Arranging Hymns for Young Musicians

By Pesnichak, Sipkje | The Hymn, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Arranging Hymns for Young Musicians


Pesnichak, Sipkje, The Hymn


We all have different memories of how hymns became a part of our lives. Some people sang hymns with the children's choir at their church. Others may have come to hymn singing later in life. Then there are others of us whose earliest memories of hymns are playing along with hymns on Sunday morning. Not leading from the keyboard, but participating on that instrument someone decided you should learn to play even though you weren't quite sure you knew what it was, before you had the chance to hold it in your hands.

Over the next four Hymn Performance columns I will focus on ways in which instrumentalists of any age and ability level can be involved in the performance of hymns during worship, hymn festivals, or otherwise, along with tips on how anyone can create their own musical arrangements for these players.

Many of us have at our disposal a wide range of musically talented people in our congregations and communities. No matter what their ability level there are ways in which they can all take part in playing hymns. Beginning instrumental students are musical sponges. Their assistance with worship can start quite early on in their musical education. For their participation to be a positive learning experience, the key is haring music for them to play that is at their current ability level. In general after six months to one year of study in a school instrumental program or one year of private music lessons students will have the knowledge and skills to successfully play the melody for such tunes as Hymn to Joy, Stuttgart, and Southwell. What makes these tunes most accessible to the more novice instrumental students are these tunes' simple rhythms, repeated notes, and very few large interval leaps in the melody.

But what about all of those other hymns in the hymnal? All it takes is a little bit of simple arranging. Every hymn can be a very meaningful learning and performing experience for students in their early years of musical studies.

When arranging music for beginning learners there are a few basic guidelines to keep in mind as you prepare a part for them. First is the range of which they are able to play at that time. If you are unsure about a particular student's range, ask them to bring their lesson book in so you can see what notes they have learned so far. If you are unsure of the possible range of an instrument, use an orchestration book such as the Essential Dictionary of Orchestration.1 Next, keep rhythms simple and avoid writing rests into the part. Beginning learners do best when they have a steady pulse to the music and don't have to start and stop except to end one verse and begin the next. Lastly, avoid too many large interval leaps and skips. Stepwise movement or repeated notes are always a safe bet. Keeping these things in mind, use the accompaniment edition of the hymnal you use during worship to create a part that matches harmonically.

The tune Easter Hymn has many leaps and skips in the melody. For a beginning music student that could prove to be a challenge. But with a little bit of creativity you can create a part for any instrument. …

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