75 Hymns that Teach Musical Concepts

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"When we sing a hymn, we are singing history." - Paul Lusher (source)

Hymn-singing is a tradition that spans the centuries, uniting us with believers in the past, present, and future. But I believe hymns are more than historical relics. Here are three primary things I think we can learn from hymns still today:

Church Heritage

There's so much history and tradition embedded in hymns. We carry on a piece of that legacy when we come together for worship and sing the same hymns that others have sung for hundreds of years. And at the same time, we're preserving important parts of music history: "Much of the musical heritage of the church is encountered in hymnology: such forms as plainsong, chorale, psalm tune, and gospel hymn." - Hanna Katja Elina Powell (source)

Theology

"One of the things that I think is so important and often neglected nowadays is the learning of hymns, because it’s an easy way to learn theology." - Elisabeth Elliot (source). Hymns tell the Gospel story - a story of grace and redemption and hope and faithfulness. There is so much we can learn about our faith from these texts. Consider this familiar text by Fanny Crosby:

"Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine.
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of his spirit, washed in his blood."

Music

I believe there is great musical value in singing hymns and lots of opportunities embedded in the pages of our hymnals to teach children (and youth!) about singing and musicianship. Use hymns to introduce concepts such as:

– phrasing
– tonality (major, minor, modal)
– dynamics
– meter (duple, triple, compound)
– intervals (steps, skips, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 7ths, etc.)
– sequencing + repeated melodic patterns
– musical form (verse/chorus, AAB, AABA, AABC, ABA, etc.)

– rhythm (steady beat, dotted rhythms, subdivision)
– part-singing (ostinato, call/response, canon, descant, harmony)

When choosing hymns for children (and youth) to sing, I tend to look for good text (meaning, good declamation, age-appropriate), music that is singable and with an appropriate range (mostly steps and skips, not too high/low), andteachable moments (form, minor mode, meter, musical expression).

75 Hymns that Teach Musical Concepts

Today, I'm sharing a list of 75 hymns that teach musical concepts like these. This is a wonderful way to help develop musicianship in your young singers while teaching theology and preserving the heritage of the church.

For ease of teaching, I sorted these hymns by musical concept: mode (major, minor), meter (duple, triple, compound), intervals (steps/skips, leaps), rhythm (steady beat, subdivision, dotted), expression (phrasing, dynamics), and structure (form, part-singing).

Depending on the age of your singers, you may choose to do only part of a hymn. In fact, in Singing the Faith (2003), Barbara J. Resch and Richard C. Resch suggest using only single stanzas or refrains for children in Kindergarten and 1st grade, since they are new to reading and still learning songs by rote (listening and imitating).

Hymns in Major Mode
All Creatures of Our God and King
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Amazing Grace
A Mighty Fortress
Angels We Have Heard On High
Away in a Manger
Be Thou My Vision
Blessed Assurance
Blest Be the Tie That Binds
Breathe On Me, Breath of God
Christ the Lord is Risen Today
Come, Christians Join to Sing
Come, Thou Almighty King
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
Crown Him With Many Crowns
Dona Nobis Pacem
Doxology [OLD 100th]
Fairest Lord Jesus
For the Beauty of the Earth
Gloria, Gloria
Go Tell It on the Mountain
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
He Leadeth Me
Here I Am, Lord [Refrain]
Holy, Holy, Holy
Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
How Firm a Foundation
I Love to Tell the Story
I'm Goin' a Sing When the Spirit Says Sing
In the Bleak Midwinter
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
Jesus Loves Me
Joy to the World
Joyful, Joyful
Lead Me, Lord
Leaning On the Everlasting Arms
Let There Be Peace On Earth
Lift High the Cross [Refrain]
Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming
Lord, I Want to be a Christian
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
My Jesus I Love Thee
Now Thank We All Our God
O Come, All Ye Faithful
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
O God, Our Help in Ages Past
O How I Love Jesus
Once in Royal David’s City
O Worship the King
Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven
Praise to the Lord the Almighty
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
Seek Ye First
Shall We Gather at the River
Silent Night
Standing On the Promises
Surely the Presence of the Lord
Sweet Hour of Prayer [first half]
The First Noel
The Friendly Beasts
The Gift of Love
The King of Love My Shepherd Is
This Little Light of Mine
'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
To God Be the Glory
We Gather Together
We Shall Overcome
We’re Marching to Zion [Refrain]
Wonderful Words of Life

Hymns in Minor Mode
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
We Three Kings (mixed mode)
What Child Is This

Hymns in Duple Meter (2/2, 2/4, or 4/4)
All Things Bright and Beautiful
A Mighty Fortress
Angels We Have Heard On High
Christ the Lord is Risen Today
Come, Christians Join to Sing
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
Crown Him With Many Crowns
Doxology [OLD 100th]
Fairest Lord Jesus
For the Beauty of the Earth
Go Tell It on the Mountain
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
He Leadeth Me
Here I Am, Lord [Refrain]
Holy, Holy, Holy
Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
How Firm a Foundation
I Love to Tell the Story
I'm Goin' a Sing When the Spirit Says Sing
In the Bleak Midwinter
Jesus Loves Me
Joy to the World
Joyful, Joyful
Lead Me, Lord
Leaning On the Everlasting Arms
Lift High the Cross [Refrain]
Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming
Lord, I Want to be a Christian
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
My Jesus I Love Thee
Now Thank We All Our God
O Come, All Ye Faithful
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
O God, Our Help in Ages Past
Once in Royal David’s City
O Worship the King
Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
Seek Ye First
Shall We Gather at the River
Standing On the Promises
The Gift of Love
The King of Love My Shepherd Is
This Little Light of Mine
'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
To God Be the Glory
We Shall Overcome
We’re Marching to Zion [Refrain]

Hymns in Triple Meter (3/2 or 3/4)
All Creatures of Our God and King
Amazing Grace
Away in a Manger
Be Thou My Vision
Blest Be the Tie That Binds
Breathe On Me, Breath of God
Come, Thou Almighty King
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus [HYFRYDOL]
Dona Nobis Pacem
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
Let There Be Peace on Earth
Praise to the Lord the Almighty
Silent Night
Surely the Presence
Sweet Hour of Prayer [first half]
The First Noel
The Friendly Beasts
We Gather Together
We Three Kings
What Child Is This

Hymns in Compound Meter (6/8, 9/8)
Blessed Assurance
Gloria, Gloria
O How I Love Jesus
Wonderful Words of Life

Hymns with Mostly Steps + Skips
All Creatures of Our God and King
Angels We Have Heard On High
Away in a Manger (descending scale)
Blest Be the Tie That Binds
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
Come, Thou Almighty King
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Doxology [OLD 100th]
Fairest Lord Jesus
Holy, Holy, Holy
I Love to Tell the Story
In the Bleak Midwinter
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
Jesus Loves Me
Joy to the World (descending scale)
Joyful, Joyful
Lead Me, Lord
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
My Jesus, I Love Thee
Now Thank We All Our God
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Once in Royal David’s City
The First Noel
The King of Love My Shepherd Is
We Shall Overcome
We’re Marching to Zion [Refrain]

Hymns with Leaps
Blest Be the Tie That Binds (3rds/4ths)
For the Beauty of the Earth (4ths)
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (6ths)
Lift High the Cross [Refrain] (3rds/4ths)
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (4ths)
O Worship the King (4ths)
Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven (4ths)
Praise to the Lord the Almighty (5ths)

Hymns with Steady Beat
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Doxology [OLD 100th]
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
How Firm a Foundation
Joyful, Joyful
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
O God, Our Help in Ages Past
O Worship the King

Hymns with Subdivision
Amazing Grace
Be Thou My Vision
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
How Firm a Foundation
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
The Friendly Beasts
This Little Light of Mine

Hymns with Dotted Rhythms
Away in a Manger
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
Fairest Lord Jesus
Holy, Holy, Holy
I Love to Tell the Story
In the Bleak Midwinter
Joy to the World
Joyful, Joyful
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms
Lord, I Want to Be a Christian
O Worship the King
Once In Royal David’s City
Praise to the Lord the Almighty
Shall We Gather at the River
Silent Night
Standing on the Promises
Surely the Presence
We Gather Together
We’re Marching to Zion

Hymns with Lyrical Phrasing
All things Bright and Beautiful
Amazing Grace
Angels We Have Heard On High
Be Thou My Vision
Dona Nobis Pacem
Fairest Lord Jesus
For the Beauty of the Earth
Gloria, Gloria
He Leadeth Me
Here I Am, Lord [Refrain]
Hosanna, Loud Hosanna
In the Bleak Midwinter
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
Now Thank We All Our God
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Once in Royal David’s City
Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven
Silent Night
The Gift of Love
The King of Love My Shepherd Is
’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus

Hymns to Teach Dynamics
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Go Tell It on the Mountain
O Come, All Ye Faithful [Refrain]
Standing On the Promises
We Three Kings
Wonderful Words of Life

Hymns with Verse/Refrain
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Angels We Have Heard On High
Blessed Assurance
Go Tell It on the Mountain
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
He Leadeth Me
I Love to Tell the Story
Jesus Loves Me
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O How I Love Jesus
Shall We Gather at the River
Standing On the Promises
The First Noel
’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
To God Be the Glory
We Three Kings
We’re Marching to Zion
Wonderful Words of Life

Hymns with Repeating Melodic Pattern
All Creatures of Our God and King
Christ the Lord is Risen Today
Come, Christians Join to Sing
Here I Am, Lord [Refrain] (parallel phrases)
I'm Goin' a Sing When the Spirit Says Sing (parallel phrases)
Sweet Hour of Prayer [first half] (parallel phrases)
This Little Light of Mine (parallel phrases)

Hymns that Teach Form
A Mighty Fortress (AAB)
For the Beauty of the Earth (AAB)
Come, Christians, Join to Sing (AABA)
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (AABA)
Hosanna, Loud Hosanna (AABA)
In the Bleak Midwinter (AABA)

Hymns in Canon
Dona Nobis Pacem (two measures)
For the Beauty of the Earth (one measure)
Gloria, Gloria (two measures)
How Firm a Foundation (one measure)

Hymns with Descants
Angels We Have Heard On High
Holy, Holy, Holy
Now Thank We All Our God
O Come All Ye Faithful
Seek Ye First
Silent Night
The First Noel

What are your favorite hymns that teach musical concepts? Which ones do you sing with your children's or youth choir?

Read more:
Teaching Hymns to Children: Part I
Teaching Hymns to Children: Part II
100 Hymns for Children's and Youth Choirs
How to Teach a Children's Choir Anthem by Rote
The Joy of Singing in Canon: Guidelines and Resources
Hymn Sing

Resource List
Burkhardt, M. (1994). Singing With Understanding. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
Eskew, H. & McElrath, H. T. (1995). Sing with Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnology. Chicago, IL: GIA Publications, Inc.
Powell, H. K. E. (2015). Teaching Children Hymns in the Church Setting Using Orff- and Kodály-based Strategies (Doctoral Dissertation). Indiana University.
Resch, B. J. & Resch, R. C. (2003). Singing the Faith: A Graded and Seasonal Approach to Learning Lutheran Hymns and Liturgy. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.