Resources For Singing The Psalms
In his most recent sermon, Pastor Joe exhorted us to sing the psalms as a biblical means for having the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians 3.16). In it, he mentioned three styles of songs that help us sing the psalms. In this post, I will briefly define each style and mention a few unique benefits, then provide some helpful resources in hopes that you will at least experiment with singing the psalms in your own personal and family worship.
Inspired-By the Psalms
First, Songs Inspired-by the Psalms are the most familiar songs to us for singing the psalms. Songs inspired by the psalms are typically songs that follow the arrangement structure of modern pop-music (for example: Verse 1, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus) and the lyrics for the verses and chorus include the ideas, themes, or occasionally specific lines from a particular psalm. Even though the themes or truths may be retained, these songs are not generally considered true psalmody because they often leave out portions of the original psalm or rearrange the content of the psalm so that the song reads significantly different from the psalm. While this is a critique of songs inspired by the psalms, these songs are still beneficial for us to sing and we sing several in our corporate gatherings. For one, songs inspired by the psalms are very accessible as they follow popular chord structures, rhythms, and melody lines which means people can pick up on them quickly and easily remember their content. Secondly, and more importantly, these songs are often chock-full of the rich truths a particular psalm was written to communicate and often provide fresh or clarifying language to convey such truths.
For singing songs inspired by the psalms, I recommend:
- The “Psalms” & “Psalms, Vol. II” albums by Shane & Shane. As a fun fact: Pastor Joe assisted in writing Psalm 16 (Fullness of Joy) and Psalm 34 (Taste and See) on the “Psalms, Vol. II” album.
- The “Psalms LP” album by the Robbie Seay Band
- Psalm 62 by Aaron Keyes and Stuart Townsend
- Psalm 18 by Citizens and Saints
Metrical Psalms traditionally qualify under the narrow umbrella of true psalmody. Metrical psalms are songs that include the entirety of a psalm, leaving nothing essential out while only making slight changes to the wording so that the phrases follow a consistent meter and rhyme pattern. Generally, metrical psalms are set to a popular or common tune such as The Doxology or Ode to Joy. Like the songs inspired by the psalms, these songs are fairly accessible to most people and because they follow common metrical arrangements and rhyme they are easy to memorize. The main benefit of metrical psalms is that they encourage you sing the entirety of the psalm - not just the comfortable or easy-to-swallow sections - which encourages us to engage more meaningfully or deeply with what God has said to us in His Word.
For singing metrical psalms, I recommend:
- The “Old Paths New Feet” album by Brother Down
- The Seedbed Psalter: http://www.seedbed.com/psalms-psalter/ – This webpage includes all 150 Psalms written metrically along with suggested tunes and audio clips to sing the psalms to.
- Cantus Christi - A Psalter & Hymnal (used by Christ Church, Moscow, ID): http://www.christkirk.com/music-library/
Through-Composed Psalms, such as the one that Pastor Joe sang during his sermon (Psalm 121), take an entire psalm as it is written and word-for-word sets it to music. These songs usually do not follow a consistent meter nor do they rhyme, making them at first more difficult to pick up and follow along. However, the benefits to singing through-composed psalms are massive; because you are singing the very words of Scripture, as you memorize a through-composed psalm you are memorizing the Bible itself. Singing is one of, if not the best means God has given us to assist in memorization. Therefore, singing through-composed psalms can make it significantly easier to both memorize and recall massive portions of the Bible. This is an awesome way to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3.16) as you build up an arsenal of Scripture to remember in the seasons of doubt and tribulation, to sing over your family, or to offer help and encouragement to both your brothers and sisters in Jesus as well as your not-yet-believing friends.
For singing through-composed psalms, I recommend:
- The Cantica Sanctorum - Dr. David Erb’s compositions for Christ Church in Moscow, ID. These are the ones that Pastor Joe uses with his kids: http://canonpress.com/cantica-sanctorum/. You can listen to many of these psalms here: http://www.canonwired.com/category/resources/music/
- The “Psalm Songs, Vol. 1” by The Corner Room. This album is a brand-new collection of more contemporary sounding through-composed psalms, using the ESV. They do occasionally repeat various lines of a psalm at the end or as a small refrain, but they always do the entirety of the psalm using the exact translation found in the ESV. The Corner Room is quickly becoming a favorite of mine.
- The Sons of Korah is an Australian group that has been doing loose through-composed psalms for nearly 20 years. I’m not certain what translation they are using and on some songs/psalms they take more creative license than other, but they are incredible musicians who take the psalms and authorial intent very seriously. Their album “Resurrection” from 2005 is one of my all-time favorite albums in any style of music.
My hope is that you will check out a resource or two in each of these three categories, especially the latter two, and that you will be pleasantly surprised by how much the grace of singing psalms adds to your personal and family worship. By any means, may the Word of Christ dwell in you richly for God’s glory and your joy.