Singing the Psalms Part II: How to Sing the Psalms

Singing the Psalms Part II: How to Sing the Psalms

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In Part I of this two-part series, I gave a framework for why a church might want to seriously consider regular Psalm-singing as a part of their corporate worship. To recap, singing the Psalms can remind us of the genre of the literature (they’re songs!), integrate our emotional and aesthetic response, and aid us in remembering the words of Scripture more effectively and hiding these truths in our hearts. If I succeeded in convincing you that Psalm-singing is worth your time and effort, great! I’d like to use this space to point you towards some great Psalm-singing resources.

Many Ways to Sing

As we’ve always been told (but hopefully never found out by practice), the skinning of a cat can be accomplished with a variety of (undoubtedly equally horrific) methods. Psalms can also be sung in your church in a variety of ways. I’m going to make some general categories, and then point you to some folks doing these specific styles of Psalm-singing really well.

Method #1: You’re Already Doing It

Believe it or not, a lot of hymns and contemporary worship songs are either loosely based, or very closely based, on the text of the Psalms. A few examples:

  • “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman, is a riff on the text from Psalm 103
  • “Forever,” by Chris Tomlin, draws most of its lyrics from Psalm 136
  • “Better is One Day,” also by Matt Redman, derives almost all of its content from Psalm 84

You get the idea. So, the next time you’re singing a song with a large chunk of Psalm-based text, why not draw attention to it? Maybe read the text of the Psalm before you sing it as a sort of call to worship? This way, people are aware that they are, in fact, already singing the words of the Psalms.

RESOURCE NOTE: Looking for a hymn derived from or based on a particular Psalm? Try, where you can search thousands of hymns by Scripture reference. The book Psalms for All Seasons also includes hymns that are (more directly) based on specific Psalms.

Method #2: New Contemporary Songs with Word-for-Word Psalm Text

If you’re a purist and want to sing the exact text of the Psalms, but in a fun folky style,you’re also in luck! There are a few great resources for doing just that.

  • The Corner Room is working on a project to craft songs based solely on the (ESV) text of the Psalms. Volume I is available to listen to on their site, along with lead sheet and chord charts.
  • The Psalter Project is also a resource for singing new music to faithful translations of the Psalm text. They have a great group of artists working together on this project, and they even have a searchable database of other people producing this kind of psalm-singing.

Method #3: Cantor Verses, Congregational Refrain

This method is actually pretty old-school in its style, with a soloist chanting the verses of a Psalm, and the congregation joining in for a refrain (usually a verse of the psalm). This is how we usually sing the Psalms at our church. There are neat ways to do this with a fresh sound – I’ll highlight a few here:

  • Jamie Brown posted a video of a simple Psalm refrain, and a reading of the Psalm verses in between. This would be effective if you didn’t have a strong leader who felt comfortable singing/chanting the verses.
  •, from Jeremy Mayfield, is a great resource. Jeremy is awesome at writing super-catchy refrains, and then has verses that could be sung by all, or just led by a cantor.

Method #4: Old-School Chant

Chanting the Psalms usually involves a simple melody, and a unique style of sing-speaking the text. While this style might be the most foreign to your congregation’s ears and skills, it can be a really effective way to sing the Psalms, and you may be surprised how people pick it up! Anglican chant is one way to do this. Here’s a link to the Anglican Chant Psalter, which includes helpful notes at the outset about how to sing the chants.

Method #5: Global Psalms

OK, it’s not really a method! I just wanted to point out a few resources that demonstrate the variety of ways in which Psalm-singing is happening and can happen throughout the global church, in whatever musical style fits. Here are a few favorites:

I hope this post is a springboard for you to try one or more of these ways to sing the Psalms. I trust that your efforts will be rewarded with a deeper sense of the richness of God’s word, and the power of music to unite us in worship. Godspeed!

ONE MORE RESOURCE NOTE: Be on the lookout for this project from Wendell Kimbrough, whose music is a fantastic resource to the Church. It’s being recorded this month, and I look forward to using it as a Psalm-singing treasure trove as well.

Image attribution: Mojito_mak / Thinkstock


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