What’s On The Page (in the United Methodist Hymnal)?

(this is an extension of the column published in the January newsletter– the second half, below, will be published in February’s newsletter.)

Have you ever wondered what all the information is that you see on each page in the hymnal—why they include it, and what it means? For those who didn’t spend their childhood thumbing through the pew hymnal during worship, some of it can seem confusing, or best ignored.

Well, now you won’t be able to say you don’t know what all of it means. Take a look at the image below.


Each arrow and number indicates a standard component that is included with each hymn. Some of you will know many of these, but others might be new to you. All of this information is applicable to every hymn in the UMH, and most of the hymns in The Faith We Sing. And while other denominations’ hymnals may not have the exact same layout, most of them include most of this information as well, so you will be able to apply this information to just about any hymn you find yourself singing.

  1. This is the “title” of the hymn, which most often comes from the first line of the first stanza. Occasionally this rule is broken: a common example is “In the Garden”, #314. There is an index in the back that you can refer to, which lists all of the hymns by first line or title.
  2. This is the topical section this hymn is located within. The hymnal is organized by topical sections, which are indicated in this location above the hymn on the right page of the hymnal. On the top of the left page is a thematic indication. There is an index in the back that lists the music by topic, where you can see what Thanksgiving hymns, or communion hymns, are in the hymnal.
  3. This is the page number, that’s pretty self-explanatory. 🙂
  4. This top note is the melody of the hymn, the part most people will be singing. One of the wonderful things about hymns is how little you need to know about music to sing along. As long as you can listen to what the organ is playing, all a congregation member needs to do is watch what direction this top note goes. If it goes up, the melody goes up; if it goes down, the melody goes down, and if it stays the same, the melody does the same. Once you get the hang of that, start noticing the spaces between the notes. Does a note go up in a leap? Or does it only go up slightly? That will tell you if the melody goes up in a leap, or only up by a step.
  5. We commonly refer to these as “verses”. However, at its heart, a hymn is simply a poem set to music. If we wrote this hymn out without the music, as a poem, each of what we consider verses would be called a “stanza” and each line of those stanzas would be called “verses”.
  6. This is a double-barline. It is a way to indicate the end of a section in music. In this particular hymn, it indicates an end to the stanza and a start to the refrain.
  7. A refrain is a part of the hymn that remains the same throughout each stanza. It’s a way for a hymnwriter (or poet) to emphasize a certain point using repetition, since it’s sung at the conclusion of every single stanza. In this hymn, it serves as a sung response almost like a prayer response: “Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”
  8. This thicker double-barline indicates the end of the music.
  9. Many hymns in this hymnal have alternate words, which are intended to make a hymn more appropriate for a specific service or season, or to make the words more inclusive to modern congregations. This hymn has alternate words for the refrain, for use during a communion service.
  10. This is the common citation for where the words and music came from, for each hymn. If you ever want to learn more about a hymn, this is a good place to start, using this information to search on google. Often hymns are written by two different people, a poet and a musician, and can be written years, even decades apart. And many new hymns have familiar tunes with new words; in those cases, each contributing individual will be cited here. There is an index in the back that lists the hymns by author or composer, so if you find one you like, you can see what other hymns that person has written that are included in the hymnal.
  11. This is the tune name to this hymn, DIX. As I’ve mentioned a few times, a hymn is a poem set to a tune. In the early days of hymnbooks, people would learn tunes by these tune names, and their hymnbooks were just a collection of poems, which would have indications of what tunes worked with which poems. Starting in the early-mid 1900’s, publishers began putting out hymnbooks that had tunes and texts combined, which is how we came to associate specific tunes with specific texts—I don’t know anyone who would sing Amazing Grace to any other tune, but there was a time when that text was sung with several different tunes. There is a glossary in the back that lists the hymns by tune names, and it tells you which numbers are associated with each tune—many tunes are set to several texts in the hymnal.
  12. This is the metrical information about the hymn. The numbers tell you how many syllables are in each stanza, and how they’re laid out. These are categorized by number in the back in a metrical index, as well. This is useful if there is a hymn that has words you really like, but you don’t like the tune. All you have to do is look in the metrical index and see what other hymns have that same meter. You are able to swap the text to another tune with the same meter without any problem.

This particular meter is 77.77.77. That tells us that in the first line, there’s one phrase with 7 syllables, and then a second phrase with 7 syllables. The second line is the same, 7 and then 7; and the third is the same, 7 and 7. Take a look at the first stanza and count for yourself, and see how the meter works.

There are some meters in the world of hymns that are so common that they have names:
86.86 is called Common Meter, and is abbreviated in the hymnal as CM.
66.86 is Short Meter, and is abbreviated SM.
88.88 is Long Meter, and is abbreviated LM.

You may also see any of these with a D at the end of them: CMD, SMD, or LMD. The D means that it’s “double”, so CMD would be

There are also some hymns that are unable to be classified in this fashion, and below the tune name in the hymnal they are marked IRREGULAR. Hymns like this include “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “Pass it On”, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, “Were You There?”, and “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, among others.

I hope this review has been useful to you, and helps you have a better grasp on discovering everything the United Methodist Hymnal has to offer. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to catch me after service and ask! 🙂