Are you looking for hymns for sight-reading? Or are you wondering whether hymns are good to practise sight-reading? Then read this article to instantly download a whole list of hymns and to find out what’s great and not so great about sight-reading hymns.
There seems to be a growing belief that hymns are great for practising sight-reading but is that really true?
Hymns are indeed good for sight-reading but there are a few things you should know before you go looking for them. Because while they seem deceptively simple, they can pose a few problems for beginners.
In this article, I explain why hymns are good for sight-reading, what’s not so great and where you can find hymns. I’ve also included a list of hymnals which you can download instantly.
But first, let’s start with…
What is a hymn?
A hymn is a song, often religious, of praise or adoration to a god or to a prominent figure. It is usually written for four voices (SATB). When played on the piano, the tenor and bass lines are written in the bass clef and the two top voices, alto and soprano, in the treble.
What’s great about sight-reading hymns?
Hymns are great for sight-reading because:
- they are short
- the rhythm is often simple
- they are predictable because they are built around common chord progressions
- they are written in simple key signatures (usually up to 3 sharps or flats)
Hymns are especially useful for learning to recognise intervals and chords. They are also great for learning to read a score vertically.
What’s not so great about sight-reading hymns?
Hymns, being mostly chordal, can be a challenge for beginners to sight-read because there are essentially two to four notes to take in all at once.
If you’re a beginner, I suggest you start with hymns that have one line in the treble and one line in the bass. Alternatively, you could decide to only play the soprano and bass voices.
Another difficulty with playing hymns on the piano is that there are often large intervals between the bass and tenor voices, sometimes as large as a tenth (or larger!), which is impossible to play unless you have large hands.
For example, in this hymn, there is an interval of a tenth between the bass and tenor voices in the fifth and sixth bars:
If you have small hands, the only solution to this is to take the notes of the tenor voices in the right hand. So for the example above, you would play the bass A in the LH and the other three notes (C, E and A) in the RH.
Having to do this trick adds a layer of difficulty – which you could do without – but you do get accustomed to it with practice.
Another downside to using hymns for sight-reading is that they are often written with several lines of lyrics between the top and bottom staves, which makes it harder to read both staves.
Luckily I have found several resources where the lyrics are not written in the score (see below).
Where to find hymns for sight-reading?
An excellent online resource to find hymns is https://hymnary.org.
I suggest looking up the following hymnals:
New English Hymnal
Hymns and Psalms
The Episcopalian Hymnal 1982
Church Hymnary 4
The Hymnal 1940
The Lutheran Hymnal from 1941
I also recommend these two books:
Sight-Reading & Harmony by Cory Hall
This book contains 150 Bach chorales (which are written in four-part harmony like hymns) arranged by level of difficulty. I recommend this book, especially if you’re a beginner and want to practise sight-reading four-part harmony progressively, starting with two voices, then three and then finally four voices.
50 Hymn Tunes Without Words by Donald Patterson
This book is great if you want to have a collection of hymns without lyrics between the staves.
IMSLP is another great online resource. Here is a list of hymnals that you can download instantly:
Conclusion: Would I recommend hymns for sight-reading?
If you’ve been playing the piano and practising sight-reading for a while then yes, I recommend sight-reading hymns, especially if you want to get better at recognising chords and intervals. But I also recommend you continue to sight-read other material so that you get used to different styles of music.
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