Now Shall My Inward Joys Arise

Learning Sacred Harp

This page was originally developed for a Sacred Harp singing school in 2011.

The Sacred Harp sound

1. Click to hear what Sacred Harp singing sounds like, as sung by traditional singers.

This will take you to a Youtube video filmed in Henegar, Alabama, in the Sacred Harp heartland.

2. Click to hear what Sacred Harp sounds like in the urban revival of Sacred Harp, outside of the Sacred Harp heartland of the Deep South.

This will take you to a Youtube video of roughly 150 singers at the 2015 All-California Sacred Harp Convention.

Woman leading a Sacred Harp song

Screen shot from a video of a singer leading Sacred Harp at a traditional Southern singing.

Learning to sing from audio recordings

Although Sacred Harp singing uses written music, it is also an aural/oral tradition, and it’s important to listen to singers who have been immersed in the tradition. Warren Steele has an excellent collection of audio recordings on his website.

Learning to lead from video recordings

Sacred Harp is a democratic tradition, where every singer may lead a tune during a singing. The basics of leading can be learned from videos.

When you first start to sing, you may think leading is way beyond you. However, learning how to lead turns out to be a good way to become a better singer, because it forces you to get a sense of the whole tune, and your part in it.

Videos of good Sacred Harp leaders can help you learn this skill. Watch one of these videos while you follow the music in the book, mimicking what the leader is doing.

Leading in duple or double time (4/4, 2/4, 2/2)

In this video, David Ivey leads 500 Living Hope. Watch how he brings in the different parts in the fuguing section. He is one of the preeminent Sacred Harp singers today.

Leading in double time with fermata (bird's-eye)

In this video, Reba Dell Windom leads 418 Reese. One of the best videos I've found to watch for leading a fermata.

Leading in triple time (3/4, 3/2)

In this video, Chris Thorman leads 229 Irwinton. Nothing fancy here, just good clear leading.

Leading in compound meter (6/8, 6/4)

In Sacred Harp singing, compound meters are led like duple time.

In this video, Mark Godfrey, Leigh Cooper, and their eldest child lead 65 Sweet Prospect. While the leaders appear very small in this video, it's worth watching for the way Mark announces the verses he wants sung in between singing the notes and singing the words.

Changing from duple to triple time

In this video, Syble Adams leads 543 Consecration. While the camera pans away from her for a moment, both transitions from duple to triple time are captured. Note how she subtly increases the tempo to build excitement.