The Joy of Singing in Canon: Guidelines and Resources for Using Canons in Worship

One of the greatest musical joys of childhood is singing a round for the first time. What a discovery that "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" can be sung by different voices all beginning at different times!

This same joyful discovery has inspired composers for many centuries to tantalize their listeners both with playful rounds and with their more elaborate cousins, canons and fugues. A round is actually the simplest type of canon, where each voice begins on exactly the same pitch, one after the other, and sings or plays the melody in its entirety often repeating the melody as if in a (round) circle. Fugues and other types of canons are more complex. Not all canons are "circular," and the different voices may begin on different pitches or even at different speeds.

Each of these types of music, however, features a carefully crafted melody that is sung or played by several voices or instruments, beginning one after the other. Such compositions date as far back as the middle of the fourteenth century and reached an impressive zenith in the work of Bach.

Not surprisingly, fugues and canons have also been frequently used in church music. In the history of congregational singing, examples range from the most famous of all canons, TALLIS CANON, to a whole class of hymns called "fuging tunes."

The latter are the result of an energetic attempt at invigorating worship services in small English towns early in the eighteenth century The tune IYNGHAM (PsH 404) is one example. Though not true fugues, these tunes do involve overlapping texts and melodies that sound much like a complex round. Song leaders studied these hymns in singing schools to better help their congregations master them. Such fuging tunes were popular in colonial America and have persisted in American church music for over two hundred years, especially in southern harmony and shape-note hymnals. Many hymns included on the resource list on pp. 42-46, including "What Wondrous Love Is This" and "How Firm a Foundation," derive at least indirectly from this tradition.

Less complex canonic singing, in the form of rounds, has become increasingly popular in many congregations during the past few decades. Recently published hymnals, along with choral hymn-anthems and organ and piano accompaniments, have featured many canons and rounds for congregational singing. This resurgence has given church musicians a striking means for encouraging vigorous and imaginative congregational singing.

However, canonic singing is not without its pitfalls. For while it does add interest to congregational singing, it can also divert attention from the text of a given hymn to the mechanics of how the hymn is to be sung. Canonic singing can sometimes leave worshipers without the security that confident unison singing can provide. By addressing the following six areas of concern, church musicians can minimize these pitfalls and encourage thoughtful and meaningful use of canonic singing.



Canonic singing is most effective when used for carefully selected occasions. It should likely not be used for the first hymn of a service, when congregations need to sense their unity. Also, like a zesty spice, it should be used sparingly perhaps only a few times per season.

Further, canonic singing should always strive to bring life to a given text rather than to obscure it. Canons can, for example, poignantly portray or "word paint" a given text, such as "wandering streams" or "echoing songs." They can also emphasize a given text as it is reiterated by each voice of the canon, such as the line "betrayed, scourged, mocked" in the hymn "O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High," which gains intensity each time it is repeated by a successive voice in the canon. Finally, singing in canon can heighten the emotion of a given hymn, adding a spirited exuberance to "Rejoice in the Lord Always" or a sense of encumbrance to "When through the deep waters."

One example of an effective use of canon involves Brian Wren's text, "I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord." The opening two verses of the hymn, which refer to the individual's approach to the Lord's table (using first-person-singular pronouns— "I") give way to three verses that emphasize our unity at the table (using first-per-son-plural pronouns—"we"). The movement of this text is appropriately mirrored by singing the first two stanzas in canon and the final three stanzas in unison.

Each time canonic singing is used, the congregation should be informed, by printed or spoken announcement, of the reason for its use. Such thoughtfulness fosters imagination and delight in the singing of hymns. The resource list on pp. 42-46 suggests texts especially suited for canonic singing.



Church musicians should also be aware of the following three musical concerns necessary for successful canonic singing:

  • First and most importantly, canons must be sung with an easily discernible and unwavering tempo. A simple hymn introduction or a well-conducted tempo gesture should be sufficient for establishing the tempo.
  • Second, the church musician should be very clear about how much time will elapse between the entry of each voice of the canon (that is, between each group of people singing in canon). Most hymn canons require that the second voice begin at a certain number of beats after the first voice (usually, some small multiple of the basic pulse: 2 or 4 or 8 beats in 4/4 time or 3 beats in 3/4 time, etc.). Most hymnals indicate this distance, called the "time interval" of the canon, for some hymns (e.g., TALLIS CANON). Other time intervals can be determined by the church musician or taken from the list that follows. In any case, it is best to test the canon with a small group of singers to ensure that the time interval is correct.
  • Third, each voice of the canon must render the melody of the hymn in exactly the same way giving the same time value to all rests and longer notes that may occur in the middle of the hymn. For example, the 5-beat note in the very middle of 'Amazing Grace" (saved a wretch like me) must be sung by all voices exactly as it is written in the hymnal to allow for a successful canon on this tune.



In addition, these musical concerns should be clearly explained to the congregation. The people need to know (preferably through both written and spoken announcements) why canonic singing is being used, how the congregation will divide into sections, when each part is to begin, and exactly where the canon will end. A sample bulletin instruction might look like this:

Hymn 500: "How Firm a Foundation"

—stanzas 1-2: Sung in harmony

—stanza 3: Sung in canon to portray musically the "fiery trials" and "rivers sorrow"

—The pulpit side of tlie congregation will begin with the organ

—The lectern side of Hie congregation will begin one measure later with Hie cue of the choir director.

—Stanzas 4-5: Sung in unison

Ideally canonic singing should be rehearsed at times other than the worship service, so that during a worship service, people may concentrate on the text rather than on the mechanics of the canon. Perhaps church education meetings or fellowship meals can provide an opportunity for such a rehearsal. If not, a choir or small group of singers could rehearse the canon prior to its use in a worship service. Children's choirs or church education classes can also be especially helpful. The ease with which children learn rounds and canons often makes them the most qualified leaders of canonic singing!



After these decisions are made, able musical leadership is needed to bring the canon to life. For congregations accustomed to canonic singing, little direction maybe needed—perhaps only the leadership of a few strong singers in each group, an organ accompaniment that highlights the entry of each successive voice, or the sound of an accompanying instrument beginning with each group.

For other congregations, more obvious and clear direction may be necessary provided by a song leader or leaders (having one song leader sing along with each part may be helpful). Such leaders should give a clear, unadorned downbeat when each voice is to begin and provide additional cues as each voice begins a new phrase. As each of these beats is given, the leader should breathe quite actively as if she or he is going to sing the line. (This breath will likely be unconsciously imitated by the congregation, leaving them ready to begin confidently at the appropriate time.)



An additional concern involves the accompaniment of canonic singing. Canons are often most effective if sung without accompaniment, allowing each part or voice of the canon to be clearly heard. Yet, an instrumental accompaniment may be necessary to provide rhythmic stability or to contribute to the "text painting" of a given canon.

Using different types of instruments to play along with each voice of the canon can be effective. For example, clarinets could play along with the first voice, flutes with the second, and violins with the third. Organists can imitate this approach by playing each voice of the canon on a different manual of the organ, each registered with contrasting stops.

Another option involves an accompaniment played by piano or organ, highlighting the entries of each group of singers and providing a harmonic foundation for the hymn. For more complex canons, this requires using an accompaniment other than the printed harmonization of the hymn in the hymnal. Accompaniments especially designed for use with canonic singing can be found both in collections for organ and piano, and in accompaniments to choral hymn-anthems, as noted in the resource list on pp. 42-46.

An ambitious accompanist may wish to write such an accompaniment, using the following steps:

  • Begin by writing out the canon as it will sound, complete with the full statement of the melody in each voice.
  • Add a bass note on every strong beat that can serve as the foundation of the harmony already present in the canonic voices on that beat.
  • Complete by checking that the cadence (ending point) of the canon resembles the cadence of the hymn itself.

Although this is a very simplistic approach, it will certainly help the accompanist learn about the potential problems in a given hymn-canon, and may even generate a usable accompaniment!



Canonic singing can be used with three types of hymns. First are composed canons—hymns designed to be sung in canon and often printed in hymnals with appropriate instructions. These hymns can be accompanied by the harmonization of the hymn printed in the hymnal. Second are hymns that happen to have tunes with the potential to be sung in canon. Use of these hymns in canonic singing requires use of alternate accompaniments and can at times create dissonance as the voices of the canon weave together. The third type includes both chantlike and pentatonic hymns, which have melodies that can be used to harmonize themselves. Singing these hymns (or a portion of them) in canon can create a beautifully ethereal harmony. Instructions pertaining to each of these three types of hymns are given in the resource list on pp. 42-46.

The highest goal of the church musician is to foster vibrant, imaginative, and scriptural congregational singing. If careful attention is given to these areas of concern, canonic singing can be a fruitful means to this end.


Hymns for Singing in Canon for Congregation and Choir


The following hymns and choruses were composed to be sung in canon. Their hymnal settings include instructions regarding when each voice will begin. Generally, these hymns and choruses can be sung in canon in their entirety. Accompanists can simply use the harmonization for the hymn printed in the hymnal.

A VA DE:  "Come, Let Us Eat" [PSH 303] See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Hymns in Canon by Donald Busarow.

CLAP YOUR HANDS: "Clap Your Hands" [PsH 166]

GO NOW IN PEACE: "Go Now in Peace" [PsH 317]

HELELUYAN: "Heleluyan, Alleluia" [PH 595]

KURISUMASU: "Joyful Christmas Day Is Here" [PH 39]

LOBET UND PREISET: "Praise and Thanksgiving" [PsH 631]

MAGNIFICAT (TAIZE): "Magnify the Lord" [PsH 622]

MARANATHA: "Father, I Adore You" [PsH 284]


  • "As Moses Raised the Serpent Up" [PsH 219]
  • "Though I May Speak" [PH 335, TH 597]
  • "An Upper Room Did Our Lord Prepare" [PH 94]

PRAISE THE LORD: "Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet" [PsH 569]

PURPOSE: "God Is Working His Purpose Out" [PsH 594,RL4 25,TH 74]

REJOICE: "Rejoice in the Lord Always" [PsH 228]

SHALOM CHEVARIM: "Shalom, Chevarim/Farewell, Good Friends" [PH 537]

TAIZE GLORIA: "Gloria, Gloria" [PH 576]


  • "All Praise to You, My God, This Night" [PsH 441, PH 542, RL 77 TH 401 ]
  • "Go with Us, Lord" [PH 535] 
  • "How Blest Are They Who Trust in Christ" [RL 591]
  • "It Happened on That Fateful Night" [RL 283]
  • "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow" [TH 732]
  • See anthem settings by Kenneth Brown (Oxford University Press, 40.922) and Carl Mueller (G. Schirmer 11163); see accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal God by Donald Busarow.

TZENA: "I Will Sing unto the Lord" [PsH 152]

WHEN JESUS WEPT: "When Jesus Wept" [PH 312] [See accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal God by Donald Busarow.]



The following hymns have melodies that will create successful canons. The time interval between voices for these canons is indicated in parentheses following each hymn-tune name. In almost all cases, two-voice canons are preferable to avoid obscuring the hymn texts. These hymn-canons should be sung without accompaniment or with an alternate accompaniment that accounts for the harmonic changes created by the use of canon. Notes mat accompany each listing indicate where such accompaniments are available, referring to choral hymn-anthems or to the resource list below.

Generally, only one or two stanzas of these hymns should be sung in canon. The following listing suggests the texts that may be most appropriately sung in canon. Some of these canons will create striking dissonances that may be appropriate to certain texts. Because of this and some other noted irregularities, many of these canons are most appropriate for choral use, perhaps as alternate choral settings of one verse of a congregational hymn. Canons most easily learned by the congregation are marked by an asterisk.


* ABERYSTWYTH (one measure)

  • See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniment for Singing in Canon by Donald Eusarow (identical accompaniament is printed on the page just before PsH 18.)
  • "God Be Merciful to Me"; "... thy salvation's joy impart..." (v. 3) [RL 104]
  • "How I Love You, Lord, My God"; "... all creation reeled and rocked ..." (v. 2) [PsH 18]
  • "Jesus, Lover of My Soul"; "... let the healing streams abound ..." (v. 3) [PSH 575 PH 303, TH 508]
  • "O Jehovah, Hear My Words"; "... lest my feet be turned aside, make thy way before me plain..." (v. 3) [TH 151]
  • "Watchmen, Tell Us of the Night"; "... Watchman, let your wanderings cease..." (v. 3) [PH 20]
  • "Wild and Lone the Prophet's Voice"; "... So we dare to journey on led by faith through ways untrod..." (v 3) (PH 409]
  • "Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow"; "Fire that fuels all fires that burn ..." (v. 2) [PH 131]


AURELIA (one measure)

  • "Hail to the Lord's Anointed"; "... come down like showers..." (v. 3) [TH 311]
  • "O Christ, the Great Foundation"; "... attack the powers of sin..." (v. 3) [PH 443]
  • "The Church's One Foundation"; "... by schisms rent asunder..." (v. 3); to unison for v.4 [PsH 502, PH 442, RL 394, TH 347]


ALLEIN GOTT IN DER HOH (two measures)

  • See Schalk, set 1, p. 2, with melodic alteration.
  • "All Glory Be to God on High"; use on Trinitarian stanza (v. 3) [PsH 247 PH 133, RL 620, TH 102]


ARISE (one measure)

  • "Come, You Sinners, Poor and Needy"; "... if you tarry till you're better..." (v. 3) [PsH 534]
  • AZMON (one measure) "O For a World'; "... equality achieved..." (v. 2) [PH 386]
  • "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing"; "... and leap you lame for joy!" (v. 6) [PsH 501, PH 466, RL 363, TH 164]


BEACH SPRING (one measure)

  • See accompaniment in All Praise to You eternal God by Donald Busarow.
  • "God, Whose Giving Yjiows No Finding"; "... to spread the gospel word ..." (v. 3) [PH 422]
  • "What A Friend We Have in Jesus"; 'Are we weak and heavy laden..." (v. 3) [PsH 579]


BOURBON (two measures)

  • See accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal God by Donald Busarow.
  • "Rebuke Me Not in Anger, Lord"; "My foes are mighty..." (v. 5) [PsH 38]
  • "Take Up Your Cross, the Savior Said"; "... let not its weight fill your weak spirit..." (v. 2) [PH 393]
  • "Unless the Lord the House Shall Build (Psalm 127)"; "... and weary days of toil partake ..." (v. 2) [PH 238]



  • See Stern, p. 20, with melodic alteration.
  • "Abide with Us, Our Savior"; "... to flee from error's night..." (v. 3) [PsH 565]
  • "Come Sing a Song of Harvest"; "... to share our daily bread ..." (v. 4) [PH 558]
  • "God Is My Strong Salvation" (Psalm 27); "... though hosts encamp around me..." (v. 2) [PH 179.RL 95]
  • "Lord, Who Shall Sit Beside Me"; ",,, neath shadows of the morrow..." (v 2) [RL 264]
  • "To Bless The Earth" (Psalm 65); "... seed is sown, then come the gentle showers ..." (v. 2) [PH 200]


CRIMOND (one measure)

  • [will create dissonance.]
  • "Behold the Goodness of the Lord" (Psalm 241); "... like precious oil upon the head..." (v. 2) [PH 241]
  • "The Lord, My Shepheid, Rules My Life"; "... guides my faltering feet..." (v. 2) [PSH 23, PH 170, RL 89, TH 87]


DEO GRACIAS (one measure)

  • "A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing"; "... while endless ages run..." (v. 3) [PH 141]
  • "O Love How Deep, How Broad, Hoio High"; "... betrayed, scourged, mocked..." (v. 3 or 4) [PsH 364, PH 8a RL 342, TH 155]
  • "O Wondrous Sight, O Vision Fair"; "... and faithful hearts are raised on high..." (v. 3) [PH 75.RL 256]


DETROIT (one measure)

  • [See anthem setting by James Laster,with canonic setting of the second verse with accompaniment (Augsburg 11-2548); see accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniment for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Forgive Our Sins as We forgive"; "... that broods on wrongs ..." [PH 347]
  • "O God, Do Not in Silence Stand"; "... as wind takes chaff from grain..." (v. 4) [PsH 83]


DIX (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal God by Donald Busarow.]
  • "As With Gladness Men of Old"; ".. .as with joyful steps they sped ..." (v. 2) [PsH 358, PH 63, RL 228, TH 226]
  • "For the Beauty of the Earth"; "... friends on earth and friends above..." (v. 3) [PsH 432, PH 473, RL 5, TH 116]


DOVE OF PEACE (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniment for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Forgive Our Shis as We Forgive"; "... our lives will spread your peace..." (v. 4) [TH 494]
  • "I Come With Joy"; "... with Christians far and near..." (v. 2; or vv. 1-2) [PH 507]


EIN FESTE BURG (rhythmic)

  • [See setting in Stern, Schalk, se 1 , with melodic alteration; see accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniment for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "God Is Our Fortress and Our Rock/A Mighty Fortress is Our God"; "... while demon hordes surround us ..." (v. 3) [PsH 468, PH 259]


ERHALT UNS, HERR (two measures)

  • [See setting in Schalk. sut 3 with, melodic alteration; see accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniment for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word"; "... your power make known..." (v. 2) [PsH 598, RL 615]
  • "O Christ the Healer"; "... our common life declares our ills..." (v. 4) [PH 380]
  • "The Glory of These Forty Days"; "... the steeds and chariots of flame..." (v. 2) [PH 87, RL 242]
  • "The Law of God Is Good and Wise"; "... its terror in their ear resounds ..." (v. 3) [TH 150]


ES IST EIN ROS (six beats)

  • [See setting in Stern; see accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singin in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming"; "... from tender stem hath sprung ..." (v. 1) [PsH 351, PH 48, RL 204, TH 221]
  • "A Stable Lamp Is Lighted"; "... the palm shall strew its branches ..." (v. 2) [RL 205]


EWING (one measure)

  • "Jerusalem, the Golden"; "... forever and forever ..." (v. 3) [PH 618,RL 579,TH 539]



  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singin in Canon hv Donald Busarow.]


GELOBT SEI GOTT (one measure)

  • [See setting in Stern.]
  • "Good Christians Alt Rejoice and Sing"; "... bring flowers of song ..." (v. 2) [PHT 111,RL 326,TH 270]
  • "O Lord of Life, Where'er They Be"; "... above the chanted 'dust to dust' shall rise our song..." (v. 3) [PH 530.RL 592]
  • "Christ Is the King! O Friends, Rejoice"; "... followed the king and round him drew..." (v. 3) [RL 396]



  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singin in Canon by Donald Busarow.]


FOREST GREEN (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal God by Donald Busarow.]
  • "All Beautiful the March of Days"; "... the year in beauty flows ..." (v. 3) [PH 292.RL 9]
  • "As Those of Old Their Firstfruits Brought"; "... but share your love with neighbors, too..." [PH 414]
  • "Eternal God, Whose Power Upholds"; "... in speech that flows to melody..." (v. 4) [PH 412]
  • "Eternal Spirit, God of Truth"; sing in canon on v. 1, joining in unison for v. 2: "that we in singleness of heart" [PsH 422]
  • "I Sing the Almighty Power of God"; ",.. where'er I turn my eye ..." (v. 3) [TH 119]
  • "O Little Town of Bethlehem"; "... cast out our sin and enter in..." (v. 4) [RL 193]


*FOUNDATION (one measure)

  • [This may be sung effectively in three- or four-voice canon; see accompaniment in All Praise to you God by Donald Busarow.]
  • "How Firm a Foundation"; "... when through the deep waters ..." (v. 3) [PsH 500, PH 362, RL 172, TH 94]



  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniment for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]


HANOVER (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniment for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "My People Give Ear, Attend to My Word"; "... the waters divide..." (v. 5) [TH 366]
  • "O Worship the King"; "... it streams from the hills..." (v. 4) [RL 2]
  • "Sing Praise to the Lord"; "... with dancing and song..." (v. 2) [PsH 149]
  • "You Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim"; "... though hid from our sight..." (v. 2) [PsH 477, PH 477, RL 598 (alt. tune)]



  • "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded"; "... scornfully surrounded" (v. 1) or "... mercy without end" (v. 3) [PsH 98, PH 383, RL 300, TH 247]



  • [Will create dissonance appropriate to the text; see accompaniment in All Praise to You eternal God by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended"; "... I crucified thee ..." (v. 2)[RL 285, TH 248, PH 93, PsH 386]


*HOLY MANNA (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in All Praise to You eternal God by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Brethren, We Have Met to Worship"; "... struggling hard with sin ..." (v. 3) [TH 381]
  • "God, the Father of Your People"; sing verse 1 in canon, verse 2 in unison "... may we now remain in union ..." [PsH 322]
  • "God, Who Stretched the Spangled Heavens"; "We have ventured worlds undreamed of..." (v. 2) [PH 268,RL 29]
  • "Holy Spirit, Ever Diwelling"; "... thee we praise with endless worship..." (v. 2) [RL 381]


IN DULCI JUBILO (one measure)

  • [See setting in Stern; see accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice"; "... now ye hear of endless bliss..." (v. 2) [PsH 355,PH 28,RL 218]


KING'S WESTON (one measure)

  • "At The Name of Jesus"; "... bore it up triumphant ..." (v. 3) [PsH 467, PH 148, RL 336, TH 163]
  • "Jesus, Lord, Redeemer"; "... faithful ones communing ..." (v. 2) [TH 285]


KINGSFOLD (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "My God, My God, O Why Have You Forsaken Me"; "... they wag their heads in mockery ..." (v. 3) [TH 79]
  • "O Sing a Song of Bethlehem";"... on all the winds that blow" (v. 2) [PH 308,RL 356]
  • "Song of Zechariah"; "... whose seed a mighty race should be..." (v. 3) [PH 601]
  • "Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples";"... as in a mighty stream..." (v. 3) [PH 434]
  • "We Sing the Mighty Power of God"; "... and everywhere that we can be, you, God, are present there..." (v. 3) [PsH 430]



  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "O Faithless, Fearful Army"; "... through oceans stormy..." (sing v. 1 twice, the second time in canon) [RL 395]


KLOKJE KLINGT (one measure)

  • "Lord, I Pray";"... I should stray..." (v. 3) [PH 268]


*LAND OF REST (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal Cod by Donald Busarow.]
  • "I Come with Joy to Meet My Lord"; sing w. 1-2, in unison; vv. 3-5 "each proud division ends..." [PsH 311,RL 534]
  • "Lord, When I Came into This Life"; "... within the circle of faith..." (v. 2) [PH 522]
  • "O Jesus, King Most Wonderful";"... then earthly vanities depart..." (v. 2) [RL 360]
  • "Song of Simeon"; "... glory dwelling in our midst..." (v. 2) [PH 603]


LASST UNS EFRUEN (one measure)

  • [See anthem setting by Robert Shaw (G. Scliirmer 9909). Sing first two phrases in unison, the Alleluias in unison, etc.]
  • "A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing"; "The holy apostolic band..." (v. 2) [TH 289]
  • "All Creatures of Our God and King";"... Thou rushing wind that art so strong..." (v. 2) [PsH 431, PH 455, RL 4, TH 115]
  • "From All Tliat Dwell Beloiv the Skies"; "in every land begin the song..." (v. 2) [PH 229, RL 126]
  • "Praise God from Whom All Blessings FLow" [TH 733]
  • "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones";"... supernal anthems echoing..." (v. 3) [PH 451]



  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "0 God of Earth and Space"; "... we follow, strengthened by Your grace..." (v. 4) [PH 274]
  • "Praise to the Living God";"... spirit floweth free..." (v. 3) [RL 6]
  • "Shine Thou upon Us, Lord"; "where'er he leads them go..." (v. 3) [TH 411]
  • "The God of Abraham Praise"; "... and endless praise..." (v. 5) [PsH 621, PH 488, RL 595, TH 34]



  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]



  • [See accompaniment in Tlhirty Moiv Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Have No Fear, Little Flock";"... uplift and restore you..." (v. 3) [PsH 366]


LOBE DEN HERREN (two measures)

  • [See setting in Stem.]
  • "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty"; "... shelters thee under his wings..." (v. 2) [PsH 253, PH 482, RL 145, TH 53]



  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "The People Who in Darkness Walked";"... his reign shall never end" (v. 5) [PsH 192]


LORD, REVIVE US (two measures)

  • [See accompaniment in All Praise to Yon Eternal Cod by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Surely It Is God Who Saves Me"; either or both verses [PsH 193]



  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Awake, Awake to Love and Work"; "... to give and give and give again..." (v. 3) [RL 480]
  • "O Holy City, Seen of John";"... that city rises fair..." (v. 4) [PH 453]
  • "Song of Mary"; "... casts the mighty from their throne ..." (v. 4) [PH 600]
  • "The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns"; "... like the sun..." (v. 2) [PH 615]


NETTLETON (one measure)

  • "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing"; "... Jesus sought me... wandering..." (v. 2) [PsH 486, PH 356, RL 449, TH 4571]
  • "Wotanin Waste Hahon Po/Hear the Good Neios of Salvation"; either or both stanzas [PH 355]



  • [This may be sung effectively in three- or four-voice canon; see accompaniment in All Piaise to Yon Eternal Cod by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound"; "... through many dangers, toils and snares..." (v. 3) or "... ten thousand years..." (v. 5; sing this final verse twice to suggest the everlasting praise of God in heaven) [PsH 462, PH 280, RL 456, TH 460]


NOEL NOUVELET (one measure)

  • "Welcome, Happy Morning!";"... tread the path of darkness..." (v. 3) [TH 268]



  • [See settings in Stern, Schalk, set 1, with melodic alterations.]
  • "Now Thank We All Our God; "... and guide us when perplexed..." (v. 2) [PsH 454, PH 555, RL 61, TH 98]



  • [Will create dissonance in third phrase; use in three-part canon with choir.]
  • "Jesus, These Eyes Have Never Seen";"... unseen but not unknown..." [RL 287]
  • "This Is the Day the Lord Has Made" (Psalm 118); "... shall now resound with praise.. '.' (v. 4) [PH 230]
  • "Spirit Divine, Attend Our Prayers"; "Come as the fire..." (v. 3) [PsH 421, PH 325]


OLD 124TH (see TOULON)



  • "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today"; "... Soar we now where Christ has led ..." (v. 3) [RL 325]
  • "Hallelujah, Praise the Lord";"... tapping foot and clapping hand ..." (v. 3) [PsH 189]


PICARDY (one measure)

  • "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence";"... stream before him on the way..." (v. 3) [PsH 341, PH 5, RL 188, TH 193]
  • "Sing, My Tongue, How Glorious Battle"; "... all created things repeat..." (v. 8) [RL 289]


PLEADING SAVIOR (one measure)

  • "All the Way My Savior Leads Me";"... cheers the winding path I tread ..." (v. 2) [RL 458]
  • "Jesus, Our Divine Companion";"... You have come to join the workers..." (v. 2) [PH 305]
  • "Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service"; "Still your children wander homeless..." (v. 2) [PsH603]


PUER NOBIS (one measure)

  • [See setting in Schalk, set 1, with melodic alterations; see accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal Cod by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Lord, Thou Hast Searched Me"; "... whither from thy presence flee..." (v. 3) [TH 361]
  • "On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry"; "... Stretch forth your hand ..." (v. 4) [PsH 327]
  • "O Splendor of God's Glory Bright";"... shower down thy radiance from above..." (v. 2) [RL 76,PH 474]
  • "That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright"; "... with us abide..." (v. 3) [PH 121,RL 313,TH 278]
  • "The Lamb's High Banquet"; "... death to endless life restored ..." (v. 6) [RL 314]
  • "What Star Is This, with Beams So Bright"; "... impels us on to seek your face..." (v. 3) [PH 68,RL 227]



  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow. Note: The names PUER NOBIS and PUER NOBIS NASCITUR are each used to refer to two different hymn tunes in various hymnals.]
  • "Unto Us a Boy Is Bom";"... peals of glee..." (v. 5) [RL 226]


RESIGNATION (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal Cod by Donald Busarow.]
  • "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need"; "... he brings my wandering spirit back..." (v.l) [PsH 550,PH 172,RL 91]


RESTORATION (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments pr Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Father in Heaven"; "... songs never ceasing.. ." (v. 1) [PsH 252]


ROK NOVY (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Now Greet the Swiftly Changing Year"; "... as Lord to lead our way..." (v. 5) [PsH 444]
  • "The Lord Almighty Spoke the Word"; "... the Word proclaim..." (v. 3) [PsH 283]


ST. COLUMBA (two measures)

  • [See accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal Cod by Donald Busarow.]
  • "How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place"; "... all our songs join..." (v. 2) [TH 469]
  • "The Great Creator of the Worlds"; "... he dwelt with us..." (v. 4) [RL 350]
  • "The King of Love My Shepherd Is"; "... oft I've strayed ..." (v. 3) [PH 171,RL 267]


ST. FLAVIAN (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Be Known to Us in Breaking Bread"; "... our immortal food..." (v. 2) [PH 505]
  • "Fill Thou My Life, O Lord My God"; "... all my life, in ev'ry step..." (v. 6) [TH 589]
  • "From Thee All Skill and Science Flow"; "... shall fill the earth..." (v. 3) [RL 28]
  • "In Sweet Communion, Lord, with Thee"; "... shall guide me..." (v. 2) [TH 657]
  • "Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days"; "... unending joy..." (v. 4) [PH 81]
  • "Save Me, O God; I Sink in Floods"; "... from surging floods..." (v. 5) [PsH 69]
  • "When in the Night I Meditate"; "... and pleasures evermore..." (v. 5) [PH 65]


ST. MAGNUS (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns"; "... their everlasting theme..." [PsH 411, PH 149, RL 335, TH 298]
  • "The Lord Will Come and Not Be Slow"; "... shall bud and blossom then..." (v. 2) [TH 367]
  • "With Songs and Honors Sounding Loud"; "... showers of blessing down..." (v. 2) [TH 127]


ST. MICHAEL (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow]
  • "Grace! Tis a Charming Sound"; "... my wandering feet..." (v. 3) [TH 462]
  • "Jesus Invites His Saints";"... we are but several parts..." (v. 4) [RL 540]
  • "O Bless the Lord, My Soul"; "... and makes you young again..." (v. 3) [TH 78]
  • "O Day of God, Draw Nigh";"... as at creation's birth ..." (v. 5) [PH 452]
  • "Our Heavenly Father";"... guide us to the end..." (v. 4) [RL 262]


SALVATION (one measure)

  • "In My Distress I Call to God"; either or both verses [PsH 120]
  • "Our Cities Cry to You, O God"; "Yet still you walk our streets, O Christ..." (v. 2) [PH 437]
  • "To Thank the Lord Our God" (Psalm 92); "How great are thy works..." (v. 2) [RL 116]



  • [Will create dissonance.]
  • "Lord, Dismiss Us with Your Blessing"; sing in canon on the final verse only, to suggest that God's blessing goes with everyone in the dispersing of the congregation [PsH 320, PH 538, TH 384]


SINE NOMINE (one measure)

  • "For All the Saints"; any verse, suggesting the march of saints [PsH 505, PH 526, RL 397, TH 358]


SLANE (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Be Thou My Vision"; "... now and always ..." (v. 4) [PH 339,RL 67,TH 558]
  • "Lord of All Hopefulness"; "... your arms to embrace..." (v. 3) [PsH 558]
  • "Lord of Creation, to You Be All Praise"; "... I walk in your freedom..." (v. 5) [RL 68]


SOUTHWELL (two measures)

  • [See accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal Cod by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Lord Jesus, Think on Me";"... nor let me go astray..." (v. 2) [PH 301,RL 248]
  • "O Perfect Life of Love";"... I cling to you in faith..."(v. 5) [PsH 380]
  • "Out of the Deep I Call";"... out of the deep I cry..." (v. 2) [TH 490]


TERRA BEATA (two beats)

  • [See accompaniment in Reformed Worship 26, p. 34.]
  • "This Is My Father's World";"... the music of the spheres..." (v 1) [PsH 436, PH 293, RL 14, TH 111]


TOULON (one measure)

  • "God of the Prophets"; "... forth may we go..."  [PsH 521]
  • "I Greet Thee, Wlto My Sure Redeemer Art"; "... our whole being sway..." (v. 2) [PH 475]
  • "Lord of All Good"; "... heart with the flame..." (v. 2) [PH 375]
  • "Now Israel May Say, and That in Truth"; "... the raging stream..." (v. 2) [TH 614]
  • "Praise Ye the Lord, Ye Servants of the Lord"; "... worship day by day..." (v. 2) [RL 614]


TRURO (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal God by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Christ Is Alive! Let Christians Sing"; "... where color, scorn, or wealth divide..." (v. 4) [PsH 413, PH 108]
  • "High the Heavens, Eternal God" (Psalm 36); "... mercy like a river flows..." (v. 3) [RL 99]
  • "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates";"... fling wide the portals of your heart..." (v. 3) [PH 8,RL 185,TH 198]
  • "Live into Hope"; "... a vision of our God brought near..." (v. 3) [PH 332]
  • "Rejoice, All People, Homage Give";"... with a shout/trumpet's sound ..." (v. 3) [TH 73]
  • "Shout, for the Blessed Jesus Reigns"; "... may his holy church increase..." (v. 4) [PsH 539, TH 369]


TWENTY FOURTH (one measure)

  • [See accompaniment in All Praise to You Eternal God by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Thou Art the Way";"... must seek him Lord by thee..." (v. 1) [RL 274]


WACHET AUF (two measures)

  • [See setting in Stem, Sclialk, set 3.]
  • "Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying/Sleepers, Wake! A Voice Astounds Us"; "we follow all and heed your call..." (v. 2) [PsH 613, PH 17, RL 606, TH 317]


WAS GOTT TUT (two beats)

  • [See settings in Stern.]
  • "We Thank You, Lord, for You Are Good (Psalm 136)";"... starry lights to rise..." (v. 3) [PH243]
  • "What God Ordains Is Always Right"; "You led me by the proper path ..." (v. 2) [PsH 451, PH 284, TH 108, RL 153]



  • [See setting in Stern, Schalk, set 2, melodic alterations, portion of hymn set canonically. Note alternate rhythms in these settings.]
  • "How Bright Appears the Morning Star"; "... come, draw near us..." (v. 1) [PsH 357, RL 35Z PH 69, TH 515]



  • [See accompaniment in Thirty More Accompaniments for Singing in Canon by Donald Busarow.]
  • "Our Voice Would Be a Useless Cry";"... ten thousand times ten thousand..." (v. 3) [PsH 492]


*WONDROUS LOVE (one measure)

  • "What Wondrous Love Is This"; "... I'll sing on..." (v. 4) [PsH 379,PH 85,TH 261]



The following hymns are either based on plainsong melodies or are derived from the pentatonic (five-note) scale. The nature of their melodies is such that any portion of the melody may be paired with any other portion to create an ethereal harmony. Hence, individual phrases or entire verses of these hymns may be sung canonically.

Generally, a three-voice canon will be sufficient to elicit the desired harmony. This type of canonic singing will create many dissonances and therefore should be used only by choirs. Printed harmonizations should not be used. Instead, instruments can accompany one voice of the canon, or can repeatedly play a fragment of the hymn melody to add to the ethereal quality of the harmony. This type of canonic singing can be extremely effective for use with certain texts, but requires some experimentation to achieve the desired effect.


ADORO TE DEVOTE (any length)

  • "Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior, Thee"; "... fountain of goodness..." (v. 3) [PH 519,RL 552]


ARIRANG (two measures)

  • "Christ, You Are the Fullness"; "... our life is now hidden with you in God..." (v. 2) [PsH 229, PH 346]



  • "Creator of the Stars of Night"; "... from age to age eternally..." (v. 4) [PH 4]
  • "Lord, Why Have You Forsaken Me" (Psalm 22), "... why are you so far away..." (v. 1) [PH 168]
  • "O Radiant Light, O Sun Divine"; "... as daylight fades..." (v. 3) [PH 548]



  • [Sing in a chantlike manner, without the printed accompaniment]
  • "Christ the Lord Ascends to Reign";"... Christ now bids us tell abroad ..." (v. 3) [PsH 407]
  • "Christ the Lord Is Risen Again";"... through Christendom it rings ..." (v. 2) [PH 112,RL 323]



  • [Sing in a chantlike manner, without the printed accompaniment.]
  • "Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands";"... faith points to it, death passes over..." (v. 3) [PsH 398, PH 110, RL 324, TH 279]



  • [See anthem setting by Robert J. Powell (Concordia, 97-6411) that features canonic use of this hymn.]
  • "Of the Fathers Love Begotten"; "eternal victory evermore and evermore" (v. 5) [PsH 342, PH 309, RL 190, TH 162]


HSUAN P'ING (two measures)

  • "Praise Our God Above"; "God's care like a cloak" (v. 2) [PH 480]
  • JESU DULCIS MEMORIA (any length ) "Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts";"... we drink of thee, the fountainhead..." (v. 2) [PH 511]


KAHM KAHM (two measures)

  • "Kahm Kahm hahn Bom Sanaoon/Lonely the Boat"; "... waves billowing high..." (v. 2) [PH 373]



  • [Sing in a chantlike manner, without the printed accompaniment.]
  • "Savior of the Nations, Come"; "... fill with wonder all the earth..." (v. 1) [PsH 336,PH 14,RL 189]


PANGE LINGUA (any length)

  • "Sing, My Tongue, How Glorious Battle"; "... while eternal ages run..." (v. 4) [RL 290]


SHENG YE QING (one measure)

  • "Sheng Ye Qing/Holy Night, Blessed Night"; "... earth and heaven ring with praises..." (v. 2) [PH 33]


TOKYO (one measure)

  • "Here, O Lord, Your Servants Gather";"... many are the tongues we speak..." (v. 2) [PsH 251, PH 465]


VENI IMMANUEL (one measure)

  • "O Come, O Come Immanuel";"... bring us comfort from afar..." (v. 6) [PsH 328, PH 9, RL 184, TH 194]



  • "Come, Holy Spirit, Our Souls Inspire"; "... perpetual light..." (v. 2) [PH 125]
  • "Come, O Creator Spirit, Come";"... with thee to guide..." (v. 5) [RL 377]


VEXILLA REGIS (any length)

  • "The Royal Banners Forward Go"; "... forward go ..." (v. 1) [RL 287]


WEN-TI (two measures)

  • "May the Lord, Mighty God"; entire hymn [PH 596]



All Praise To You Eternal God, Donald Busarow, Augsburg 11-9076. Organ accompaniments for thirty hymn tunes that can be sung in canon.

Creative Hymn-Singing, Alice Parker, Hinshaw Music, Inc. Many suggestions for congregational singing regarding 20 hymns in varying styles.

Hymns in Canon, Hermann Stern, Augsburg 11-9229. Three-part choral settings of hymns in canon with instruments. Each hymn is set in a two-part canon, along with an additional third (alto) voice and instrumental accompaniment.

Thirty More Accompaniments for Hymns in Canon, Donald Busarow, Augsburg 11-10163. Canonic organ accompaniments for thirty additional hymn tunes.

Two-Part Canons on Classic Hymns and Chorales, Sets 1, 2, 3, by Carl Schalk, Concordia Publishing House 98-1762, 1763, 1764. The high frequency of melodic alterations in hymn tunes require that these be used by choirs only.



Rev. Dr. John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin University.

Reformed Worship 30 © December 1993, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.