A few months ago, I received an email from a friend:
“Hi Ashley! I am looking for hymn accompaniments for four hands at the piano. Not arrangements, but the actual hymn. We will be without our organ for some months and I want to beef up the piano sound by adding hands. Do you know of any books with this? Or websites? I guess we could just play in octaves, but maybe there is something interesting out there."
Can anyone relate?
Whether the organ is undergoing repairs, that F# is in need of a good tuning, or you show up one morning and the power is out…
Sometimes, you need to use the piano to accompany the hymns.
But if you’re in a large space, the piano may not be enough on its own to really support and lead the congregation in song. What’s a church musician to do?
One option is to add another person to the bench so you get a fuller, richer sound. This allows you to play deeper bass octaves for harmonic and rhythmic support and double the melody up an octave for clarity and security.
This is where the email above comes in. Are there any resources out there that have hymn accompaniments written out for piano 4-hand?
Here’s what I found:
As we all know, there are tons of piano duet books out there with a wide variety of hymn arrangements, but these are meant to serve as solo instrumental music (prelude, offertory, postlude), not to accompany congregational singing. Resources for piano 4-hand hymn accompaniments—those settings designed to actually accompany congregational singing—are definitely lacking.
One exception to this was James Gilbert’s arrangement of the Doxology, which I discovered during my research—a festive piano 4-hand arrangement (instant digital download!) designed to function as an accompaniment to congregational singing.
So, I started thinking:
How can you create your own piano 4-hand hymn accompaniments? How can you use resources you already have to create fresh (and functional) piano 4-hand arrangements for worship?
Here are three creative approaches to try:
How to Accompany Hymns with Piano 4-Hand: Three Innovative Strategies
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Strategy No. 1 - Pair hymns with simple harmonizations
Use a collection of hymn harmonizations that don’t compete with the standard harmony. Have one person play the harmonization on a select verse and the other play the hymnal version (they could even switch on different verses).
Here are a few collections that could work:
Hymns Magnified (arr. James Koerts) - a set of 15 traditional hymns that follow the standard hymnal harmonizations but feature fuller chords, runs, and other fillers. (The standard hymnal version is also included.)
Hymproviser, Vol. 1 (Preludes + Congregational Accompaniments) and Hymproviser, Vol. 3 (Preludes + Congregational Accompaniments) (Shelly Hamilton and Flora Jean Garlock) - each collection features 30 hymn arrangements that follow the standard hymnal harmonizations and are intended for use as congregational accompaniments.
Enhancements for Congregational Singing (arr. Lloyd Larson) - this accessible keyboard collection includes introductions, standard settings, and re-harmonizations for 14 different hymns of the church year. Optional brass and percussion and handbell books are also available.
Pedal-Less Harmonizations for Hymn Singing (arr. Lani Smith) - designed for the pianist-turned-organist, Lani Smith created this collection specifically for congregational singing. Fourteen hymns are included, each written three different ways: 1) with the bass line notated for the left hand on the Great manual and the other voices written for the right hand on the Swell, 2) with both hands to play on the Swell, and 3) a re-harmonization for the final verse.
Strategy No. 2 - Use a reharmonization and double the melody up an octave
You probably have a few keyboard harmonization books on hand already; try using a fresh keyboard reharmonization for the last verse of a hymn and have the higher part play the melody in octaves to help lead the congregation.
Here are a few of my favorite hymn harmonization collections, if you’re looking for something new:
Hymn Harmonizations by Hayes and Hymn Harmonizations 2 by Hayes (arr. Mark Hayes) - an extensive keyboard collection featuring 50 well-known hymns, creatively re-harmonized and ready to use with congregational singing. The spiral-bound book also includes a CD with printable PDF versions of all the hymns in the collection, notated in multiple keys to match most hymnals.
Hymns and Harmonizations: New Settings for Organ and Congregation (arr. Lani Smith) - a set of 23 arrangements, each with an introduction, standard harmonization, interlude, and free harmonization.
Hymns Reharmonized: Keepsake Edition (arr. Carol Tornquist) - featuring 110 hymns, each one is presented with a short introduction and the original harmonization on the left side of the page, and a transition and re-harmonization on the right side of the page (no page turns!). Great for congregational singing and for accompanying communion.
Variants on Hymn Tunes for Congregational Singing (Fred Bock) - a collection of 14 hymn re-harmonizations to accompany final stanzas of congregational singing.
Strategy No. 3 - Modify organ/piano duets
The third strategy is to use organ/piano duets intended to accompany congregational singing. This might take a little more work upfront, but look for ways to modify what’s there for piano 4-hand.
Here are a few resources worth perusing:
Organ & Piano Accompaniments for Hymn Singing (arr. Lani Smith) - this collection includes 10 hymn settings designed to accompany congregational singing. Written for players of equal ability, titles include: Holy, Holy, Holy; Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee; O Come, All Ye Faithful; and Christ the Lord is Risen Today, among others.
Organ & Piano Accompaniments for Hymn Singing, Vol. 2: Hymns for Holy Week and Eastertide (arr. Lani Smith) - like Vol. 1, this collection includes 10 hymn settings to accompany congregational singing from Palm Sunday through Easter. One nice thing about both these collections is that they include multiple settings for each hymn, giving you options for accompanying multiple verses (instead of having only one reharmonization for the last verse).
Hymn Dazzlers, Set 1 and Hymn Dazzlers, Set 2 (arr. Joel Raney) - featuring congregational accompaniments for three different hymns, each organ/piano setting includes an introduction, the standard hymn harmonization, a re-harmonization, a transition and modulation for the last verse, and the last verse in the new key (no need to try to transpose at sight!). Optional handbell parts for 3-5 octave bells are also available. Set 1 includes: How Firm a Foundation; O Come, All Ye Faithful; and Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. Set 2 includes: Amazing Grace; Rejoice, the Lord is King; and Crown Him with Many Crowns.
And Can It Be? Hymn Enhancements for Piano and Organ (arr. Paul Ferrin) - this collection includes 15 hymn arrangements that may be used to accompany congregational singing or as a standalone organ/piano duet.
Organ-Piano Accompaniments for Congregational Hymns (arr. Donald Hustad) - 9 creative hymn re-harmonizations for organ/piano, some with an interlude and modulation.
Need help getting started?
Download this free 12-page workbook, “How to Harmonize and Re-Harmonize a Hymn or Song for Worship” with more information on chords and chord functions, plus some examples you can use for practicing. Sign up below to get your copy:
Do you ever accompany hymns with piano 4-hand? What resources have you found most helpful?