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Sacred harp served as the representative of European American culture in this project. Sacred harp, a singing tradition that originated in the Southern United States, represents democracy in the sense that sacred harp is meant to be universally accessible to everyone, the leader is rotated, and a potluck lunch accompanies every sacred harp singing.[1] During the nineteenth-century, many shape note hymnals were published but “Sacred Harp,” published in 1844, became the most popular.[2]


Sacred harp gatherings are called singings.[3] Singers are arranged in a closed circle or square with new singers or beginners in the inner rows and a leader in the center who conducts using an up and down motion.[4] Each side of the square represents one of the four parts: treble, alto, tenor and bass.[5] The seating arrangement and terminology used, such as class (for the group) and lesson (for the performance), originated in nineteenth-century American singing schools.[6] The melody is in the tenor part and women and men sing both the treble and tenor parts while the alto part is always sung by women and the bass part is always sung by men.[7]


Sacred harp music uses shaped noteheads to represent four different syllables: fa, sol, la, and mi thus shape-note singing.[8] The scale, shown below, uses movable do where syllable names are decided by a note’s position within a scale and not its exact pitch.









Figure 3. Sacred harp scale in F major[9]

Lesson plans

“A Shape Note Singing Lesson” by Stephen Binns is a lesson plan for grades three to eight published by Smithsonian Folkways.[1] It addresses singing both alone and with others, approaching a varied repertoire, notating and reading music, investigating the relationship between music and other artistic disciplines, and understanding music’s place in history and culture.[2] This is a good reference for music teachers wanting to teach sacred harp to students of varying ability levels.

Sacred harp groups in Nashville

Harpeth Valley Sacred Harp Singers is a sacred harp group in Nashville, Tennessee ( Information such as this could be shared with students who are interested in extension or extra credits activities. Students could plan to go to one of the group’s singings and write a report on their experience.


[1] David Warren Steel and Richard H. Hulan, 2010. The Makers of the Sacred Harp. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 3.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Buell E. Cobb, Jr., 1989. The Sacred Harp: A Tradition and its Music. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 79.

[4] Ibid., 3.

[5] Ibid., 8.

[6] Ibid. 

[7] Ibid., 8.

[8] David Warren Steel and Richard H. Hulan, 2010. The Makers of the Sacred Harp. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 4.

[9] "Sacred Harp and Shape Note Singing." Accessed December 05, 2016.  

[10] Stephen Binns, A Shape Note Singing Lesson (A Smithsonian Folkways Lesson). Smithsonian Folkways.

[11] Ibid.​​​​​​

"Awake, My Soul:
The Story of the Sacred Harp" Movie Trailer
Materials for "One Language is Never Enough" 
Section 4 (mm. 49-77)
Sacred Harp -
00:00 / 00:00
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