New to Psalmody, A Request for Advice

Discussion in 'A capella Exclusive Psalmody' started by Rogersdna15, Aug 29, 2018.

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  1. Rogersdna15

    Rogersdna15 Puritan Board Freshman

    I will start with the question for those that would prefer to skip its context below:

    How would you advise a person new to Psalmody (specifically 1650 SMV) on how to begin learning to use the Psalter (when they aren’t able to attend an EP church) with his family and in private?

    Below you’ll find more context for those who want more detail to guide their answer.

    I am currently living/serving overseas with my family. We are Baptist (SBC to be exact) and I had never heard of singing psalms until I came across “Sing a New Song” edited by Joel R. Beeke and Anthony T. Selvaggio about a year ago. Since then I’ve attempted singing the Psalms on and off. I am not entirely EP, but I have come to the conviction that they should be the primary songs my family and I should sing. The past 2-3 weeks we’ve begun singing the psalms (SMV 1650). As a family, we sing one to two in the morning and one in the evening during our family worship. Then in my private worship, I sing two.

    A problem we are having is that we don’t know most of the tunes. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home so I didn’t even grow up with the traditional tunes of hymns, so much of the music is foreign to me. Therefore we have been using the 1650 app on the iPad to sing along with as we seek to learn the tunes. We sing along with the comprehensive psalter directions and usually along with the congregational recording provided.

    When we were starting I tried to do some research on how to begin implementing psalm singing into our private/family worship. However, I couldn’t find much direction besides getting the 1650 app and simply start (Honestly any advice I found seemed geared towards people either in a Psalm singing church or with Psalm singing history, so it wasn’t very helpful given my context). I took that and decided we would start with picking 5 psalms (we picked Ps. 16, 23, 93, 103:1-12, 119:1-8) and stick with them for a week or two. So throughout the week, we rotate through those 5 psalms and then on the Sabbath we sing all 5 throughout the day.

    However, it has been three weeks and we still haven’t been able to move past these 5 yet. We are still having trouble keeping track of the tunes that go to what. We also struggle to remember the tunes without first hearing the tunes a bit. However, I would prefer for our family to be able to sing them a capella. I know there is a steep learning curve ahead of us, but since I couldn’t find any tips for someone in my shoes I thought I would ask for some help/pastorally direction.

    Given my circumstance and context, how would you advise someone like me to begin learning to use the Psalter in family and private worship? Am I starting with too many psalms? Are there more basic/beginner ones we should be starting with (All the tunes seem simple enough)? Is there a better plan I should follow? Any advice for the transition?*

    *The question regarding transition is due to in part my wife’s Hispanic background. She grew up with very lively and more uptempo beats in church, so for her, this transition has been slightly more difficult. She enjoys the words but the beats are so very foreign to her that it has thus far impeded her ability to focus on the words as she tries to sing. So the advice about transition is simply any advice on how to lovingly lead and encourage my wife during this time as we both are trying to learn this together.

    For those of you who read all the way down to here, thank you for your patience! I felt these details might help some in forming more appropriate and directive advice.
  2. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    See the links in Rom's sig for some resources that may help:


    To get the hang of things, try Psalm 46 to the tune of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (German: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott). Or, see the rendition of the same Psalm to the tunes shown at the site linked immediately above.

    I have found that being acquainted with the themes of the Psalms helps to choose them depending upon your family devotional topics. There are many resources online and in print available provided thematic lists. For example, this book is a good one:
  3. Megs

    Megs Puritan Board Freshman

    Here is the resource my family uses for tunes and a capella singing:

    We follow their order and tunes and do one each day (most of my kids are very young so they can't all read and can't handle too much).

    Other tunes that work great with the SMV are America the Beautiful (try Psalm 117 to this to see), Amazing Grace, O Little Town of Bethlehem, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and some other Christmas carol tunes that I can't think of off the top of my head.

    Hope this helps and happy psalming!

    P.S. We have memorized some of the psalms, but most families I know that do this just cycle through them in order each year and don't worry about memorizing them.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2018
  4. Rogersdna15

    Rogersdna15 Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you both for the reply. Yes, I’ve visited their web sites before. I’ve got the 1650 app and sing along with the same recordings via this.

    The question is more geared towards how to better learn the tunes besides always singing along with someone. While it is helpful, after 3 weeks of singing the same 5 psalms I would have thought I’d be able to recall and remember the tune. I want to be able to lead our family without the necessity of an app or recording all the time (one day), and so I want to walk us in that direction (however slowly that might be). Since after 3 weeks I haven’t been able to learn the tune well enough, I think I may need to rework my plan. So I am looking for some advice on anyone’s personal experience on how one might go about better learning the tunes to singing the psalter.

    I know the point of the SMV is that you could in theory sing all the psalms with one tune, but I feel that be able to at least incorporate a little more tune and variation might aid in learning the psalms more easily.
  5. G

    G Puritan Board Junior


    Keep practicing brother. You and i are in similar backgrounds regarding what we have been raised with. I am currently in the same trenches of trying to incoprate into our family worship without being “clunky”. It is still “clunky” for us, but we are trying each evening nonetheless. Like all things with practice they seem to smooth out, so I remain hopeful. I am not EP but like you am putting my best foot forward to sing the Psalms more.

    I look forward to the answers that follow. I would love updates on your endeavors so maybe I can learn from your attempts and vice versa ( maybe in private message)

    I recently came upon this site , which may help you as well:

    Currently I use various websites for the Psalm singing and put it on my TV using apple tv. Then we open the Psalter for lyrics and sing to the tune.

    “Oh for a thousand tongues” works well for most Psalms.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2018
  6. Megs

    Megs Puritan Board Freshman

    All I can suggest for starting is to maybe only work on one psalm for a week or so with one tune and then switch to another. Maybe only tracking one tune at a time would help?

    My family still doesn't know all the tunes but we find we recognize more and more of them the more we cycle through them. For those, we often turn off the recording and speed things up a bit so my kids aren't falling asleep from the pace :).
  7. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    One idea that popped into my mind is that you might explore having several Psalters. Compare them, and then mix and match to find the best word/music combo for a given Psalm, and then use that one each time. My experience with Psalters so far is that the music on at least some Psalms winds up being very difficult to sing. So get the RPCNA Psalter, the new OPC/URC Psalter, the grey CRC Psalter, and some of the older Psalters, and just mix and match until you find the Psalm setting you like the best.
  8. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    There are single tunes that can actually be used to sing most if not all the Psalms.

    It is unfortunate there is not an in-home karaoke box for the psalms that projects the texts of the Psalms with a bouncing ball along with the tunes. ;) A few weeks of that would probably improve one's memory.
  9. Megs

    Megs Puritan Board Freshman

    Looks like you may have hit on a new business endeavor! My family would definitely buy it :).
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  10. ScottishPresbyterian

    ScottishPresbyterian Puritan Board Freshman

    As stated by others, a major advantage of the Scottish Psalter is that one tune will allow you to sing all the Psalms. This is not recommended and it is best to learn a variety of tunes, nevertheless, I'd advise to persevere and once you have mastered a couple of tunes you can happily sing the Psalms, and learn more tunes as you go.

    My wife is also new to Psalm singing - we sing the Scottish Psalter in course at family worship. Growing up I was always keen on singing a tune that fits the Psalm well, and using a wide variety of tunes. I still think this is desirable, but find that it is not suitable for teaching my wife the tunes to sing the Psalms, therefore we limit ourselves at present to a small selection of tunes and hope that in due course she will be comfortable with those and we can gradually add in more.

    My suggestions for tunes to learn first as easy to learn and fitting for many of the Psalms are: 59. Evan; 89. Moravia; 51. Dunfermline; 79. Kilmarnock; 28. Ballerma - the numbering comes from the order the tunes appear in the Free Church split leaf Psalter - Staff and Sol-fa versions available from - you can also get recorded Psalm singing here, which as well as being wonderful music is a good way to learn the tunes.

    It is also (afterwards) worth learning some tunes for the alternative metres (173. Selma a good place to start for short metre, 10. Old 100th for long metre).

    YouTube is also a good resource for recorded Psalm singing -

    And you can try soundcloud: - - a wealth of Psalm singing recordings (not all SMV and wide variety of tunes, but you can find tunes you're looking to learn) - solo singing of 4 part harmonies
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  11. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    The new Trinity Psalter/hymnal has made great strides in smoothing the metre for the Psalms -- and many of the tunes are readily available on the web as midi files. I'm thinking about incorporating them in our home school this year, perhaps tying the date to a Psalm. (Today being Aug. 29 could lead to exploring Psalm 29 or 129.)
  12. Rogersdna15

    Rogersdna15 Puritan Board Freshman

    This was very helpful thank you. Thank you for sharing about your experience in helping your wife learn them as well. That is encouraging to hear! I will take a look at these tunes/resources!
  13. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    Echoing what others have said, the 1650 has a translation of each Psalm in common meter. That means that you can use any common meter tune to sing any Psalm. If you know the tune to Amazing Grace, you can use that to sing any Psalm. There are alternate translations of some Psalms that use other meters, but you can get by with only using the common meter ones.

    Actually, I was surprised to learn that many churches in Scotland only use a handful of tunes for the entire Psalter.
  14. Rogersdna15

    Rogersdna15 Puritan Board Freshman

    That is very interesting. I would think that would make the Psalms more difficult to distinguish, but maybe I am wrong. Maybe the point to take from that is that it is more important to sing the word than have a pleasurable beat to each one (at least at first?). That is encouraging to know either way. Thanks for sharing.
  15. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    Believe it or not, many of the older folks in some of those churches don't even pick up a Psalter during worship. They know it by heart.
  16. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    When I was first learning (and not in a psalm singing church), my thought process went like this: How do people learn the tunes to so much music, even able to repeat the words to some degree? How do people learn the tunes to so many hymns? My answer at the time: They listen to it or sing it a lot. So when I was first learning, I made a playlist of psalms with some 5 different tunes, and I would listen to it on my commute to work...over and over and over again. Over and over until I got sick of them (since I was trying to learn them quickly instead of having an exposure time to them of years and years like people have with hymns and other music) and then I would play it once or thrice more and then give it a rest. And then I added maybe 2-3 to that playlist as those tunes became more familiar. I eventually had a playlist of some 20+ tunes that I would play over and over again. If I wasn't commuting to work, I would set aside some time to do something that would allow me to play through the playlist. I couldn't really make out the words on the psalms in the playlist, but that was fine since my goal was to learn the tunes.

    It took some time and patience (more than 2-3 weeks), but that's the bulk of how I learned lots of tunes, along with singing the psalms with the tunes in my repertoire (I sang through the psalter and chose one of the tunes from the repertoire that fit the best; I did not fix a tune to any particular psalm). I actually started with maybe only 2-3 new tunes from the Scottish psalter (I already knew New Brittain, Denfield, St. Agnes, etc., due to having grown up in a hymn singing church), and I would stick with my repertoire until I knew the new tunes as well as I knew the old ones. I continually reminded myself that the words are the worship God has commanded; tunes are just circumstances. Eventually, the tunes I learned from the playlist were added to what I knew, which created a big boost in what I could choose with the psalms. Eventually, I was even able to phase out the hymn tunes that were not in the Scottish Psalmody (I think I was able to start doing this after a year).

    Since I did not go to a psalm singing church, I would sometimes sing some psalms with the new tunes as practice (as though I attended a worship service at a psalm singing church).

    Some tunes in the Scottish Psalmody are easier and more versatile than others. Recommendations have already been given for some versatile and simple ones.

    As a point of encouragement, I would note that a lot of the tunes in the Scottish Psalmody have a similar character, so once you learn a handful it becomes easier to learn more. Not to mention that once you have a reasonable repertoire, you can focus on adding only one tune at a time (after having learned a number of the tunes, it is easier and quicker to learn one tune than it is to learn multiple ones at a time).

    Thinking pedagogically, I would recommend not fixing the tunes to words yet, or maybe after fixing the tunes to the words for a while de-link them from that psalm and start using them with other words. While it isn't universally true, singing the tune with different words can help with remembering the tune, instead of getting stuck with remembering the tune only with specific words. I would also not recommend such a rotation with so many tunes; maybe try learning just 2 of the new tunes (pick ones with different moods for you to sing through the psalter). Or you can keep your rotation but put special attention on learning only 2 of the new tunes.

    Otherwise, your pedagogy seems fine to me, except for a lack of listening to the tunes throughout the day. If you have a "tune of the day" maybe play psalms with that tune throughout the day, and then throughout the evening play the tune that you are using the next day.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2018
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  17. MChase

    MChase Puritan Board Freshman

  18. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    I’ll echo what Afterthought has said about downloading some tunes and listening, listening, listening. I downloaded a lot of midi tunes. It imprinted many tunes on my mind.
  19. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    Gilligan's Island
    House of the Rising Sun
    Beverly Hillbillies
    Yellow Rose of Texas

    Lots of easy to learn tunes in Common Meter.
  20. Jeri Tanner

    Jeri Tanner Moderator Staff Member

    Lol Edward, I don’t know that those tunes bear the weight of majesty proper for a song to the Lord.
  21. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    I just heard from a missionary serving with the ARP Church of Pakistan. He commented that they used tunes like "Take me out to the ballgame" and "There are seven days" for Psalms in their worship (in Urdu), and people thought they were quite suitable tunes. I'm not sure how that happened. With the right rhythm, they don't sound too off though.
  22. Tom Hart

    Tom Hart Puritan Board Senior

    Having grown up in Exclusive-Tomlinist churches, I came late to psalmody. In the last three years I have had the pleasure of diving deep into the psalms; now I sing psalms daily. It has been a life-changing experience.

    The 1650 Psalter app has been a great blessing to me, also helping me to lead my family in psalm-singing. I am not at all musical, so I need to listen to tunes over and over in order to learn them well. Once I got more comfortable with singing psalms, I started trying different tunes. Nowadays I hardly ever refer to the app.

    You might want to see this YouTube channel.

    This Remillard fellow posts lots of hymn tunes, on piano with no singing. I just ignore the hymn he's attached the tunes to and listen to the tunes by themselves. Many of the tunes posted are in common metre, long metre and short metre, and many the same as those recommended in the 1650 app. You'll also find different tunes as well. For instance, I like Psalm 50 to Mornington (short metre), and today I've enjoyed singing Psalm 145 to Te Lucis (long metre).

    I have a Scottish Psalter playlist of nearly 100 tunes. I note in my psalter my favourite tunes and, if I need the tune refreshed in my memory, I refer to Remillard's recording. From time to time, I also send one to my wife so she can listen and get used to a tune before we sing it together.

    There is also this Soundcloud page by a certain Scotsman named John Ross.

    I've found it very useful to learn other tunes, such as Finnart, which I always use for Psalm 6. Some of the recordings here are instrumental (guitar), while others are sung. There are tunes here that I have not been able to find elsewhere on the internet, such as Babel's Streams (for Psalm 137).

    If you have any questions about tune recommendations, do not hesitate to ask or to send me a message.
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  23. Megs

    Megs Puritan Board Freshman

  24. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Junior

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