Hymn harmonizations are a great way to add musical interest to your hymn-playing and congregational singing. Use them to highlight particular verses, create a certain mood or expression, or heighten an important point in the worship service.
The trouble is, where do you find these hymn harmonizations?
Your denomination may have a few hymnal supplements available, offering some re-harmonizations, but these can be expensive and sometimes, not all that exciting.
There are lots of collections out there with re-harmonizations of various hymns, but sometimes, they are intended more for solo-playing than for congregational singing, leaving you to edit them for use in worship and play only certain sections.
If you’re looking for a few new ideas and resources for hymn harmonizations you can use in worship, you’ve come to the right place. Today, I’m sharing my top recommendations, plus a few pointers for writing your own harmonizations (it’s not as hard as you think!).
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Hymn Harmonization Collections
There are lots of collections out there that provide alternate hymn harmonizations you can use for introductions, transitions, and verse accompaniments. One that I’ve used throughout the years is Hal Hopson’s The Creative Use of Organ in Worship. This collection includes over 250 re-harmonizations, including some introductions and transitions you can use between verses. It also includes a modulation worksheet, with notated modulations between all keys, and practical suggestions for improvising on familiar hymn tunes for use in other places in the service.
Here are a few other collections you might consider:
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.
Similar to the collection mentioned above, this one is specific to Advent and Christmas carols.
The Art of Hymn Playing and The Art of Hymn Playing, Vol. II
Each of these collections includes 250 hymn introductions, short preludes, re-harmonizations, and free accompaniments that can be used to accompany congregational singing or as solo music.
Enhancements for Congregational Singing
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.
Rejoice and Sing! 20 Festive Hymn Introductions for Organ
A fun and very useful collection of 20 hymn introductions for all occasions.
Fourteen Introductions on Christmas Carols
These well-crafted carol introductions are moderately easy to play; an easy way to brighten and enhance your Christmas services and special programs.
The Creative Organist II
Offering several different settings of 15 different hymns, for use as introductions, solo music, or hymn re-harmonizations.
Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, Vol. 1
A collection of 10 well-known hymns, with interesting introductions and re-harmonizations, some in multiple keys. Registration suggestions are also included.
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.
A thoughtful series featuring 25 free hymn accompaniments in each collection. Use them as preludes, offertories, or postludes, or to accompany a last verse of congregational singing.
25 Free Hymn Harmonizations for Organ, Set 1
A well-crafted and very useful collection of 25 free hymn harmonizations, written by my friend Derek. This one’s free!
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.
A collection of 14 hymn re-harmonizations to accompany final stanzas of congregational singing.
Write Your Own Harmonizations
Looking for a new challenge? Try your hand at writing your own hymn harmonization (or re-harmonization).
To get started, choose a simple hymn like “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” or “This Is My Father’s World.”
Analyze the harmonic progression, writing in either Roman numerals or chord symbols - whatever you prefer.
Look for subdominant (IV) chords where you could swap in a ii (minor two) instead or dominant (V) chords where you could swap in a vii° (diminished seven).
Use V/IV (the dominant chord of the four chord) to lead to the predominant and V/V (the dominant chord of the five chord) to lead to dominant harmonies.
Is there a place where a deceptive cadence might work? Instead of resolving from IV or V to I, try going to vi instead, then to the predominant or dominant chord, then to the tonic chord.
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:
Here are a few other helpful resources:
I’ve learned a lot from watching (and listening to) Dean McIntyre’s hymn harmonizations on the piano and attending a few of his in-person workshops on arranging and harmonizing. Here’s a link to his YouTube channel.
The American Guild of Organists put together a free video series on YouTube called, Lessons for the New Organist. There are 30 videos in the series with lots of helpful information on a variety of topics, including improvising, harmonizing, pedaling, and more. Worth checking out, especially if you’re new to organ-playing!
And finally, Mark Hayes, a gifted pianist, composer, and arranger has put together a helpful worksheet for learning about chord substitutions, using “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as an example. See it here.
What are your favorite hymn harmonization resources? I’d love to hear your suggestions!