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How to Discover Familiar Tunes for Unfamiliar Lyrics

Ms. Dora loves to share poetry, creative writing, quotes, and reflections and has been writing online for over eight years.

Leafing through my church hymnal, I came upon a song (No. 467) that I passed over a dozen times because I do not know the tune; but this time the title arrested me. "Life Is Great! So Sing About It" was both the title and the first line of the song. I wanted to affirm this truth expressed by the author, Brian Wren. I read the lyrics and loved them all, but the second verse (especially the last two lines) expressed my thoughts exactly:

Life is great!—whatever happens,
Snow or sun-shine, joy or pain,
Hard-ship, grief or dis-il-lu-sion,
Suf-fering that I can’t ex-plain—
Life is great if some-one loves me,
Holds my hand and calls my name.

Names of Poet (Left) and Composer (Right)

how-to-discover-familiar-tunes-for-unfamiliar-lyrics

Brian Wren's Contemporary Language

The contemporary language of the text pushed me to check out the author. Rev. Dr. Brian Wren was born in the United Kingdom in 1936; ordained to the gospel ministry in 1965; and earned his Doctor of Philosophy Degree in 1968 from the University of Oxford in England. He held lectureships in several universities in the United States. His freelance ministry (1983-2000) focused on worship enrichment and congregational song. From 2000, he served as Conant Professor of Worship at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA from which he retired in 2007.

In an interview (1990) for Reformed Worship, he explained: “My interest in hymnody is predated by a fascination with language. . . But what started me writing hymns? . . . a conviction that we need to speak the truth about ourselves and the world we live in and that we need to speak of God and to God in ‘our’ language. From my interest in the language of prayer, it was a natural step to look at the hymnal and ask, ‘Do we need some new hymns?’"

The complete lyrics for Life Is Great! So Sing About It can be found in the SDA Hymnal (and three others). Wren's impressive biography is also available.

Song Meter

Brian Wren’s new songs may appeal to churchgoers who have repeatedly sung the same old songs and are yearning to learn something new. Without knowing the tune written for any particular lyrics, we can find one of two ways to sing them. The trick is to match the meter of the new lyrics with the meter of a song we already know. Lyrics with similar meters can be sung to the same tune. This works for songs within any genre as well as songs from different genres.

If we count or clap the syllables to Life Is Great using the first verse (or any verse), we will discover the song meter.

Discovering the Song Meter - Verse One

1) Life is great! So sing a-bout it,

Line1 has 8 counts.

2) As we can and as we should-

Line 2 has 7 counts.

3) Shops and bus-es, towns and peo-ple,

Line 3 has 8 counts.

4) Vil-lage, farm-land, field and wood,

Line 4 has 7 counts.

5) Life is great and life is giv-en

Line 5 has 8 counts.

6) Life is love-ly, free and good.

Line 6 has 7 counts.

The meter is 8.7.8.7.8.7.

how-to-discover-familiar-tunes-for-unfamiliar-lyrics

Method #1

Looking at the words while clapping or drumming the meter, someone with a good rhythmical ear may discover that it sounds familiar. For me, it sounded like the Christmas song, Angels from the Realms of Glory, a popular tune. I tried singing the lyrics to that tune and it worked.

Metrical Index

Method #2

This is more reliable. If the song book includes the music, there is a Metrical Index of Tunes next to the Index of Song Titles, probably at the back of the book. The tunes are listed in numerical order, so that the 6.5.6.5 meters will come before the 8.7.8.7.8.7 meters.

Peter Cutts who wrote the tune for Life Is Great named it Litherop. When we search the metrical index, we will first locate 8.7.8.7.8.7, then we will find our song Litherop, next to the hymn number 467.

Sample Metrical Index of Songs

how-to-discover-familiar-tunes-for-unfamiliar-lyrics

It is included in a group of songs with the identical meter. When we find a familiar tune in the bunch, we can sing all the songs in that group (since they all have the same meter) to the same tune. The more familiar tunes we find in the bunch, the more options we have.

The tune Regent Square is the tune for Angels from the Realms of Glory which I first tried, and it is song No.119 in the hymnbook. Another popular tune is Lauda Anima for the song Praise My Soul the King of Heaven which is No. 4 in the hymnbook. All ten songs in this 8.7.8.7.8.7 group can be sung to any and all of these tunes.

Get out your song books and give this fun activity a try. Listen to the rhythm or consult the metrical index and sing all the lyrics you like.

© 2018 Dora Weithers

Comments

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on July 23, 2018:

Thanks Verlie. Your comment is very encouraging. Hope you try or recommend the strategy.

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on July 06, 2018:

What an amazing discovery Dora! And so beautifully illustrated. Impressive write, masterfully presented.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on April 17, 2018:

Thanks, Audrey. A comment like yours from a musician like you means the world to me.

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on April 16, 2018:

Dora, this is such a great hub! Your explanation of "meter"in the song, "Life is Great! So Sing About it", is done well and is very helpful for non-musicians. I enjoyed the video.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 26, 2018:

Thanks Jo. One of the best comments is the fact that you learned something. Enjoy the benefit!

Jo Miller from Tennessee on March 25, 2018:

What a delightful read. I've learned something new this evening. Always a good thing. Thanks.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 25, 2018:

Thanks, Kim for your affirmation. Glad to remind you of something so useful.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 25, 2018:

Thanks, Manatita. You are certainly gifted and many including me have benefited from your wisdom.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 25, 2018:

Bill, it really is not. You and all other worship leaders can benefit from this knowledge.

Kim Maravich from Indiana on March 24, 2018:

This is so fascinating, Dora! My father is a minister, and a LONG time ago, I remember someone showing me meter index in our hymnal, but I'd completely forgotten about that. Thanks for this lovely article and for refreshing my memory!

manatita44 from london on March 24, 2018:

You have done a marvellous job here and this is a well-written piece, bringing the author/poet/theologian Brian Wren to life. I also like the way that you have explained the metre in the lines.

it is pertinent here to explain that Guruji gave me the name Manatita in 1987, seven years after I became a disciple and some twenty nine years ago. It means 'Beyond the mind - in the Heart of our Lord Beloved Supreme."

I say this because I could feel the power of Wren's work straight away ... the sublimity in his writings ... the profundity or depth that he showed. Thank you for this very special hymn and I'm glad that you have taken it on board.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on March 24, 2018:

Good stuff, Dora - just a little too technical for me. I think I'll just sing along!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 22, 2018:

Thanks, Flourish. This is just a one-time effort, I think. I appreciate your encouragement.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 21, 2018:

How neat! You have really branched out and it’s wonderful to take part in this change in your writing.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 19, 2018:

Chitrangada, glad you like the article and the song. You don't have to read music to match tunes and lyrics. Hope you try.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 19, 2018:

Wow! You have expertise in lyrics and music too. Enjoyed the read and learnt something new.

I love listening to music, and enjoy singing too, like so many others, but don’t know how to read the notations. The lyrics and the song is so beautiful.

Thanks for sharing this interesting article!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 19, 2018:

Thanks Devika. It works. Hope you try it and like it.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 19, 2018:

Excellent hub! Sounds a worthy technique and you shared so beautifully.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 19, 2018:

Linda, thanks for your affirmation. Glad you found the article helpful.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 18, 2018:

I love the technique that you've explained! I just tried it and it worked beautifully. Thanks for sharing the information, Dora.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 18, 2018:

Eric, so happy that you are enjoying this. Tune or no tune, keep singing!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 18, 2018:

Thanks, Tim. You're very kind. Much joy to you in your singing.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 18, 2018:

Well that is very fun. I could no more carry a tune than an elephant but this made it a pleasure to try. I tried it on one written in 1556 by a guy named Nicolai and on a Psalm song. Thank you.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on March 18, 2018:

Thanks, Ms. Dora for being a song we can enjoy each time we read your articles. This was wonderful.

I will try this technique, especially when working with singers. It's a breath of fresh air.

Thank you again for sharing a fun way to enjoy songs praising God.

Sincerely,

Tim

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 18, 2018:

Thanks, Sean. I appreciate your kind input. The love and respect are mutual.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 18, 2018:

Jackie, you're such a kind person. Please know that your encouragement goes a long way. Who knows what God / My Muse will give me next?

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 18, 2018:

Thanks, Mary. Blessed week to you also. There's so much more we have to learn and some like this are really simple.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 18, 2018:

Thanks, Bill. You will enjoy it and you can take a break to sing some new songs.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 18, 2018:

Thanks Eric. Go for it. I'm sure there are several hymns in your hymnbook that you also pass over. Now you don't have to.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 18, 2018:

Mary, you and me both. I plan to find more songs by the same poet. He writes some really joyful lyrics.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on March 18, 2018:

Thanks, Frank. So glad to bring you some thing you like. Have fun with it.

Ioannis Arvanitis from Greece, Almyros on March 18, 2018:

My dear Sister MsDora, all this article was a Hymn!

Thank you for this.

"Life Is Great! So Sing About It" is more than a song, is a way of living.

The Love in your heart is the best Metrical Index. That is what I found in this work.

My Love and my Respect!

Sean

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on March 18, 2018:

I had music in school learning all the notes and rests and beats. Either they did not do a good job or it was above my head. I have always envied anyone who had this knowledge to read music. A special language I so wish I knew.

Great of you to find a way around it and share with us, you genius you! You just have no boundaries. Which makes you such a fun person to follow and read! Who knows what you will come up with next?

Mary Wickison from Brazil on March 18, 2018:

That is a brilliant way to rekindle songs even if we don't know the music which once accompanied them. I would have never thought of counting the beats and using a similar tune.

I've learned something new today.

Have a wonderful week.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 18, 2018:

That was a fun read, Dora! I now have something to do later today when my chores are completed.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 18, 2018:

Fantastic. I pulled out my hymnal and missal. I will have great fun with this later today. Thanks a bunch!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 18, 2018:

I have not yet heard this song but you've inspired me to search for it. Thanks. I love the lyrics.

Frank Atanacio on March 17, 2018:

MsDora this was a fun learning experience... Actually loved it..:) Frank