How to Play Hymns on Piano

Posted by Piano Teacher on 3/25/2014 to Christian Music

A beginner adult student recently asked “why are hymns so hard to play?”

Playing hymns is challenging to the new piano student. This is due to the fact that hymns were first written for four part vocal harmony, not for piano. The four parts--soprano, alto, tenor and bass—make it hard for a pianist to read all four notes at the same time.

  1. To begin to learn to play hymns, pick an easy one in the key of C, F or G major. For this article, I chose the Doxology in the key of G major.
  2. Learn the right hand notes and rhythm. These are the soprano and alto notes. Always use the same fingering. This helps your fingers and mind learn the musical pattern.
  3. Doxology sheet music

  4. Learn the left hand notes and rhythm. These are the tenor and bass notes. Again, always use the same fingering. If the span of the notes is wider than the reach of your hand, redistribute the notes by playing the tenor note with your left hand. An example is in the above music on the word “host” in the second line and also in the last measure (the words “Holy Ghost”).
  5. Play both hands together, slowly. This takes concentration and practice. Increase the tempo as you gain proficiency.
  6. Once you have mastered playing both hands of a hymn, the next step is adding chords. Where do you add those?
    Chords can be added at the end of a musical phrase. The last note of the phrase can be extended to allow space for the chords. In the Doxology, chords can be added at the words “flow,” (be-)“low,” “host,” and “Ghost.”

The chords that can be added are variations of the G Major and D Major chords.

The word “flow” is a G Major chord, G-B-D. Move both hands up an octave and play another G Major chord, and then move up another octave for another G chord. Each chord gets one beat.

The word (be-)”low” is the dominant chord of G, or the D Major chord: D-F#-A. Move both hands up an octave and play F#-A-D, move your hands up an octave again to play A-D-F#. Each chord gets one beat.

The last notes of the next phrases are “Host” and “Ghost.” Both are G Major chords, G-B-D. Again, move both hands up octaves and play inversions of the chord with each chord getting one beat.

To summarize, add chords at the end of a musical phrase, keeping the same meter. Play inversions of the chord, going up an octave each time. This is a simple way to add chords to a hymn.

Essentials of Great Hymn Arrangement

Great Hymn Arrangements Lessons

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22 Comments

Agbenyega Peter
Date: 3/26/2014
i really appreciate your efforts God richly bless you all for the lessons are very superb and well elaborated stay blessed
Jasmin Samaroo
Date: 3/26/2014
I will certainly try these. They sound simple enough and will provide feedback as soon as I can Thank you.
IJoyce Lapsker.
Date: 3/26/2014
I like this, good exercise, for mind and coordination.
IJoyce Lapsker.
Date: 3/26/2014
Thank you very much. I like this for coordination, mind and concentration. I would appreciate a little larger print of the music. Sincerely, Joyce
Viviene Morrison-Ivey
Date: 3/26/2014
As usual I so look forward to these very simple to understand tutorials. I play in Church from time to time. I will certainly try it out and give you my feedback. Thanks so much Viviene
Debra Ann Petitan
Date: 3/26/2014
Thank you for this great enlightening information. Please continue. If you can, would you address playing "Cocktail Piano." I love the American Standards and strive to play them with my improvised accompaniment.
Norine
Date: 3/26/2014
Thank you so much for all the help you give. I have learned much from you. May God bless you in all your efforts to help others
HB
Date: 3/26/2014
Yoke, great example of how to play hymns. The more you play them the easier they become and is great practice for sight reading. Blessings
ALPHONSO ROSARIO
Date: 3/26/2014
Thank you for guiding & inspiring your students.
Cricket
Date: 3/26/2014
Yoke, thanks for this wonderful presentation! In about two weeks I will be 66 years old, & through my years I have marveled at my joy in hearing a beautiful hymn. To help me make it more clear, & help me to memorize & play it more easily, would you agree that (for example) just in the first measure with the words |"God, from whom all"| could we think with each of the four words, on the corresponding four beats these four chords: |G major, D major, E minor, B minor| ? ~ Thanks!
maxwelle tipa
Date: 3/27/2014
thank u 4 your hints on hymns
Annabelle
Date: 3/27/2014
Dear YokeI've been reading articles with comments,on how thankful they were for trying techniques that you shared. I wish coulbe one of them. I was asked so many times to play in the church to accompany a choir but that is the thing I never do in my life I am always playing alone, on and off just when I have the time, I wanted to play in the church ,but I'm afraid I might ruin the choir/congregation, . The choir members are voluntary so they nevr practice just they come and sing, w'c means I have to catch up their timing everytime, isn't it difficult?Maybe you can help me build my guts. thanks, Annabelle
Wanda White
Date: 3/27/2014
Could you do a short video showing your explanation? I am a visual person. Thank You.
Gary
Date: 3/27/2014
What do mean by "always use the same fingering"? Can you show what fingering you would recommend for this hymn?
emmanuel
Date: 3/27/2014
this is nice but can i have a lesson on how to follow a song i.e playing by earing
Snowball
Date: 3/28/2014
Is there an easy way for beginners to play the melody and an accompaniment just by looking at the hymnal's sheet music? I am really enjoying your videos. Thank you so much!
Davidson Nirina
Date: 5/7/2014
Hi Thank you so much for this lesson, it willl guide me in all my efforts to play hymns.
Peter
Date: 6/21/2014
Thanks for the teaching the Hymn “Doxology”. I learn a lot from you that the other piano teacher never teach so details. I hope I can get more song like that in the future. Thanks again!
Jeanine Scott
Date: 4/20/2016
Yoke, All practical and workable explanations. Thanks for a refresher course. Jeanine
daniel
Date: 8/3/2016
is there any other way to play that doxolygy himn using the same notes to hard for me
Wally Gee
Date: 1/28/2017
KUDOS! I've waited 70 years for this simple explanation.
Barbara
Date: 6/8/2018
If the span of the notes is wider than the reach of your hand, redistribute the notes by playing the tenor note with your left hand. An example is in the above music on the word “host” in the second line and also in the last measure (the words “Holy Ghost”). In the above passage, did you mean to say "by playing the tenor note with your RIGHT hand?

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