20 Ways to Add Variety to Singing Hymns*:
1. Sing without any variation. Oftentimes, the spirit of the hymn can be conveyed without any changes.
2. Combine into a medley of hymns.
3. Change the time signature, a verse, or section. For example, a hymn in 3-4 time could be changed to 4-4 time by adding an extra beat to each measure.
4. Men, women, or both sing one or more verses in unison.
It is useful to remember that the voices are labeled from highest to lowest. 1st Soprano, 2nd Soprano, 1st Alto, 2nd Alto, 1st Tenor, 2nd Tenor, 1st Bass (Baritone), 2nd Bass. This is often abbreviated as SSAATTBB for true 8-part harmony or SATB for predominantly 4-part harmony.
5. The congregation joins the choir on the final verse or chorus. This is a great way to help the congregation become more familiar with lesser-known hymns.
6. Women sing one or more verses. Women can sing most hymns in two parts (Soprano or Alto) or in three parts (Soprano, Alto, and Tenor).
7. Men sing one or more verses. Many hymns can be adapted for use by men's choirs and quartets.
For example, you might consider arranging the voices in the following manner:
- Baritones (1st Basses) sing the melody
- 1st Tenors sing Alto above the melody
- 2nd Tenors sing the Tenor part
- 2nd Basses sing the Bass part
8. Men sing the hymn with the Alto part sung below the melody. When this is done, the Bass part is optional.
9. Sopranos and Tenors sing a duet for one verse.
10. Tenors and Basses sing the melody while the Sopranos and Altos sing the Alto part.
11. One section of the choir sings the melody while the rest of the choir hums or oohs the other parts.
12. The accompanist quietly plays a verse on the piano or organ while someone reads the text to the verse.
13. A soloist sings the melody while the choir hums or oohs the various parts.
14. An instrumental hymn arrangement is played by the piano or organ while the choir or a soloist sings the melody in unison.
15. A piano duet or piano-organ duet is played while the choir or a soloist sings the melody in unison.
16. Men and women alternate singing phrases, in unison or in parts, in a call and response fashion. For example:
Women: Abide with me; 'tis eventide. The day is past and gone;
Men: The shadows of the evening fall; The night is coming on.
Women: Within my heart a welcome guest, Within my home abide.
All together: O Savior, stay this night with me; Behold, 'tis eventide.
Women: O Savior, stay this night with me;
Men: Behold, 'tis eventide.
17. Greatly alter the tempo. For example, sing a hymn very slowly with lots of expression, perhaps pausing briefly at the end of phrases or sections of music.
18. Alter the tempo of one verse or section of a hymn that is normally sung at a fast tempo. Use the text as your guide.
19. Change a section or verse of a hymn to a minor key.
- Generally, you can flat the 3rd and 6th scale degrees of a song to accomplish this.
- Sometimes the 7th degree of the scale will sound better flatted as well. For example, a hymn in the key of G Major, uses the notes: G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G.
- The G Minor scale is: G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F#-G (this is known as Harmonic Minor) or G-A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G (this is known as Natural Minor). This is a wonderful way to highlight a more somber text.
20. Sing the words from one hymn to the music of another. Hymns with similar rhythmic meters sometimes work well with interchanged texts. (See the meter index at the back of some hymnals).
*Several of these ideas came from the preface to Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985.