Musical notation

What does that mean at the bottom of a hymn?

That gives you the hymn meter. A hymn meter or metre indicates the number of syllables for the lines in each stanza of a hymn. This provides a means of marrying the hymn’s text with an appropriate hymn tune for singing.

Usually a hymnal has a metrical index. Find the listing for D and it will give you several tunes to pick from to sing the hymn you are looking at. It’s the meter that allows us to sing so many hymns to “Ode to Joy” for example, or “OLD HUNDREDTH” (the usual tune for “All People that on Earth Do Dwell”)

So as I understand you, for the particular hymn on the page, with its own score, it doesn’t really help. However, it allows you to use that score for other hymns that lack one?

It means you can use the words for the hymn you’re looking at to the tune of other hymns with the same meter, and vice versa.

Yes, that’s correct. It also helps if the hymn tune for the text you want to use is unfamiliar or ugly. You can use the meter to find another tune that will fit that text - one more familiar or more beautiful.


Not necessarily for hymns that lack its own melody/score. Sometimes, people will take the text from one hymn and set it to the melody of another hymn that has the same metre. I know that this has sometimes been done at certain parishes I’ve worked at when the text of a hymn melody which is obsolete, not well known, or not that great of a melody is perfect in fitting with the readings of the day. So the director will set that text to a more well-known, liked or popular hymn melody. Some hymnals, like yours I assume, will contain a metre index in the back so that it makes it easier for music directors, organists, etc.

…like singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” or “House of the Rising Sun” (both of which I’ve done).


Specifically, means lines of 8 and 7 syllables. The D means “double”, so altogether there would be 8 lines of text in the hymn. (They may not, however, be displayed that way in the music because of space considerations).

So if there were three verses, I assume it would be T, and Q for four verses. How about five?

I should have been more clear – there would be 8 phrases per stanza or verse. The D functions as an abbreviation. You aren’t going find very many hymns with many more phrases than that. I’ve never seen anything similar to a T or Q. The longest I found looking at one hymnal was (Infant Holy, Infant Lowly).

gracious, not in my parish I hope, I would not be able to keep a straight face

I have an The Original Blind Boys of Alabama CD on which they sing “Amazing Grace” to the “House of the Rising Sun” melody. They won a Grammy or a Dove Award, or something like that for it. I didn’t really care for it that much-they have lots of better material.

That’s EXACTLY what I was going to say, try singing Amazing Grace to the melody of House of the Rising Sun. I’ve never thought of singing it to I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing. I heard a bunch of Christmas songs to Rising Sun this past year, but I can’t think of a single one right now. It was a lot of fun.


No, this was back when I was a Protestant. The “I’d Like to Teach” was a cutsey thing I did with out two boys when they were young, singing several Christian lyrics to current commercial melodies. The HOTRS was part of an arrangement I did for a southern gospel male quartet I was singing with in the late '90s–2 verses with the HOTRS melody, then modulate to the relative major and 2 verses with the standard melody, with a couple key changes in typical SG style. It worked very well, but you really had to be there.


You can sing some hymns to America the Beautiful
I just figured out that I could sing the 6686 hymns to “Happy Birthday”

I started trying this because in The Magnifcat the suggested hymns come with the meter and maybe a “can sing to the tune of…” So I try to figure out hymn tunes I know that match the given meter.

(the happy birthday was just having fun)

During Lent I was trying to introduce quite a lot of new, strong hymns to my choir which I had recently taken over. As the choir had been singing mostly “praise and worship” style music, a lot of the good, strong, metrical hymns were alien to them. They learned a few hymns to their usual hymn-tunes, such as “Lord Jesus, think on me”, but then I realised we wouldn’t have time to learn the tunes for all the hymns. So what I did for “O Cross of Christ, Immortal Tree”, which is normally sung to the tune “St Flavian”, was to get them to sing it to the tune of “St Columba” - which they know very well (“The King of Love” is normally sung to it). Obviously, the metres are the same:… So the metrical index of a hymnal is quite indispensable - it can be somewhat of a lifesaver! Just make sure that the words actually suit the melody: I own an old edition of “The Oxford Hymn Book”, and it’s extremely odd to see a Lenten hymn set to a tune that we would normally associate with Christmas - imagine singing “O Cross of Christ, Immortal Tree” to the tune of “While Shepherds watched their flocks”. Metrically it works, but it wouldn’t work in church, because the association of that tune (Winchester Old) with Christmas is very firmly established.

But have you sung it to the Theme from Gilligan’s Island…?

He will my shield and portion be,
…And the rest!


LOL, tee.


I looked more carefully through the hymnal this week, and I noticed many of the hymns don’t have the notation listed at the bottom - does this mean all of these are irregular?

Also, I found the metrical index in the back, which in addition to listing the numbers we’ve discussed above, also listed some as “long meter” and “short meter”. Educate me, please.

You might be able to make sense of the whole thing by going here.

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