How to Discover Familiar Tunes for Unfamiliar Lyrics

Updated on March 19, 2018
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MsDora, a six-year online writer, shares poetry, creative writing, and reflections on how writing and writers influence our lives.

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)

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.

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. 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

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.

It is likely that the Litherop tune is unfamiliar to the singers in the video below, because they are singing Life Is Great to the tune of Lauda Anima (Praise My Soul the King of Heaven).

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.

Life Is Great! So Sing About It (2.53 minutes)

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Dora Weithers

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      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 2 days ago from The Caribbean

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

      • vocalcoach profile image

        Audrey Hunt 2 days ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        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.

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • jo miller profile image

        Jo Miller 3 weeks ago from Tennessee

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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • Kim Maravich profile image

        Kim Maravich 3 weeks ago from Cranberry Township, PA

        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 profile image

        manatita44 3 weeks ago from london

        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.

      • lifegate profile image

        William Kovacic 3 weeks ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

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

      • CaribTales profile image

        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 4 weeks ago from USA

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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 4 weeks ago from New Delhi, India

        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!

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 4 weeks ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 4 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        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 info4u profile image

        Tim Truzy 4 weeks ago from U.S.A.

        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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        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?

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        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.

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • MsDora profile image
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        Dora Weithers 4 weeks ago from The Caribbean

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

      • Sean Dragon profile image

        Ioannis Arvanitis 4 weeks ago from Greece, Almyros

        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 profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 4 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

        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?

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 4 weeks ago from Brazil

        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.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

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

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 4 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

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

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 4 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

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

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        Frank Atanacio 4 weeks ago

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

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