History Ministry

John Wesley’s Directions for Singing

John Wesley’s practical advice for singing in an early Methodist hymnal is still applicable to us today. He warns, “beware of singing as if you were half-dead or half-asleep,” but emphasizes above all else, “sing spiritually.”

1. Learn these tunes before you learn any others. Afterwards, learn as many as you please.

2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here. Do not alter or amend them at all; and if you have learned to sing them otherwise, unlearn it as soon as you can.

3. Sing all. See that you join 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.

4. Sing lustily [in a strong, vigorous, healthy way] 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 sang the songs of Satan.

5. 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 melodious sound.

6. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before and do not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices and move therewith as exactly as you can and take care not to sing 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.

7. Above all else, 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 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 here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

(Slightly adapted from Select Hymns: with Tunes Annext, 1761)

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