The Best Chord in the LDS Hymnal

November 16, 2008    By: Geoff J @ 12:07 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices

I was reminded of the bestest, coolest, awesomest chord in our hymnal in sacrament meeting today. It is a v7 chord, aka minor v chord with a flat/dominant 7 added. It is found in the tune Press Forward Saints (Hymn #81) in the last stanza. You’ll recognize it immediately. It is the “le” is that great “Alleluia” near the end of the song. Have a listen here or here.

Of course the coolness of that v7 chord is enhanced by the second coolest chord in the hymnal, the Dominant VII Maj7 chord that immediately follows it as the “lu”. So that turnaround progression goes I – v7 – Dominant VII Maj7 – I, or more specifically, F – c7 – Eflat Maj7 – F. I can’t think of a better turnaround in the book and the v7 must be the very best chord of all. Can you think of any challengers?


  1. I love the hymn Press Forward Saints. Another contender for cool chords is in #198 That Easter Morn. Most of the hymn is in a minor key, but at the very end of the third verse, it switches to a major key, symbolic of Christ’s victory.

    Comment by Keri Brooks — November 16, 2008 @ 12:38 pm

  2. No no no…

    The best chord in the hymnal is in God of Our Fathers (the tune of which also makes a very rousing Eensy Weensy Spider), on “worlds” in the third line.

    Comment by Nitsav — November 16, 2008 @ 1:01 pm

  3. Can I instead praise the most underrated song in the hymnbook for its fantastic phrasing and awesome chord progressions? It’s #72, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.

    Comment by The Right Trousers — November 16, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

  4. Keri — Good call. That Easter Morn is an excellent song. Plus if I remember correctly its author, Robert Cundick, teaches or at least taught music at BYU. I thought he was an excellent theory teacher.

    Nitsav — That is a pretty good chord in hymn #78. It looks like the author busts out a Flat III major chord (G flat major) there after a root-only V. It has a nice effect indeed (though I can’t agree that it beats the v7 chord in hymn #81).

    Comment by Geoff J — November 16, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

  5. That Easter Morn is pretty good too. I remember learning and playing that one on my mission.

    Comment by Nitsav — November 16, 2008 @ 1:27 pm

  6. I like 154’s IV9 (E flat Major 9) on “thy” emphasizing tender caring.

    the analysis on 78 is a little strange. the hymn modulates to Bb major on “starry band”. (from Eb) then the Bb on “of shining worlds” is a tonic chord that goes to a borrowed (major) VI (from the minor mode) which is becomes a German Augmented 6th chord which resolves to a Bb minor chord in second inversion (modally borrowed tonic 6/4 [i 6/4]) to a V7 in Bb major resolving to a Bb major chord (I). then it modulates back to Eb major by treating the Bb Major chord as a Dominant (V) in Eb major.

    it looks something like this

    [the starry band]Eb: V, V7/V, V (modulation) Bb: [start of third line] I, bVI (modally borrowed) Ger6, i6/4 (modally borrowed) V7, I, (modulation)[our grateful] Eb: I6, IV etc.

    Comment by TrevorM — November 16, 2008 @ 2:23 pm

  7. the first parentheses at the start of my post should read “A-flat Major Major 9”

    Comment by TrevorM — November 16, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

  8. 154 doesn’t count because it is never ever ever sung. And it’s just one verse. And “ing” rhymes with “ing.” I mean, no matter how cool the music is, you can’t just let a 4th grader write the lyrics.

    Nitsav already mentioned the awesome chord in 78.

    Other fun transitions include:

    I7-IV-V-III-vi in 105.

    Much of 114, such as the III-vi-II stretch

    Much of 255. Especially the G to Eb. It’s a — goodness, what is that? That’s not a regular sixth, is it? It has the effect of almost sounding like a Gm.

    Also, the last line of the verse has a very nice progression.

    Comment by Kaimi — November 16, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

  9. Yeah, Geoff, I love “Press Forward Saints.” I think it’s one of the best of the “new” hymns in the book. And I love those changes–shameless parallel fifths and all. One could argue that it’s a strange conversion dominant of sorts. (Though it usually goes the other way around–that is, from some kind of VII to some kind of V.) But what the heck–what sounds good is good.

    Kaimi, yeah that’s a borrowed lowered 6 chord in first inversion.

    Comment by Jack — November 16, 2008 @ 4:06 pm

  10. 154 doesn’t count because it is never ever ever sung.

    Hah! Shows what you know. My wife (ward music director and sacrament chorister) almost always chooses very short hymns for closing hymns for Sacrament meeting. #154 is in regular rotation for just that reason.

    shameless parallel fifths

    Parallel fifths! Parallel fifths! But my BYU freshman-year entry-level music theory teacher (whose class I dropped out of) said parallel fifths were verboten! My faith is shattered!

    Actually, my faith is strengthened, because I remember thinking, “Why the heck not? Who came up with this, anyway?” ..bruce..

    Comment by bwebster — November 16, 2008 @ 4:26 pm

  11. Darn. I thought you were talking about this one.

    Comment by Susan M — November 16, 2008 @ 4:26 pm

  12. bwebster,

    Actually I believe that understanding the basic principles of four-part writing, voice leading, counterpoint, etc. is essential to great writing–if we’re talking about something beyond authentic folk music. But that doesn’t mean one has to sit in a class to learn it. In fact, some pick a lot of it up intuitively. However, it is rare that one will learn it in depth without some kind of mentorship.

    There are times when “shameless parallel fifths” may work in traditional four-part chorale style writing, but usually they are to be avoided if at all possible–especially ascending fifths–they really do sound terrible. And occasional descending parallel fifth–if by half step, that is–isn’t too bad. Mozart even did that. But descending by whole step as in the case of hymn #81 is more of a rarity.

    But what the heck, it sounds great to the modern ear. Just don’t do it all over the place because you’ll have something that may sound good but not like a hymn.

    Comment by Jack — November 16, 2008 @ 5:48 pm

  13. I do like “Press Forward Saints.” Also, I’ve always been partial to the deceptive cadence in “All Creatures of Our God and King” (at the bottom of the page, the dominant seventh chord resolves with a VI/submediant chord). I think one of the reasons Mack Wilburg’s arrangement of “Come, Thou Fount” became so popular is he changed the chord at the end of the third line to a VI chord.

    Comment by Kiskilili — November 16, 2008 @ 5:51 pm

  14. (Sorry–a vi chord. I guess it’s not that exciting except it’s the only deceptive cadence in the book.)

    I wish our hymnal included something in Dorian, like the Easter hymn “Christ Is Risen” by Pablo Sosa (in my Baptist hymnal). An ordinary i-IV-v progression in Dorian, with a minor dominant, sounds really eery.

    Comment by Kiskilili — November 16, 2008 @ 6:30 pm

  15. Nitsav has a good suggestion in God of Our Fathers, Who’s Almighty Hand. For good chords, I’ll also give a shout out to Ring Out Wild Bells and The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 16, 2008 @ 8:02 pm

  16. Speaking of Dorian scales… It turns out that some of the hymns lend themselves pretty well to jazz arrangements. A few years back word got out in the stake I lived in that I was a woodwind player so the stake music person asked me to perform a flute number at a stake priesthood meeting. Well I’m really a jazz/rock player at heart and mediocre flutist at best so I figured I should play to my strengths. So I wrote out a simple modified chord progression to “Our Saviors Love” with a few Major 7 chords and whatnot substituting for the original (rather L7) chords and gave that to my accompanist. Then I basically played it like a jazz ballad with the tune the first verse through, (non-swing) improv the second time, and a combo of the two the third verse. I’m not sure if anyone was even awake in the congregation but I thought it sounded pretty alright.

    Comment by Geoff J — November 16, 2008 @ 9:08 pm

  17. I don’t speak the language for this one, but thanks for the excuse to cozy up to my wife at the piano so she could show me some chords. And thanks Susan M. Excellent Sunday video!

    Comment by Matt W. — November 16, 2008 @ 9:31 pm

  18. Wow, I haven’t heard so much music theory since… well… music theory class! Eh, I’ve forgotten a lot of it; it’s great to know, but it doesn’t make the music sound any prettier!

    I’m rather fond of 124 – Be Still, My Soul. Of course the word “remain” in the fourth line is great, but… I really like “provide” in the third line. I also enjoy all the suspensions in 62 – All Creatures of Our God and King. And the deceptive cadence at the end of the fourth line is cool.

    Come to think of it, most deceptive cadences are inherently cool anyway.

    But for a real good time, it’s hard to beat the whole right-hand page of 105 – Master, the Tempest Is Raging. Probably due to the fact that whenever I sing it together with my cousins… we tend to get really boisterous and start waving imaginary flagons around, slipping into the connotation of the original drinking-song tune. But! It’s still cool either way.


    Does anybody else here feel that Picardy thirds just completely ruin the mood? I like minor music to stay minor!

    Comment by Contraltissimo — November 16, 2008 @ 10:42 pm

  19. Picardy thirds are just cheap. There are better ways to go major. For that, I’m partial to Rikery fourths and LaForgey sixths.

    Comment by The Right Trousers — November 16, 2008 @ 11:13 pm

  20. Right Trousers,

    Make it so!

    Comment by Geoff J — November 16, 2008 @ 11:20 pm

  21. I also find Picardy thirds jarring. You wouldn’t end a major hymn with a minor chord. When I’m the accompanist I usually rebel against them and see whether anyone notices.

    Comment by Kiskilili — November 16, 2008 @ 11:58 pm

  22. It can’t come up that much, there are only about three minor hymns in the book. sadly.

    Comment by woodboy — November 17, 2008 @ 12:08 am

  23. I knew if I pointed Contraltissimo here she would bring up Picardy thirds!

    Kiskilili, that is spectacular. If I’m ever in a congregation and the organist does that, I’m going to look at them, and they will look at me, and we will share a secret wink.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — November 17, 2008 @ 1:59 am

  24. God of our Fathers chord FTW!

    I get tingles every time I hear it.

    Extra points when sung by MoTab.

    Comment by jm — November 17, 2008 @ 6:27 am

  25. FWIW, the only song in the hymnbook with a double flat, with the hardest key in the hymnbook (Db) and some of the sweetest voicings (though it’s hardly ever played) is 168, As the Shadows Fall. Probably my favorite.

    Comment by NJensen — November 17, 2008 @ 7:43 am

  26. OK. So it’s people like you guys that make the life of people like me difficult.

    The ward music director assigned number 132 God is in His Holy Temple for the meeting yesterday. I made one quick attempt at it a number of weeks back, and then contacted the director to request a different song. Sure, I could play it, but no congregation is going to be able to sing that third line with an a-a-b-b-a sharp-c sharp-b and get it right in two verses!

    Please, keep your beloved As the Shadows Fall and That Easter Morn for choir numbers! Please, spare the poor unsuspecting congregations!

    Comment by Researcher — November 17, 2008 @ 8:28 am

  27. I think my mentioning of As the Shadows Fall was more in line with the title of the post “The Best Chord in the LDS Hymnal.” There’s no way I’d subject a congregation to it. Or a handful of others for that matter (Ye Simple Souls Who Stray comes to mind).

    Comment by NJensen — November 17, 2008 @ 8:36 am

  28. I don’t know a Dominant (V) in Eb major from a parallel fifth; but I know what I like. So, y’all can consider #162, “Lord, We Come Before Thee Now.”

    Somebody tell me why I like it, please.

    Comment by mondo cool — November 17, 2008 @ 9:06 am

  29. You like it because it’s a straightforward minor key with good voice leading, and pretty predictable harmonies. (you generally like music like that) The text probably also adds to your overall feeling about the hymn. The range is not too high, which makes it easy to sing in any voice part, which you also enjoy doing. The minor key makes it different enough for you, but it’s still just simple and easily digestable harmonically. That is my best musical psycho-analysis. Love ya Dad.

    Comment by Matt W.'s wife — November 17, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

  30. I’m surprised no one mentioned the IV7 on “love” in Our Savior’s Love. Most magnificently uderstated use of an unnecessary and unexpected 7th. Superb.

    Comment by Ry Guy — November 19, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

  31. Holy Cow! I thought I had wandered into the Bridge column in the Sunday times with everything in a foreign tongue. I’ll leave all the theory to you theorists, and go back to my violin, which only plays one note at a time, mostly, and forget the chords.

    Only one problem with Press Forward, Saints: never in the history of the world have I ever been able to sing the second note of the first or third lines–the tenors are supposed to sing a D while the sopranos sing a C, a seventh up. And we’re supposed to get there from the A where we started so confidently just two beats earlier. Fuhgettaboutit. Not gonna happen.

    As to 132, just crank up the volume, Researcher. It’ll cover a multitude of sins. And, is it really that hard to resolve to the major chord at the end of That Easter Morn? (I do remember an old Bill Cosby stand-up routine, where he was talking about singing in church, and how the word in one hymn was changed from “forevermore” to “forevernow” and he almost broke his neck. So, maybe it is a problem.)

    Comment by Mark B. — November 20, 2008 @ 10:48 am

  32. My favorite hymn–“In Humility, Our Savior”–Hymn #172. My favorite chord is on the third line “Let me not” – the notes from the bottom up, D A F# and C and the chords leading to those always touch me as I sing or play this sacrament hymn.

    Comment by Bill — November 21, 2008 @ 9:32 am

  33. No one’s mentioned #169 (As now we take the sacrament)? The first chord of the third measure is wonderful. Along with the entire measure. Technically it’s a Bb7, but since the Ab anchors the whole measure, the chord defies ordinary tertian-ing. The measure gives an entire parallel triad and delicious secondal rub. What more do you want?

    Comment by Matt — December 2, 2008 @ 11:24 pm

  34. Good call on #169 Matt. Some nice chords and movement in that one.

    I like the first chord in the second full measure of the third stanza (The “last” of “lasting grace”). What is that chord? An Ab sus9?

    Comment by Geoff J — December 3, 2008 @ 12:06 am

  35. Something like that. I think that when there are two secondal clusters the chord’s really asking you not to do traditional analysis. But I’d call it Ab5 sus9 sus11. TWO suspensions are resolved in the next chord.

    Comment by Matt — December 3, 2008 @ 12:34 am

  36. Sigh, I used to focus on the chords as well, back in Theory II courses. OK, It feels kind of cool to be able to analyze the chord progressions, but really the chorale’s a bust without a great hymn tune and an interesting, complimentary bass line. The chords grow out of that, and while they add interest and show tremendous skill in the hands of a master, these “Tricky Dick” oddball chords (in the hands of your average tinkerer) more often than not only draw gaudy attention to themselves and punish the musical sensitivities of children and old ladies.

    Comment by Jay Williams — January 22, 2009 @ 4:02 pm

  37. Really Jay? Which chords in the hymnal would you say “punish the musical sensitivities of children and old ladies”?

    Comment by Geoff J — January 22, 2009 @ 9:01 pm

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