help in Ages Past, and lots of others are interchangeable; all are interchangeable with House of the Rising Sun, for a laugh.) Meter for a hymn isn't the same as time signature -- it refers to number of syllables per line. For example Amazing Grace is 8.6.8.6 which is also called common meter.

    As a church musician I can say that the biggest pitfall of hymn writing is complexity. Don't get too fancy or a congregation will not be able to follow along. There's a reason why the fancy sacred music is for well-rehearsed choirs
    Heather W. Reichgott, piano
    http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    The purpose in use of hymns is more a sense of community through community participation, rather than a purely musical intent or event. The musical considerations come a far second to these limitations.

    Keep the melodic line within the range of one octave, not much more. (The American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, is one anthem famous for being beyond the comfortable range of the everyman singer -- and often sounds badly when sung by 'the people.')

    The rhythm should be fairly straightforward.

    A strong and clear bass line is a standard part of the deal.

    Scansion: setting text to be sung needs consideration of what sings well. Trained singers learn to get around just about anything, the untrained do not. Place the word high on the highest pitch of the melody, expect a lot of very strained sounds on that pitch from the participating singers of the congregation.

    Look at the melody of any pop song or hymn: limited range, easily sung by the average man and woman, nothing tricky about its rhythm.

    The key areas used generally do not exceed more than three accidentals, sometimes four - this is not for the congregation as much as for their keyboard player. Though many a church has a professional musician at the helm, keyboard and / or choir director, just as many have a volunteer keyboardist who is not so readily fluent as a highly trained player.

    There are many genres with songs of praise, from pop to high church service. It is still prudent to keep to those practical guidelines as set out above.

    [All the above limits change radically if you are composing for a choir of trained singers and do not expect the general public to be singing along.]

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    Senior Member hreichgott's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by PetrB View Post
    The key areas used generally do not exceed more than three accidentals, sometimes four - this is not for the congregation as much as for their keyboard player. Though many a church has a professional musician at the helm, keyboard and / or choir director, just as many have a volunteer keyboardist who is not so readily fluent as a highly trained player.
    Even the professionals often don't get around to reading through the hymns until 8:45 on Sunday morning
    Heather W. Reichgott, piano
    http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com

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    Senior Member PetrB's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hreichgott View Post
    Even the professionals often don't get around to reading through the hymns until 8:45 on Sunday morning
    Yeah, but they're pros: even groggy, half awake after one coffee, Gb major wouldn't phase them

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    Hymns are written in a combination of first and second species counterpoint in four voices.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 4/4player View Post
    Hey guys! I just had a quick question that I'm seeking answers for: Is there a set structure for writing hymns?. I know the process is somewhat similar to songwriting, but I wanted to try my hand at composing some hymns. I'll look forward to your replies! Thanks!4/4 player
    Get a Baptist or Methodist hymnal for $5 in a used book store, or steal one from a church. All the models you need are there. It's usually verse/chorus.

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