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Super Simple Hymns

The Ultimate Hymn Tune Simplification

This page is a conceptual extension of the facilities offered by Organists Online on the Simplified Hymns page.

It is intended for people who are requested to accompany hymns but have little time or opportunity to practise the standard hymn accompaniments or even the simplified accompaniments offered by the Simplified Hymns page. It's better to play hymns simply and fluenty rather than attempt to get all the notes in but become hesitant.

However, the recommendations on this page require a little time and effort. Also, a pencil, eraser, and some manuscript paper. As manuscript paper isn't a general household item, you can download some HERE.


This method doesn't require any knowledge of music theory. It's based on the 500 Simplified Hymns available HERE. This method is particularly useful if you are playing on your own WITHOUT other instruments or a choir who would be expecting to use standard hymn book harmony.

Example 1

This is based on the tune known as Stockton - firstly using the version in the Simplified Hymns. Here is a video of the tune as it appears online:

Video ExamplePlay

One of the ways to simplify this is to omit parts of the accompaniment, just pinning down the beginning and ends of phrases. In this video, the Xs highlight the places where chords have been omitted:

Video ExamplePlay

Alternatively, it's possible to play just the melody and bass and omit the other notes - and that's a reasonable solution if it leads to coherent, fluent playing. However, you will notice at the places where the Xs appear, the harmony is a bit sparse.

Video ExamplePlay

So, if you don't like this sparseness, and you have fingers to spare, try, at the sparse places, adding the missing note from the original arrangement. This time, as the Xs appear, you will notice that an extra note has been added and the harmony is fuller in effect.

Video ExamplePlay

You will also notice that, as the blue circle appears, the octave leap in the original bass has been simplified to a single note.

Example 2

This is based on the tune known as Winchester Old - again, using the version in the Simplified Hymns. Here is a video of the tune as it appears online:

Video ExamplePlay

As the thought-processes are the same as used above for Stockton, they won't be described in full.

This is a version where the ends of phrases are pinned down:

Video ExamplePlay

Here we have the accompaniment reduced to just the bass line, with the sparse chords marked in red:

Video ExamplePlay

And here, some missing notes are reintroduced from the original to remove the sense of sparseness:

Video ExamplePlay


Method 1 depends upon referring back to the 500 Simplified Hymns available on Organists Online. These are simple arrangements but they don't correspond to the harmony found in most hymn books, so there could be a problem if you are expected to accompany instruments or a choir using standard harmony. Method 2 is closely linked to Method 1, but allows for this difference, and is slightly more complicated.

However, you will need to know a little music theory, generally about intervals, specifically about 3rds, 6ths, their compounds, and how to recognise them.

examples or 3rds and 6ths

3rd, 6ths, and their compounds are important. They give "body" to a chord and stop it sounding sparse.

Example 3

This is based on the hymn tune Irby. Firstly, the tune as it appears in many hymn books:

Video ExamplePlay

And now, a version with the phrase ends pinned down:

Video ExamplePlay

This isn't really much of a simplification - so here is a version of melody and bass only:

Video ExamplePlay

Of course, this has some sparse chords, which we will be coming to, but the bass line itself is somewhat awkward. It can be further simplified by omitting short, off-beat notes and by changing the octave of some of the remaining notes. This would not affect anyone being accompanied. In the next image, the places where the octave of a note has been changed in the LH are marked with an A, and the place where short, off-beat notes omitted with a B.

examples of simplified bass

It sounds like this. As before, the sparse sounding chords are marked with an X.

Video ExamplePlay

So the solution is to go back to the original to find some extra notes to fill out the harmony. Here, they have been added.

examples of simplified bass

When we looked for extra notes in the first two examples, our source material was an already simplified version of the hymn tune, but now we are referring back to the original accompaniment in four parts and, at the sparse places, there are often two notes to choose from. Referring back to 3rds and 6ths as intervals which make a chord sound complete, the green notes don't form a 3rd or a 6th with the melody or bass (so they won't make the chord sound non-sparse) but the blue notes do form a 3rd or 6th, so we will choose these:

examples of simplified bass

In some cases, there is the option of two suitable notes. In such a case, choose whichever one is easiest to play.

examples of simplified bass

In the second complete bar, the blue B has been redistributed to the LH.

Some people might find this selection of middle notes easier:

examples of simplified bass

Also, in the second line, a couple of LH blue Bs have been moved up an octave into the RH part.

It sounds like this:

Video ExamplePlay


This method CANNOT be used if accompanying a choir or other instruments singing or playing standard arrangements. It is, however, very useful if you want to tailor accompaniments exactly to what you feel most confident in playing. For any one tune there will be multiple possibilities, so it's worth trying out a number of versions of your accompaniment to find which one suits you best.

For this, you are going to need a bit more music theory - to know key signatures and be able to distinguish between, for example, G Major and E minor, or Bb major and G minor. If you are a bit hazy about doing this, have a good look HERE. (Getting to grips with key signatures is going to take some work. A cursory glance through the linked pages won't give you the knowledge-base to make use of the next section.)

Also, the information above about 3rds, 6ths, and their compounds will be useful.

Using this method, you will be able to write your own hymn tune accompaniments without any knowledge of harmony or counterpoint. Just keep in mind these few rules:

  • Use only octaves, 3rds and 6ths (and their compounds);
  • Don't use two octaves next to each other;
  • If you use an octave, you might want to add a middle note (a 3rd or 6th) to fill out the harmony;
  • Make your last LH note THE KEY NOTE. [G major - key note is G; D major - key note is D, etc];
  • Avoid large leaps between the notes you write.

Example 4

This is based on The Old Hundredth. The black notes are the original melody and the blue notes are those added according to the five "rules" above. You will notice that:

  • All the intervals are 3rds (3) and 6ths (6) with an occasional octave (8);
  • This is in G major and the last LH note is a G;
  • There are no large leaps in the added part
  • Nowhere are two octaves adjacent;
  • With the octaves, a 3rd (red note) has been added to fill out the chord.

It sounds like this:

Video ExamplePlay

Here is another version put together on the same principles:

Video ExamplePlay

This second version isn't as effective as the first, although it uses the five rules. That's why, given time, it's worth trying a couple of different versions before deciding which one to use.

As you gain confidence with this method, you could occasionally use a 5th or its compound between the melody and bass. In such cases:

  • Never use adjacent 5ths;
  • it will be better to fill out a 5th with an additional note using the principles described above.


Obviously, rearrangement of hymn tunes as described above strips out a lot of the musical content but, if they are played fluently and with confidence, they will provide a solid enough accompaniment to support a congregation.

A lot depends on how they are played. This version of the first Old Hundredth example is fluent and accurate, but slow and timid so, ultimately, unconvincing:

This version, however, played at a more flowing tempo with a bold selection of stops, would form a good basis for congregational accompaniment:

There's a good chance that the average person in the pew would not notice that this accompaniment has been thinned out.

It's also possible to combine the various techniques discussed above. For instance, here is the first example of Old Hundredth with just the phrase endings pinned down:

HERE is a video of a Super Simplified version of the hymn tune Wolvercote, combining methods 1 and 3.