Cutting Hymn Verses

Cutting Hymn Verses

I’ve talked before about which hymns work best in contemporary worship. Another step to fine-tune your hymn usage is to choose which verses of the hymn are the most appropriate for contemporary worship.

Some churches are plagued by the tradition of singing all verses to a hymn, period. I recall the contemporary Presbyterian church I attended in Nashville, where in the middle of their praise set they would launch into some cryptic Presbyterian hymn and sing all 12 verses. That’s a great worship flow killer, right there.

Some hymns tell a story and all verses should be sung. For instance, it’s hard to decide which verse of the carol The First Noel should be left out since the entire song tells the entire Christmas story.

Most hymns have a different thought for each verse so it’s easier to cut one and not destroy the continuity. For me, three verses of a hymn usually feels just right, and I’ll often repeat the chorus at the end. Sometimes if the hymn is upbeat I’ll repeat the final chorus with a more worshipful, stripped down feel.

If all four verses of a hymn are so good that I just can’t leave one out, like Jesus Paid It All, I’ll start sparsely on verse 1, pick it up with a slight groove on verse 2, continue the groove on verse 3, break it down on verse 4 and get big on the final chorus. The more verses you do the more variety you need in the accompaniment.

Which verse(s) should you leave out? There might be a verse or two that has antiquated language. Here’s an example of a hymn, I Love to Tell the Story where I think three verses are a “home run” and one verse… not so much:

verse 1
I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

verse 2
I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems
Than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams.
I love to tell the story, it did so much for me,
And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee.

verse 3
I love to tell the story; ’tis pleasant to repeat
What seems each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.

verse 4
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when in scenes of glory I sing the new, new song,
‘Twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.

I love to tell the story! ‘Twill be my theme in glory
To tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.

Verses 1, 3 and 4 are winners – good words that are still singable for the modern worshiper. I’d cut verse 2 because “golden fancies of all our golden dreams” sounds antiquated, and sing verses 1, 3 and 4, repeating the refrain again at the end.

Bottom Line: There’s no law that says you have to do every verse of a hymn. Choose the best verses that are meaningful to the modern worshiper.

Download sheet music, chord charts, tracks, multitracks and instrumental parts for I Love to Tell the Story exclusively with a hymncharts subscription. You won’t find this arrangement on any other website.

8 Comments. Leave new

  • Steve Basselman
    May 1, 2014 1:33 pm

    Be very careful about cutting verses. The text writer obviously had a reason for his or her text. Do not cut verses just for the sake of time. Then, don’t do the hymn if you feel compelled to cut verses just for time. Do it wisely, you are compromising the integrity of the hymn when you start adding your own editorial thoughts on the hymn

    • “Editorial thoughts” have happened long before I wrote this article. As a student of hymns, I was surprised as to just how much hymn texts differ between denominations. Lyrics are changed and verses are shuffled or omitted. Hymnal editors have been revising verses and lyrics for literally hundreds of years – and your favorite hymn might sound a little different if you visit another church.

  • […] a few weeks ago, and just happened to flow very well coming out of our first hymn. Incidentally, this blog post by Chapman about cutting verses out of hymns is helpful, and uses this hymn as an example. We also […]

  • The authors of the hymn text included the verses for specific reasons. We do them a great injustice when we omit these verses for the sake of “flow.” Our primary duty is faithfulness to the text–all of it.

  • Baptists have been doing verses 1,2, and 4 for a long time. Discerning is totally needed especially in this time of choosing style over substance in our worship music.

  • so, singing all the verses of a hymn is akin to a plague? Humm! Doesn’t sound all that wise to me. Love how the 12 verse example was used–not


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