Inner Singing—When You Listen to a Hymn Arrangement and Sing Along in Your Heart

You don’t have to sing out loud in order to sing. You can sing silently. I call it “inner singing,” just like we have the terms “inner speech” or “inner monologue” to describe the silent but very real flow of words in our heads.

If you’re a fan of music, you probably already do this—you aren’t necessarily singing out loud when you listen to your favorite vocal music, but you’re probably still singing along.

Instrumental arrangements of hymns, such as chorale preludes, encourage inner singing by presenting a hymn tune that many people in the congregation will know. Some arrangements utilize the power of inner singing by interpreting a hymn text through musical mood and word painting.

Depending on the tune and a person’s personal experience, they might be able to call a text to mind fairly easily. On the other hand, some musicians help congregants recall the text by printing the text or hymnal number of a hymn in the bulletin or by projecting the text as they play.

I wrote about inner singing in the context of fundamentalist Christian worship in my dissertation (check out pages 231-6). One interesting way fundamentalists’ capitalize on the power of inner singing is by their statistically higher rate of pairing one tune with only one text in their hymnals. Most denominational hymnals that I surveyed have a high rate of pairing a hymn tune with multiple texts in the hymnal (which means that a congregant might not associate the tune with just one hymn text), but in most fundamentalist hymnals, that multiple pairing is quite rare. What that means is that fundamentalists’ hymn arrangements are more likely to call just one text to a listener’s mind.

Want to learn more? Check out this podcast episode where I discuss inner singing.