The opening pages of the United Methodist Hymnal bear a preface that has bemused and bewildered distracted worshippers for ages. These seven rules, titled 'Directions for Singing,' were first included in the 1761 publication Select Hymns, a hymnbook for early Methodists.
Keep in mind when you read these directions the hymns we take for granted as "traditional worship" hymns were almost all new in John Wesley's day (Charles was writing them), and most of them would never be sung in church buildings in Wesley's lifetime.
Usually only the preacher had a copy of the hymnbook. He would sing one line out at a time, and then the gathered crowd would repeat what they heard. In this context, Wesley's directions are really rooted in his belief that worship is the work of all the people, meant to unite us as a priesthood of all believers in service to God.
Directions for Singing
That this part of Divine Worship may be the more acceptable to God, as well as the more profitable to yourself and others, be careful to observe the following directions.
I. Learn these Tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
II. Sing them exactly as they are printed here, without altering or mending them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.
III. Sing All. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
IV. Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.
V. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
VI. Sing in Time: whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
VII. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your Heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.
Why do we sing in worship?
This may be a question you've always asked yourself, but haven't heard discussed within the church. Hymns are a valuable aid to worship because they help to focus our attention on the goodness and glory of the Lord. Technically, a hymn is a stanzaic, metrical poem meant to be sung. A traditional meter for hymns in English is 18.104.22.168., called common meter, which corresponds with ballad stanza. The subject matter of a hymn is what distinguishes it from the "psalms" and "spiritual songs" mentioned in Ephesians 5:19 (ESV); a psalm can be thought of as Scripture set to music - usually from the book of Psalms - and a spiritual song can be any song with a spiritual theme, including songs of testimony and admonition. A hymn addresses and celebrates God and has the purpose of praise and adoration.
Here are five reasons we sing in worship.
1. God commands us to sing. There are hundreds of references of singing within the Bible. Jesus Himself sang songs of praise after the Last Supper. If we are called to replicate the character of Christ, I'm confdent that singing should always be involved.
2. Christians have sung throughout history. Te earliest Christians put their community beliefs in songs, which is why Christian hymnody as a whole began. Songs are recorded in scripture and other historical texts. Te Book of Psalms in the Bible is a great resource for reading songs of believers that have gone before us.
3. Songs can give us theology. As you may know, hymns and other Christian songs are full of rich, theological text, therefore they can educate us and teach us about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
4. Singing connects us emotionally. Songs of celebration have the power to lead us to dance. Songs of lament have the power to lead us to tears. Music has a way of piercing into the deep parts of our soul, that assists in our expression and response to God and to the church.
5. Singing helps unite us to the church. The gospel unites believers to one another. However, music is a tool that facilitates the unity. As we gather on the Sabbath, we join together as one body, and praise God with one voice.
We recognize that God gives each of us different gifts. But at the end of the day, we all are called, wanted, and expected to sing.
We should heed the proclamation found in Psalm 96. "Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord! Bless His name! Share the news of his saving work every single day