Music of the Month: Artful Hymn Accompaniments for Piano

July 11, 2023 Nathan Grime

Timothy Shaw’s collection of hymn accompaniments for piano showcases the range and technique of the piano as an instrument to lead congregational singing. This collection is the second in a new series: Artful Hymn Accompaniments for Piano, inaugurated last year with its first set by composer Jacob Weber.

While most congregants are used to singing hymns primarily with organ as the accompanying instrument, a number of circumstances may call for piano as the accompanying instrument to singing hymns in church. Some churches utilize piano for specific services instead of organ. Other churches lack organists or organs altogether. Whatever the case may be, this series is sure to benefit church musicians who use piano to accompany singing.

Styles of Hymn Accompaniments (The Organ versus The Piano)

The hymn accompaniments in Lutheran Service Book are composed primarily with organ in mind. These traditional four-part chorale harmonies with their sustained block chords sound natural on the organ. That’s because when a key or chord on the organ is played, sound is produced continually and consistently until the keys are released.

On the other hand, the piano functions differently when its keys are depressed. Mallets strike strings inside the instrument, and the duration of the sound corresponds to how solidly the key was played. As a result, the conventional four-part organ accompaniments for hymns can sometimes sound rigid and monotonous on the piano, especially when leading a singing congregation.

Techniques in Hymn Accompaniments for Piano

Hymn accompaniments composed specifically for piano are sensitive to this reality, and a number of techniques are used to effectively lead singing. One technique is the increased rhythmic and harmonic interest that keeps the hymn tune moving forward through each melodic phrase. This encourages congregants to sing each phrase with confidence and energy while they hear rhythmic and harmonic movement underneath the melodic line.

The primary reason the organ is the favored instrument to accompany congregational singing is that it’s the instrument that most effectively produces the volume and grandeur necessary to lead hundreds of voices at the same time. The rhythmic and harmonic movement in a hymn accompaniment for piano can help fill each measure out to suit congregational singing, but featuring the range of the piano is another effective technique to this end.

Other techniques specific to piano featured in this volume include arpeggiated chords and walking and parallel octave bass lines. These techniques also help fill out measures, phrases, and melodic lines both rhythmically and harmonically to encourage the congregation to sing with confidence.

Using Artful Hymn Accompaniments for Piano, Set 2

Set two of Artful Hymn Accompaniments for Piano features a variety of beloved hymn tunes: ANTIOCH (Joy to the World), BEACH SPRING (Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness), DUKE STREET (I Know That My Redeemer Lives), ES IST DAS HEIL (Salvation unto Us Has Come), EVENTIDE (Abide with Me), FAITHFULNESS (Great Is Thy Faithfulness), ITALIAN HYMN (Come, Thou Almighty King), LOB DEN HERREN (Praise to the Lord, the Almighty),  NEW BRITAIN (Amazing Grace), and SCHÖNSTER HERR JESU (Beautiful Savior).


Most of these tunes accompany more than one hymn text in Lutheran Service Book, so the ten accompaniments are useful for fifteen different hymns in LSB. While hymn tunes from different times of the Church Year appear in this set, many of the settings could especially be useful for funeral services.

For example, the hymns “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” “Abide with Me,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” Amazing Grace,” and “Beautiful Savior” are likely familiar selections for funerals. While these settings are written to accompany singing, they could also be employed as a suite of piano music to be played before a funeral service.

Order your copy of Artful Hymn Accompaniment, Set 2, for your church today.

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