Singing of Psalms

“Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms.”

Ps. 95:2

“Sing unto Him, sing psalms unto Him”

Ps. 105:2

“Is any merry?  Let him sing psalms.”

James 5:13




Psalters Online

Familiar Tunes for Singing Psalms

The History of Psalm Singing

The Westminster Assembly and Psalm Singing

The Puritans and Psalm Singing 

Historic Quotes of Praise on the Psalms

Do We Sing Christ’s Name in the Psalter?

The Imprecatory Psalms



Order of Contents

Where to Start?
Spiritual Helps to Singing the Psalms
Puritan Era Treatises

How to Use a Split-Leaf Psalter
A Case of Conscience



Where to Start?

God tells us in his Word to sing psalms with joy (1 Chron. 16:9; Ps. 95:2; 105:2; Jam. 5:13).  Listen to the voice of God and start singing the Psalms:

The Scottish Metrical Psalter, 1650  Buy

All the psalms are set to Common Meter, which means that if you know the tune to ‘Amazing Grace,’ you can sing the whole psalter.  Here are several handful more tunes you may know to help you start singing the songs that Jesus sang.  Once you get a little better, try the traditional tunes that the Scottish covenanters sang long ago!

Barth, Paul – ‘A Concise Case for Exclusive Psalmody’  2017



Spiritual Helps to Singing Psalms

Bayly, Lewis – Rules to be Observed in Singing of Psalms, 1636, 6 paragraphs, being pp. 207-209 of his Practice of Piety, 1719 edition, London

The puritan Bayly (†1631) gives 5 brief rules on how to profitably sing the psalms, along with recommendations on which psalms to sing under 12 different circumstances and conditions.

Roberts, Francis – Directions for the Right Singing of Scripture Psalms  PDF  1675, 12 pages, being pp. 128-131 of his larger The Key of the Bible: Unlocking the Richest Treasury of the Holy Scriptures.  This is an updated and easier to read edition than the original.

Roberts (1609–1675) was an influential puritan who wrote a very large introduction to the Bible, from which this work is taken.  Roberts gives 8 very helpful directions on how to sing the psalms with the most spiritual profit.  Print out these directions as a pamphlet to help fellow saints be encouraged in the Lord. 

Wells, John – How We may make Melody in our Hearts to God in Singing of Psalms  late-1600’s, 32 pages, this is a sermon from Puritan Sermons, 1659-89, re-typeset, re-formatted and re-edited, with an Introduction and explanatory footnotes.

If the Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), how much more does He love a cheerful worshipper?  Indeed, He tells us to sing psalms to Him with joy (Ps. 95:2)!  Let us, with the psalmist, stir ourselves up to this pleasure; this sermon will help us. It is a treasure. You will not find anything like it in modern Christian literature.


Binnie, William

The Use of the Psalms under the Old Testament, six pages, starting on p. 355, a chapter from his The Psalms: their History, Teachings and Use

The Music of the Synagogue and of the Early Church, four pages, starting on p. 361, a chapter from his The Psalms: their History, Teachings, and Use

A’Brakel, Willhelmus – Ch. 79, ‘Singing’  in The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. 4, pp. 31-38

The decision of the Dutch Synods has been very correct indeed, namely, that none other but the Psalms of David are to be used in the churches.” – pp. 34-5

Bushell, Michael – New Songs, 1993, 7 paragraphs, from his The Songs of Zion: A Contemporary Case for Exclusive Psalmody, p. 95-97

This article addresses the question of what the Bible means when it says “sing a new song to the Lord.” (Ps. 98:1)

Fentiman, Travis – Do We Sing Jesus Christ’s Name in the Psalter?  2015  50 paragraphs

The answer is Yes, the proof of which is overwhelmingly documented from the Hebrew.

Gill, John – A Discourse On Singing of Psalms as a Part of Divine Worship  Buy  1733, 39 paragraphs

Isbell, Sherman – The Singing of Psalms, no date, 167 paragraphs

This excellent article responds to all objections to exclusive psalmody current up to its day since the publication of Bushell’s work, including those of Vern Poythress, Greg Bahnsen, Leonard Coppes, Stephen Pribble and others.  It does this through quotes and arguments of puritan writers such as Samuel Rutherford, George Gillespie, John Owen, Thomas Gataker and others.  Isbell also gives a detailed historical analysis of John Calvin’s Biblical belief and practice that inspiration was a requirement for praise songs.

Williamson, G.I. – The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God, no date, 58 paragraphs

A good introduction to the subject.



A Collection

Myers, Andrew – ‘We Have a Lot of Early American Presbyterian Resources on Psalmody on our Website’   2017  at Log College Press  Being 14+ articles and books on psalm singing from early American presbyterian history




Bushell, Michael – Songs of Zion,  Buy  1993, 329 pages

This is the best and most exhaustive book arguing for the majority, historic, reformed practice of exclusive psalmody.  Until one has read this book they have not fully considered the issue.  Bushell addresses and responds to all objections to exclusive psalmody that were current up to the publication of his book.  Bushell’s survey of psalm singing through church history is also priceless.

Gibson, James – The Public Worship of God: its Authority and Modes, Hymns and Hymn Books1869, 186 pages

This book argues for the Biblical practice of exclusive psalm singing from a day when hymns were beginning to be brought into the Free Church of Scotland.  Gibson first shows that scripture regulates the worship of God, then applies it to singing praise, then answers alleged arguments for hymns, reviews the history psalmody in the church and the entrance of hymns, argues against musical instruments in worship, and then reviews numerous hymn books from his own day.

Reformed and United Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia – The True Psalmody: the Bible Psalms the Church’s Only Manual of Praise, 1883, 212 pages, with prefaces by Henry Cooke, John Edgar, and Thomas Houston.  This book was recommended by the Free Church of Scotland ministers James Begg, John Kennedy, and Thomas M’Lauchlan as well as others.

The chapters are (1) The Book of Psalms: a Complete Manual of Praise, (2) The Book of Psalms has the Seal of Divine Appointment, Which No Other Has, (3) No Warrant for Making or Using any Other Hymns in the Worship of God, (4) Objections to the Use of the Psalms Considered, (5) Remarks Upon the ‘Scottish Version’ of the Psalms



For a very full chronological collection of books online about psalm singing, see Books Online at

Puritan Era Treatises

The Puritans and Psalm Singing 




John Calvin

Letter to the Reader in The From of Prayers and Songs of the Church  1543

We must have songs not only honorable but also holy, which are to be like needles to arouse us to pray and praise God, to meditate on his works, in order to love him, fear, honor and glorify him.

But what St. Augustine says is true, that no one can sing things worthy of God unless he has received them from Him. For when we have searched here and there, we will not find better songs nor ones more appropriate for this purpose than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit has spoken to him and made. Therefore, when we sing them, we are certain that God has put the words in our mouth as if they themselves sang in us to exalt his glory. Consequently Chrysostom exhorts both men, women and little children to learn to sing them in order that they may be like a meditation to associate them with the company of angels (Chrysostom, In Ps. 41:1,2).

Besides, we must remember what St. Paul says, that spiritual songs cannot be better sung than from the heart (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). But the heart requires understanding. And in that (says St. Augustine) lies the difference between the singing of men and that of birds (Aug. Enarr. in Ps. 81, 2.1). For a Linnet, a Nightingale or a Popinjay will sing well, but it will be without understanding. But man’s proper gift is to sing, knowing what he says; after understanding must follow the heart and the affection, something that can only happen when we have the song imprinted on our memory never to cease singing it.


John Knox

Prefatory Letter to The Form of Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments, etc., used in the English Congregation at Geneva: and approved, by the famous and godly learned man, John Calvin (Edinburgh, 1562)

“St. Paul giving a rule how men should sing, first says, “I will sing in voice, and I will sing with understanding.” And in another place, showing what songs should be song, exhorts the Ephesians to “edify one another with psalms, songs of praise, and such as are spiritual, singing in their hearts to the Lord with thanks giving.” As if the Holy Ghost would say, that the song did inflame the heart to call upon God, and praise him with a more fervent and lively zeal. And as music or singing is natural unto us, and therefore every man delights therein; so our merciful God sets before our eyes, how we may rejoice and singe to the glory of his name, recreation of our spirits, and profit of ourselves.

But as there is no gift of God so precious or excellent, that Satan has not after a sort drawn to himself and corrupt, so hath he most impudently abused this notable gift of singing, chiefly by the Papists his ministers, in disfiguring it, partly by strange language, that cannot edify, and partly by a curious wanton sort, hiring men to tickle the ears and flatter the fantasies, not esteeming it as a gift approved by the Word of God, profitable for the Church, and confirmed by all antiquity. As, besides other places, is most manifest by the words of Pliny, called the younger, who, when he was depute in Asia unto the Emperor Trajan, and had received charge to inquire out the Christians to put them to death, writ among other things, touching the Christians, “That their manners were to sing verses or psalms early in the morning to Christ their God.” If any, perhaps, would doubt, when, or by whom these churches or assemblies were institute, it is likewise evident, that St. John the Apostle, who, although in Domitian’s time he was banished in the Isle Patmos; yet when Nerva his successor, and next before Trajan reigned, returned to Ephesus, and so planted the churches, as the stories report. Seeing therefore God’s Word does approve it, antiquity bears witness thereof, and best reformed Churches have received the same, no man can reprove it, except he will condemn God’s Word, despise antiquity, and utterly condemn the godly reformed Churches.

And there are no songs more appropriate than the Psalms of the Prophet David, which the Holy Ghost hath framed to the same use, and commended to the Church, as containing the effect of the whole Scriptures, that hereby our hearts might be more lively touched, as appears by Moses, Hezekiah, Judith, Debora, Mary, Zechariah, and others, who by songs and metre, rather than in their common speech and prose, gave thanks to God for such comfort as He sent them.

Here it were to long to entreat of the metre; but for as much as the learned doubt not thereof, and it is plainly proven that the Psalms are not only metre, and contain just pauses, but also have grace and majesty in the verse more than any other places of the Scriptures, we need not to enter into any probation. For they that are skillful in the Hebrew tongue, [Read Moses Chabib, in his books called, מרפא לשון דרכי נרעם] by comparing the Psalms with the rest of the Scriptures, easily may perceive the metre. And to whom is it not known, how the Holy Ghost by all means sought to help our memory, when he fashioned many Psalms according to the letters of the alphabet; so that every verse begins with the letters thereof in order. Sometimes ‘A’ begins the half verse, and ‘B’ the other half; and in another place, three verses, yea and eight verses with one letter, even the Psalm throughout; as if all men should be inflamed with the love thereof, both for variety of matter, and also briefness, easiness, and delectation.

Now, to make you privy also why we altered the rhyme in certain places of him, whom for the gifts that God had given him, we esteemed and reverenced, this may suffice: that in this enterprise, we did only set God before our eyes, and therefore weighed the words and sense of the Prophet, rather considering the meaning thereof than what any man had write. And chiefly being in this place, whereas most perfect and godly judgment did assure us, and exhortations to the same encourage us, we thought it better to frame the rhyme to the Hebrew sense, than to bind that sense to the English meter: and so either altered for the better, in such places as he had not attained unto, or else where he had escaped part of the verse, or sometimes the whole, we added the same, not as men desirous to find faults, but only as such which covet to hide them, as the learned can judge.”



How to Use a Split-Leaf Psalter

Isbell, Sherman – How to Use a Split-Leaf Psalter: a Book Review, no date,  15 paragraphs

Isbell enumerates the practical advantages of using a split-leaf psalter and gives helps in how to use one.

What Should a Psalm Singer do in a Hymn Singing Church?

John Delivuk – Reformed Presbyterians in Hymn Singing Churches, 1982, 4 paragraphs.  Delivuk is a professor at Geneva College, PA.  This is an excerpt from his Master’s Thesis, “The Doctrine and History of Worship in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America”

The noted theologian, J.G. Vos, answers that one should not sing.  Regarding the question of psalm singing pastors preaching in hymn singing services the 1886 Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America gives three directives entailing that the minister is able to preach in such a church with the understanding that it does not sanction the use of hymns, while another elder lead those parts of the service.

“The psalter was the prayer-book of Him who is our only consolation in life and in death, so long as He, the Son of Man, sojourned on this earth.”

F.W. Krummacher

“The most celebrated hymns of uninspired men were, like Job’s friends, ‘miserable comforters,’ when compared with the experience of Christ, in the days of humiliation of which the Book of Psalms is the true prophetic picture.”

Henry Cooke

Preface to The True Psalmody, 1883

Related Pages

Musical Instruments in Worship