Rob Newton and Laurence Wareing get to grips with “bolting together” hymns and songs.

There is more than one way to worship God.

Maybe that’s a surprising statement to make; even facetious. And yet, many of us have not only been brought up on but also continue to experience “the hymn-prayer sandwich” in most of our Sunday worship services. That’s the form of worship in which hymns or worship songs are alternated with the other elements of the service (the prayers, readings and sermon).

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of using hymns as an opportunity (maybe the only opportunity) for full congregational involvement and the stretching of legs, some churches and many larger worship gatherings plan a longer block of time for singing. A number of hymns or songs are sung together, perhaps around a particular theme.

For many, the longer period of singing can offer a more focussed, even meditative, way of using song to help us re-focus our connection with God – perhaps more so than the intermittent stand-up, sing and sit-down-again approach.

This is where the technique of “bolting together” hymns together can be helpful. The idea is to flow from one hymn or song to another (or just part of another one) seamlessly.

For example, the refrain of All creatures of our God and King (StF 99) can be interpolated, or “bolted together”, between the chorus and following verse of My soul finds rest in God alone (StF 633) – so that you sing verse 1 and the chorus of My soul… and then move into the refrain of All creatures… (“O praise him, O praise him, Alleluia…” etc.)

This idea can offer two advantages.

    • it can extend the moment and mood of the worship in a flexible way (you can repeat and interpolate in different ways)
    • for those who are learning a song new to them (e.g. My soul finds rest…) the break in to something more familiar can help them relax, enjoy the moment, and find that their confidence has grown when they return to the newer song

Some songs can grow naturally out of others e.g. the single-verse Sent by the Lord am I (StF 239) and Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty (StF 10); or Give thanks with a grateful heart (StF 78) and Seek ye first (StF 254).

One experienced worship leader, Sam Taylor, also comments that a group of hymns may not necessarily need to express the same theme. He says: “For example, in a normal celebration service I'd lead three songs at the beginning, which might start with something like Holy Spirit we welcome you (StF 385) or Spirit of the living God (StF 395) as something to focus the mind; then maybe I’d move into an adoration and then into a confession focussed song. I guess I'd do that instead of having formal adoration or confession prayers.”

For further thoughts about worship patterns, download Rob Newton’s article, De-mystifying the role of contemporary worship music (PDF).

Making the transition

The transitions from one song to another have to be planned beforehand. Some songs in different (but related) keys may not require a transition (e.g. bolting together The splendour of the king (StF 15), in A major, and Jesus be the centre (StF 447), in D major, by moving simply from the A to the D chord.

However, more likely than not, the songs you wish to bolt together will be in different keys.

Either: you need to have prepared your second song in the same key as the first;

Or: one member of your band will have shifted capo in good time, allowing the second song to begin in the same key as the first – and giving time for the rest of the band to catch up;

Or: a bridge (or “link”) passage will be required. These don’t just have to be a series of guitar chords – they may also have a melody played on a keyboard or other instrument. The 1999 edition of Spring Harvest Praise included a number of examples, each one designed to move you gently from one key to another. E.g. this example gives options for moving from the key of G to C, D, E flat or F - download PDF here.

Other hymns and songs that you might consider bolting together:

Come on and celebrate (StF 44) / Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest! (StF 263)

See him lying on a bed of straw (StF 216) / It was on a starry night (StF 206)

The splendour of the King (StF 15) / O Lord, my God (How great thou art) (StF 82)

Praise is rising, eyes are turning to you (StF 64) / Praise, my soul (StF 83)

Holy, holy, holy (StF 10) / Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty! (StF 11)

Holy, holy, holy (StF 10) /Holy, holy, holy (StF 779)

He is exalted (StF 52) / He is Lord (StF 348) / Majesty, worship his majesty (StF 333)