The Hymn Tune Index


The Hymn Tune Index (HTI) is an ongoing effort to record, in a computer database, hymn tunes found in English-language sources. At present it is limited to printed sources from the beginning (the earliest is 1535) to the year 1820, wherever published (most are British or American). There are about 2,500 sources with over 110,000 tunes in them; the number of different tunes is about 17,000. The work appeared in book form in 1998, published by Oxford University Press. Eventually it will also be available for on-line use.

Extending the coverage

It is possible that coverage could be extended some day, to include post-1820 printed sources, manuscript sources, or barrel organs. I have no plans to do this at present. Meanwhile, if people would like to record the tunes they find, using HTI methods and definitions, this will be most welcome. Instructions for doing this are given below.

The HTI database contains complete tunes, in coded form, and ideally it is best to code the complete tunes if you are indexing a new source. If you haven't time to record the complete tunes, a good compromise is to code the first two lines and the tune metre.

What is included in the Hymn Tune Index?

At present, the limits are as follows:

  1. only hymn/psalm tunes, i.e. tunes meant to be sung with a sacred, strophic, metrical text;
  2. only if they appear in a printed source dating from no later than 1820;
  3. only if associated with an English-language text;
  4. only if short enough to be called a 'tune' (the limits are: 18 text lines or 24 musical phrases -- if either is exceeded, it's defined as a 'set piece' and is not included).

Tunes that were originally foreign, secular, instrumental, manuscript, etc. are indexed only if and when they are printed for use with an English-language hymn.

Basic method of coding a tune

Winchester would be coded as follows:

1 3 3 2 1 4 4 3
2 3 5 5 4 5
3 6 5 4 3 2 1 D 7
U 3 2 1 1 D 7 U 1

Winchester tune

The tune has notes of different lengths, but note-lengths are ignored. So are rests. So are accidentals: the '4' in line 2 does not have to show that the note has a natural in front of it. All notes are represented by 1 to 7 according to their position on the diatonic scale, starting with the keynote. Whenever you pass into a higher 'octave' (set of 1-7), insert a U; when you pass into a lower octave, insert a D.

Additional points about coding

Notes and syllables

In a plain tune like Winchester, the number of digits in the coded tune equals the number of syllables in one verse of the hymn. But if more than one note is sung to the same syllable, all the notes except the first one are placed in parentheses ( ). However, ornament signs, including appoggiaturas or grace notes in small print, are not coded. (See the code for Helmsley below.)

Repeated text

When any part of the text is repeated, whether entire lines or individual words, that portion of the tune is placed in square brackets [ ] -- unless the repetition is part of the hymn text itself. Thus, Helmsley is coded as follows:

1 3 (5) D 7 5 6 (7 U 1) D 7 (6) 5 (4) 3
5 5 U1 2 3 (5) 4 (3) 3 (2)
1 3 (5) D 7 5 6 (7 U 1) D 7 (6) 5 (4) 3
5 5 U1 2 3 (5) 4 (3) 3 (2)
2 (3 2) 3 4 3
[1 (2 1) 4 3 (2) 1
3 (4 3) 5 4 (3) 2]
1 2 (3) D 5 U 4 3 2 1

Helmsley tune

Where the melody moves from part to part

In some tunes, such as fuging tunes, the melody moves from one vocal part to another. In such a case, decide which is the principal, tune-carrying voice. (The decision may be influenced by other tunes in the source, remarks in the preface, etc.; if no other guidance is available, look specially at the final cadence.) Then index what that voice sings, adding a zero (0) for each syllable of the text that is not sung at all by that voice.

In Westerham, the third voice from the top is judged to be the tune-carrying voice, and the tune appears as follows:

0 0 0 0 3 5 (4) 3 2
0 0 0 0 0 0
3 5 (4 3) 1 D (7) 6 U 3 (2) 1 (2) 3 (4)
5 6 (5 4 ) 3 4 (3) 2 1

Westerham tune

Tune metres and text metres

As a result of these rules, the number of numbers in each line, excluding those in [ ] or ( ), yields the tune metre. The tune metre of Winchester is The tune metre of Helmesley is (to get the text metre from this, leave out the zeros: The tune metre of Westerham is

Other information to be recorded for each tune

As well as the tune itself, the following information should also be recorded when any tune is coded from a new source.

The source code

Invent an abbreviation for the source and attach it to each coded tune. If this source is later incorporated in the Hymn Tune Index, the HTI staff will assign its own source code; this has already been done for printed sources up to 1820.

The page (or equivalent)

The page or leaf in the source on which this tune begins, or the tune number from the source if that is an easier way to find the page.

The tune name

The tune name, or other heading, if any.

The text

Write out the first two lines of text if possible. The HTI identifies texts by the initial letters of the first six words, plus a number: thus, 'All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice' is coded as APTOED1. If no actual text is given, record any text identification (e.g. Watts, Ps. 108).


Record any attribution to a composer, or to another source. (In some books this appears only in the index.)

The key

Note down the key (that is, keynote and mode) of the tune in this source. A = A major, a = A minor; if you use a wordprocessor that has no sharps or flats, B- = B flat major, f+ = F sharp minor.

(The keynote is defined as the last note of the lowest voice. The mode is defined by whether the 3rd scale degree is a major or a minor third above the keynote, even if the tune is in some older mode such as Phrygian.)

The voice setting

As it is not always clear whether a voice part is treble or tenor, we simply count the voice parts from the top. Thus the voice setting of example 3 is 3/4, meaning that the tune is carried by the third voice out of four. The same would be true if it was written in short score (on two staves). Purely instrumental parts don't count. A tune with only one voice part, whether accompanied or not, is shown as 1/1. A purely instrumental arrangement of a tune, e.g. for organ or guitar, is shown as 0/0.

Source description

Finally, details of the source itself should be provided. The form is largely self-explanatory, and can be used for either printed or manuscript sources. If your source is a barrel organ (or organ barrel), please contact me before recording the tunes.

If possible, supply a photocopy of the title page and of a sample page of music. If not, write out all words of the title page and give page measurements (vertical first). And be sure to include your name and address, and the source code -- the abbreviation you have used for this source on the tune forms.