Hymn Lyrics Search Tips

I've been fortunate enough to become quite handy in locating hymns. Here are the top tips I have. I'll continue to edit this as new tips arise.

Tip #1: Google is your best friend.

Google is by far the best place to start your search. There's a good chance that the hymn you're looking for is somewhere else on the Internet already.

(You can try out your search on the Name That Hymn Lyrics Search Engine, which was built on top of Google technology).

Most people enter only one or two words into the Google search box. But actually, there are some very powerful things you can do in Google to find the hymn you're looking for.

a) Put phrases in quotes.

The first thing to do is think of a words in the hymn that you know are accurate. For example, say, hypothetically, that you only remember one line in a hymn: "when we've been there ten thousand years", but you're pretty sure it's accurate.

Google allows you to put exact phrases into quotation marks. As an example, go to the Google Search Box and type "when we've been there ten thousand years" (Example) . In this case, you'll find over 4,000 entries in Google, most with the complete lyrics to "Amazing Grace". Without the quotes, Google looks for any pages with any combination of those words--there are over one million of them out there!

b) Combine quotes together

Again, when you type words or phrases into Google, Google looks for all pages with any combination of those words or phrases.

If you do a search and receive a lot of results, you can make the results more granular by instructing Google that certain words or phrases MUST appear (or must NOT appear) in the results. This is done by using a combination of quotes or the minus (-) sign.

For example, say you're looking for the hymn "Beulah Land"--the one that has the words "corn and wine".

There are actually three popular hymns that go by that name. A Google search on that phrase yields over 500,000 results (Example), many of which don't have to do with hymns at all. There are entries for TV shows, other variations of the hymns, books, and churches. There's even an entry for Nigerian Dwarf Goats :)

Try typing this into the Google box:

"beulah land" "corn and wine" "lyrics" -"goats" (Example)

Ah, much better. Instead of 500,000 random results, most in the results set now which contain the lyrics to "Beulah Land" by Edgar P. Stites.

c) Try alternate phrases or spellings

Sometimes we have a phrase in our head that we're sure are the correct words to the hymn, but nothing comes up on Google. In this case, try different spellings or break the phrase into different parts.

For example, say you were looking for the words to "Here I Am, Lord". The only words you know are "I, the Lord of wind and sky". (Example). Nothing shows up (except for this page).

In this case, try thinking about the parts of the phrases you're not quite sure about, then splitting up the phrase accordingly.

"I the Lord of" "wind" "sky" (Example)

In this case, you'll get the right lyrics.

d) Use the "site: command"

I've posted some links below to some of my favorite Internet resources for searching out hymns.

One neat little trick Google allows you to do is to search all the pages on an individual site. In other words, you can limit your search results to only pages on a specific site, not the entire Internet.

This is done using the "site:" command. For example, the following command:

site:www.namethathymn.com (Example)

Will show you all the pages that Google has indexed on this site.

Where this gets powerful is combining the site: command with all we've covered above. For example, let's say you want to find the Battle Hymn of the Republic on The CyberHymnal (the real one, not the fake one with the annoying ads). You can type this in the Google search box:

site:www.hymntime.com/tch/ "mine eyes have seen the glory" (Example)

The right page pops right up!

Well, that's all I have time for now. If you have more tips or advice to share with others, please feel free to drop me a line, and I'll include it here.

Tip #2: My Favorite Resources on the Internet

The Cyber Hymnal (at http://www.hymntime.com/tch/): Bar none, my favorite hymn site on the Internet. It has a huge collection of hymns, information on authors and composers, hymn stories, MIDI files, even hymn trivia.

The Hymn Society: Non-profit organization dedicated to hymnology. Serious hymn afficianados should consider a membership in the Society, and a trek to the annual Conference.

Hymnary.org: Extensive library with a lot of hymn material, including MIDI files, printable sheet music from actual old hymnals.

The Hymn Tune Index: An incredible site that indexes virtually every known hymn text from 1535 to 1820. Can search by hymn text, composer, tune name or incipit (do-re-mi).

Oremus Hymnal: Great resource that provides hymn text and some MIDI files. over 50 hymnals are indexed. You can search by first line or tune name.

Timeless Truths: Another very nice site with free lyrics, MIDI files and sheet music.

Google Books: Google is in the process of digitizing many old books, including hymnals from the early 20th century. While not without controversy, overall I see this as a great project to save deteriorating books before they disappear forever.

Tip #3: Offline Resources

The Princeton Theological Seminary Library: One of the largest hymnal collections in the world, and it happens to be in the city of my birth ;) Most of the rarer material has to be specially requested from Special Collections. The staff is friendly and helpful, and has been of immense help to me in my own searches.

Most Theological Seminary Libraries will have one or more of these reference books. They each index a huge amount of hymns, and allow searching by a variety of information, including incipit, first line, tune name, and meter.

Hymntune index and related hymn materials, compiled by D. DeWitt Wasson. Indexes over 33,000 tunes.

Hymns and Tunes: An Index. by Katherine Diehl.

Dictionary of North American Hymnology, available on CD-ROM form the Hymn Society of America

The Hymn Tune Index. Print version of the resource listed above.

God bless!