1. Play hymns in octaves with two hands. This is the most simple version of all, very practical if your technique is not strong enough to play with more voices. It is also very useful in introducing any unfamiliar or complicated hymn to your congregation because the tune will be clearly audible and recognizable.
2. Play hymns in two voices. If you are hesitant to use pedals in your hymn playing, you can always choose the two most important outer voices and play the hymn this way to create a bicinium. The melody will be clear in the right hand and the bass will give the harmonic foundation and support.
3. Play hymns in three voices. If your pedal technique allows, it is always possible to create a trio version of the hymn. This texture makes your playing sound transparent and clear. You can place a tune in any part - the right hand, the left hand, or the pedals for more variety.
4. Play hymns in four voices. This is the most widely used method. You can either play the harmonized version from the hymnal or create your own. It order to do this, you will need to know the basic rules of harmony.
5. Play hymns in five voices. Have you tried to add an extra voice to your four-part harmonization? This may be a descant in the right hand on a solo registration. You can also play a tune in the tenor voice while adding a double pedal line. Another option would be to place the tune in the bass and play an alternate harmonization of the tune.
6. Play hymns in six voices. If you want some real challenge both in your pedal playing and harmonization skills, you can play two voices in the right hand, two - in the left hand, and two - in the pedals. The hymn tune could be placed either in the top or the bottom voice to be most prominent.
Try any of the above methods when you prepare for your next church service. If you execute them well, you will be surprised how pleased your congregation will be with your hymn playing. Remember, that some of these methods might take considerable practice time, so plan accordingly and be patient for best results.
A great resource for playing hymns is Art of Hymn Playing by Charles E.Callahan. It has 250 Introductions, Preludes, Free Accompaniments, and Alternate Harmonizations. The pieces range from 2 part voicing to more complex. It is meant as a graded guide to hymn playing.
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