I have been asked a version of this question several times over the past few months. Sometime next year I hope to give a presentation on this, so I thought I would give a brief introduction to Psalm singing for those who are interested.
First, let’s start off with “The Scottish Psalter of 1650.” This is the Psalter that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland approved for use by the church in 1650. One of the reasons many people love this Psalter is the attempt to remain true to the Hebrew text. On top of that, you can read the whole Psalter online (or here, with short introductions to each Psalm by John Brown), and you do not face any copyright issues. Yes, there are a lot of other Psalters that are newer, but this, in my opinion, is the easiest place to begin when introducing the Psalms.
Second, let’s start with some tunes you should know. For example, everyone should know the tune to “Amazing Grace” (listen to the tune). If you use the Scottish Psalter listed above, you can sing all 150 Psalms to this tune (as long as they are Common Meter). So sing the tune of “Amazing Grace” to the first verse of Psalm 1:
That man hath perfect blessedness,
who walketh not astray
In counsel of ungodly men,
nor stands in sinners’ way,
You can do that with any Psalm in the Psalter (as long as it says CM). Let’s pick one more tune you should know called “Old 100th.” This is the tune most churches sing to the “Doxology” (listen to the tune). Now for this tune, you will need to sing the Long Version of Psalm 100, which is the first version. Here is the whole text:
1 All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
2 Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.
3 Know that the Lord is God indeed;
Without our aid he did us make:
We are his flock, he doth us feed,
And for his sheep he doth us take.
4 O enter then his gates with praise,
Approach with joy his courts unto:
Praise, laud, and bless his name always,
For it is seemly so to do.
5 For why? the Lord our God is good,
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.
If you have never sung the Psalms in your church, and you are interested in doing it, this is the best place to start. You have a tune most people have heard at least once (used for the Doxology), and that tune was actually written for Psalm 100 by Louis Bourgeois, the composer of many tunes in the Genevan Psalter.
That is enough for now. I will do some more posts on other Psalms and some of my favorites later. But when you start teaching Psalm singing in a church, stick with tunes people know. Once you want to move into new tunes, start with Psalm 23 and its classic tune Crimond. But I will cover that in another post. Feel free to leave a comment or contact me for questions.