Psalm Singing – where to begin?

My palms were sweaty. The congregation was small. I was about to have my first ‘experience’. I grew up in the contemporary evangelical Anglican world, which had long since lost the tradition of Psalm singing: the hymns of Watts and Wesley (and later Kendrick, Redman, Getty, Hillsong et al) were my bread and butter. But there I nervously stood. There were no instruments to hide behind, no organ, guitar, or keyboard to mask my stuttering attempts at joining in, just the unaccompanied singing of the 1650 Scottish Psalter. I’ll be honest it was strange at first; strange because the tunes were unfamiliar (nothing unusual there), strange because the words – whilst known to me from Scripture – were unfamiliar to sing: well trodden thematic paths of praise, rejoicing and celebration were now joined by lyrical notes of judgement, lament, and holiness. 

It was strange. But it was great. And now I wouldn’t be without Psalm singing, not for all the Getty in Gettysburg.

The location of my first ‘experience’ was Burghead Free Church of Scotland (LINK – . 4 years down the tracks I am now the pastor of that Church. I’m pleased to say that, of a Sunday, you will still hear the strains of  Psalm singing (some of it unaccompanied) in our (now modernised) building. I must confess we have allowed Watts, Wesley, Redman, and Getty to take their seats too. It’s a happy blend.

Going back to a non-Psalm singing church now would leave me with a great sense of loss. Something deep and rich would be missing from gathered worship (like a steak dinner that’s missing the Sirloin). If you want some reasons why Psalm singing can and should be part of the diet of your church’s singing I can do no better than point you to David Robertson’s excellent blog (LINK – , he argues the case better than I can.  

I’m not saying your church should practice exclusive Psalmody but I believe it can and should practice inclusive Psalmody by including these songs of scripture in the worship of your church. After all, these songs have sung by the covenant people of God for millennia. 
But here’s the thing…. Maybe you’re persuaded about the merits of this ‘inclusive Psalmody’ but you haven’t the foggiest where to begin. If so, I feel your pain. In my previous role as a Church music director I already had an inkling that we ought to be singing the Psalms (Eph. 5:19 is a clue…) but beyond the one or two loose paraphrases we all know, I couldn’t work out how to get going (after all singing ancient Hebrew poetry in 21st century English with a music style that works isn’t what you’d call an easy gig).

If that’s you I’m here to try and help.

The Free Church of Scotland (disclaimer – my own denomination but I’m not on commission) has produced one of the greatest books you’ve never heard of. ‘Sing Psalms’ contains metrical, rhyming versions of all 150 Psalms in contemporary ‘NIV-type’ English. Because they are in regular metres they will work with loads of hymn tunes you already know and play with your band / keyboard / organ / 6-piece Austrian Oompah band. 
If you want the full meal you can buy a copy by contacting the Free Church offices (LINK- ), OR (and don’t say we aren’t good to you), the entire text is available online for free here (LINK – ). There’s even an app for your phone here (LINK – .

HOWEVER…. if you’re like me you might need a leg up to get going. For your delectation (and with the help of the Free Church Friends Facebook group – big up yerselves) I’ve put together a list of Psalms and some suggestions of tunes that you already know. Some of these are more traditional and would work in an organ/piano setting, others would fit contemporary band setting easily. 
Download it here. (LINK –

Peter Turnbull
Peter is an Elder and Church Worker at Burghead Free Church 

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