7 Simple Transitions to Use Between Hymn Stanzas
Have you ever been in worship or leading worship and the pianist played through a hymn so quickly that you felt like you couldn’t catch your breath?
I’ve been there, and it’s not a fun position to be in for experienced musicians and singers, much less inexperienced singers in the congregation. You’re focused on catching a gasp of air at some point which, by default, means that you’re focusing less on the text and on what this song is saying about God and our relationship with Him.
It’s hard to sing in a God-glorifying way in this scenario.
One of the key factors that produces this kind of “gasping for air” playing and singing is the breaks between each stanza of a hymn. Many traditional hymns have built-in spots for catching a breath at the end of each phrase, but I always think that you should give a little extra time at the end of each stanza for physical reasons (i.e. congregants catching a breath or two) and for spiritual reasons (i.e. letting the text of the stanza sink in before moving on to the next line).
When I’m playing hymns in worship, I almost always put a few extra measures between each stanza of the hymn and I would encourage you to try the same technique and see how it changes the way the congregation (and you!) sing.
So, now to what you (probably) came here for, the examples. Below I have 7 examples of ways I put an extra bit of space between each stanza. If you would like this as a single PDF because you want to print it or jot notes down on it, just contact me and I’ll be glad to send it to you!
As a side note here, I am trained as a Jazz pianist, so I will always have the chord changes in musical examples I give. I don’t use Roman Numerals, I use pop/jazz notation. We’ll talk more about that in a future post!
Examples 1-4 use ‘Amazing Grace’ starting from the final phrase “was blind, but now I see.”
Examples 5-7 use ‘Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise’ starting from “Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.”
Ex. 1 - Simple Plagal Cadence
Plagal is just a fancy word for a 4-1 cadence. I use this one frequently-maybe too frequently. This simple cadence should be a church musician’s best friend, whether you play in traditional, contemporary, or blended worship.
Ex. 2 - Minor Plagal Cadence
For when you’ve played too many simple plagal cadences and want to spice things up a little. I particularly like using this at the end of a hymn as the final cadence.
Ex. 3 - ‘Gospel’ Walk Down
A traditional cadence with a familiar sound that we’ve all heard many times. A great stand-by, especially for hymns with a gospel-y vibe.
Ex. 4 - LH 8th-note Walk Down
This is decidedly a little “old-fashioned” sounding for some churches and players, but every now and then - used tastefully - can be a nice brief interlude. This works especially well when you’re moving into a re-voiced stanza with big left hand octaves.
Ex. 5 - 4-5 Turnaround
This one is a little bit longer and has a 4-5 turnaround with a simple melody as well as the simple plagal cadence. The melody here is just something I made up - it can be anything, but I suggest something simple.
Ex. 6 - Moving Alto Turnaround
Because the alto voice needs a little love, too.
Ex. 7 - Repeat Last Phrase with 2-5-1
You could repeat the last phrase verbatim, but in some hymns that may be confusing, and why not change things up a bit? Often a 2-5-1 progression will fit well under the final phrase of a hymn, as it does here.
There you have it! Seven simple hymn stanza transitions that you can use this Sunday.
Again, if you have any questions, ideas for future posts, topics you’d like me to cover, or would like these examples in a single PDF, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
May your Sunday worship be filled with awe, wonder, and inspiration from our great Savior, Redeemer, and King.