Q. What is a Psalter?
A. A Psalter is the book of Psalms rhymed into “meter” and set to music. Just as a Hymnal is a collection of Hymns, a Psalter is a collection of Psalms. Each song in The Book of Psalms for Singing (our favorite Psalter) is a psalm from the Bible. Some psalms are divided up by letters because of their length (Psalm 119A, 119B, 119C, etc. to 119X). These psalms have different words and music from each other. Other psalms cover the same verses in scripture yet have several different tune settings (23A, 23B etc.).
Q. Where can I get a Psalter?
A. Several different types of Psalters are available, but our family favorite and the one that corresponds to the tunes on O Sing a New Psalm and Songs of the Remnant is The Book of Psalms for Singing.
Q. What part do I sing?
A. Basically, if you have a high ladies voice, sing soprano. If you have a low ladies voice, sing alto. For men, the high voice is a tenor and the low is the bass. Experiment between the high and low voice sections to find out what is your most comfortable range. For a more detailed explanation read SATB: Untangling the Web of Parts Singing.
Q. How do I practice with the CD?
A. Once you decide what part you will sing (Soprano, Alto, Tenor or Bass), choose one psalm to focus on. It helps if you have a copy of The Book of Psalms for Singing handy, though it is not essential. Listen to the individual track for your part/section. Now play that same track again, humming or singing “la”. Continue until the notes seem comfortable. Now, try singing with the same individual track but this time with the words. Finally, sing with the full harmony version and join all the parts, yet continuing to sing your own part/section’s notes. You will probably go back and forth from the individual section to the full harmony parts more than a few times, but this is the very key to learning your part well.
If you have the psalter The Book of Psalms for Singing follow along with your notes while singing with the CD. The Soprano notes are the top most notes on the upper/treble staff, and the Alto notes are the lower notes on the upper/treble staff. For the men, the Tenor sings the upper notes on the lower/bass staff and the Bass follows the lowest notes on the lower/bass staff.
For less formal or concentrated practice, you might leave the Psalm CD playing in your home or car. You will be surprised in this audio oriented society at how quickly you and your children will pick up the different parts almost by pure osmosis. The key to learning the Psalms as with any other new skill is patient and faithful practice over a period of time. Even a very small consistent effort will give huge dividends. For more ideas on learning to sing in general, read the article But I Can’t Sing: Tips for A New Psalm Singer.
Q. “O Sing A New Psalm” (Volume 1) is confusing to me! I am listening along and all of a sudden I hear an all male choir–what is happening?!?
A. Good question! For Psalms 98A, and 127A the format is a little different. On those particular selections, our friend Jonathon sang and recorded all the different parts himself, creating his own all male “choir”. For instance, when you listen to Psalm 127 on track 9 of O Sing a New Psalm, you will hear four different Jonathons singing all four parts. If you switch to the Soprano track for Psalm 127 (track 19) instead of Rebecca singing, you will hear Jonathon. Don’t worry, just sing along. The same applies the Alto, Tenor and Bass.
Q. One other question–when I get to track 45 of O Sing a New Psalm (Volume 1, Bass part for Psalm 98A) and compare it with the Bass notes in the psalter The Book of Psalms for Singing(the lowest notes on the bass staff) there seems to be some inconsistencies. What am I doing wrong?
A. Congratulations!! You have graduated to the next level of Psalm Singing by discerning this inconsistency. It is our mistake–by accident the tenor line plays on both track 35 correctly as the tenor line and incorrectly plays on track 45 as the supposed “bass line”. Since your musical skills are refining and growing–
1. Try plunking out the Bass line for this psalm on the piano from the Book of Psalms for Singing.
2. Listen to the full harmony version of Psalm 98A (track 5) and pick out the Bass line by ear.
3. Host a Psalm Singing Workshop in your town and receive personalized coaching to learn this part along with many other wonderful Psalms. : )