Are Hymns Harder to Sing Than Praise Songs?

Are Hymns Harder to Sing Than Praise Songs? October 21, 2011

A common complaint that I see about hymns is that they are overly complicated musically speaking. The melodies and harmonies are impractical for unskilled musicians and singers. “People need something simple they can pick up easily.” Hence the rise of highly simplistic, repetitive worship tunes.
My question is this: Are they really easier to sing?
Last night I went to a youth gathering, and the band ran through some worship tunes. They actually weren’t terrible as worship tunes go, but what I noticed as I tried to sing along is that the melodies weren’t that memorable. For songs I didn’t know, it would take me a little while even just to grasp the tunes to the point where I could sing along. They didn’t have body to them. They didn’t have movement. They didn’t flow naturally and gracefully. The rhythms were vague. I felt cramped as I sang them. And I can hardly remember a note the morning after.

Now maybe I’m just not putting myself in a beginner’s shoes, but I think songs like “It is Well,” “Amazing Grace,” and “How Great Thou Art” are FAR more singable. The rhythms are more clearly marked out. The melodies are going somewhere definite. They stick in your head. They have character and form.
For me, melodies like that are much easier to sing.
Thoughts from those of you who work in church music?

"/ Not too many years ago I would have glibly said, "We all have our ..."

Sam Harris Asks Questions Jordan Peterson ..."
"But, a valid ID is too much for you, eh?"

Sam Harris Asks Questions Jordan Peterson ..."
"It was a tough series about African-American spirituality. I was glad when Fr. Rohr picked ..."

Sam Harris Asks Questions Jordan Peterson ..."
"I like this:/We each need to make our own peace with the tough issues presented ..."

Sam Harris Asks Questions Jordan Peterson ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Let me preface by saying I’m not against modern music (just shallow music), but I do find hymns more easily learned simply from their basic format. I’ve noticed this, not only for myself, but for my congregation as well.
    If you sing at least three verses (1st, second, and last, of course!) of a hymn, you have repeated the melody 3x. This reinforces the tune in your mind. Of course the very nature of a “refrain (chorus)” make not only the tune easier to remember, but the words of it as well.
    While I like some praise choruses and songs, some seem to meander without any purposeful direction. Unless you have heard it repeatedly (either in services, or on recordings), it is strange to you and encourages a lack of participation (at least on my part). It becomes easier to let the worship band do the performing and just listen.

  • Wes Burke

    It’s hard to paint with a broad brush here, but on the whole I’d agree with you. However, there are a fair number of praise choruses that have very singable, memorable melodies (Come Now Is The Time To Worship, Lord I Lift Your Name On High), and there are some hymns that have less singable and memorable melodies. So it’s hard to really generalize, but I’d say that to me, on the whole the hymns are more singable.

  • Yes, there are exceptions. I was thinking big picture. How do the staple hymns everybody knows and loves compare with the worship tunes you’ll find being performed in your average youth band?

  • I don’t work in church music but for me I love the hymns. There are just a few praise songs that catch me & I like but not many. The older hymns are the best.

  • Yes, and I should clarify that obviously everyone’s welcome to comment! I was just especially interested in the experience of those who put together stuff for their congregations to sing.

  • Deanna Haney

    It’s really hard for me to even grasp the melody a lot of the time with the praise songs. I am elderly, and cannot just stand up for 3-4 songs at the beginning of the service, and not even be able to even recognize the music. I finally just sit down and try to listen to the words for any meaning…and many times, there isn’t any meaning. Just repetition of the same phrase over and over. I really miss the hymns, and when they finally do play one hymn, they jazz it up with the praise band so much, you can’t even recognize it. It’s sad not being able to participate in the songs, as the music used to mean so much to me. I’ve started coming to the service late, so I can miss all this noise.

  • And yet, to me those are two of the most forgettable songs of the 90s (never was a big fan of either).

  • I meant “exceptions” in terms of melody only. 🙂 However, I do have to put in a good word for “Come, Now Is the Time.” Certainly less cliched than “Lord I Lift.”

  • Working as a contemporary music director with a strong hymns/SG background, I try to find as many meaty songs as I can. One song that we repeatedly use, however, is “Come Now Is The Time To Worship.” To be perfectly honest, I am sick of this song simply because I don’t see a lot to it. One verse, one refrain, and that’s it. But the congregation can sing along with it.
    Ultimately, we can go around and around on the “hymns vs. modern music” argument. It boils down to a matter of taste. Some congregations want the modern music as their form of worship. Others want the classic hymns.
    Just around the corner from my home is a street known as “church street.” The reason is that, within a five mile stretch, there are about 8 churches. Some are literally one next to the other. Two are Church of God, a couple are Baptist, some are non-denominational. My constant question is, “Why are there so many churches next to each other? Wouldn’t it make more sense to combine them into one large congregation?”
    The answer is, no, because they’d be fighting over everything. That’s why there are so many individual churches, denominations, worship styles, etc. It’s all a matter of taste. If it leads an individual to God, or encourages their worship, who cares if it’s classic, modern, “mixed,” or polka? As long as it’s theologically and spiritually sound, just let the people worship.

  • Yes, it’s something we could debate over for days. My particular post was focused on one specific aspect of the debate, namely the purely technical, musical aspect.