Grounds and Rules
Explained: Or,
An Introduction to the Art of Singing
by NOTE.
Fitted to the meanest Capacities

by Thomas Walters

Anthology of the American Hymn-Tune Repertory

[Spelling, capitalization, and italics are as printed]

A Recommendatory PREFACE

An Ingenious Hand having prepared Instructions to direct them that would Learn and Sing PSALMS after a Regular Manner; and it being thought proper that we should signify unto the public some of our sentiments on this occasion; we do declare, that we rejoice in Good Helps for a Beautiful and Laudable performance of that holy Service wherein we are to Glorify God, and edify one another with Spiritual Songs, wherewith he has enriched us.

And we would encourage all, more particularly our Young People, to accomplish themselves with Skill to Sing the Songs of the Lord, according to the Good Rules of Psalmody: Hoping that the Consequence of will be, that not only the Assemblies of Zion will Decently & in order carry on this Exercise of PIETY, but also it will be the more introduced into private Families, and become a part of our Family-Sacrifice.

At the same time we would above all Exhort, That the main concern of all may be to make it not a meer Bodily Exercise but sing with Grace in their Hearts, & Minds Attentive to the Truths in the PSALMS which they Sing, and affected with them, so that in their Hearts they may make a Melody to the Lord.

Joseph Sewall
Thomas Prince
John Webb
William Cooper
Thomas Foxcroft
Samuel Checkly
Increase Mather
Cotton Mather
Nehemiah Walter
Joseph Belcher
Benj. Wadsworth
Benj. Colman
Nathanael Williams
Nathanael Hunting
Peter Thacher

And very plain Instructions
For Singing by NOTE.
[the first section only]

MUSICK is the Art of Modulating Sounds, either with the Voice, or with an Instrument.  And as there are Rules for the right Management of an Instrument, so there are no less for the well ordering Voice.  And tho’ Nature itself suggests unto us a Notion of Harmony, and many Men, without any Tutor, may be able to strike upon a few Notes tolerably tuneful; yet this bears not more proportion to a Tune composed and sung by the Rules of Art than the vulgar Hedge Notes of every Rustic does to the Harp of David.  Witness the modern Performances both in the Theatres and the Temple.

SINGING is reducible to the Rules of Art; and he who has make himself Master of a few of these Rules, is able at first Sight to sing Hundreds of New Tunes, which he never saw or heard of before, and this by the bare Inspection of the Notes, without hearing them form the Mouth of a Singer.  Justs as a Person who has learned all the Rules of Reading, is able to read any new Book, without any further Help of Instruction.  This a Truth, altho’ known to, and prove by many of us, yet very hardly to be received and credited in the Country.

WHAT a Recommendation is this then to the following Essay, that our Instructions will give you that knowledge in Vocal Musick, whereby you will be able to sing all the Tunes in the World, without hearing of them sung by another, and being constrained to get them by hear from any other Voice than your own? We don’t call him a Reader, who can recite Memoriter a few Pieces of the Bible, and other Authors, but put him to read in those Places where he is a Stranger, cannot tell ten Words in a Page. So is not he worthy of the Name of a Singer, who has gotten eight or ten Tunes in his Head, and can  sing them like a Parrot by Rote, and knows nothing more about them, than he has heard from the Voices of others; and shew him a Tune that is new and unknown yo him, can’t strike two Notes of it.

THESE Rules then will be serviceable upon a Threefold Account.  First, they will instruct us in the right and true singing of the Tunes that are already in use in our Churches; which, when they first came out of the Hands of the Composers of them, were sung according to the Rules of the Scale of Musick, but are now miserably tortured, and twisted, and quavered, in some Churches, into a horrid Medly of confused and disorderly Noises.  This must necessarily create a most disagreable Jar in the Ears of all that can judge better of Singing then these Men, who please themselves with their own ill-sounding Echoes.  For to compare small things with great, our Psalmody has suffered the like Inconveniences which our Faith had laboured under, in case it had been committed and trusted tot he uncertain and doubtful Conveyance of Oral Tradition. Our Tunes are, for the want of a Standard to appeal to in all our Singing, left to the Mercy of every unskilful Throat to chop and alter, twist and change, according to their infinitely divers and no less odd Humours and Fancies.  That this is most true, I appeal to the Experiences of those who have happened to be present in many of our Congregations, who will grant me, that there are no two Churches that sing alike. Yea, I have my self heard (for Instance) Oxford Tune sung in three Churches (which I purposely forbear to mention) with as much difference as there can possibly between York and Oxford, and any two other different Tunes. Therefore any man that pleads with me for what they call the Old Way, I can confute him only by making this Demand, What is the OLD WAY? Which I am sure they cannot tell.  For, one Town says, theirs is the true Old Way, another Town thinks the same of theirs, and so does a third of their Way of Tuning it. But let such men know from the Writer of this Pamphlet (who can sing all the various Twistings of the old Way, and that too according to the Genius of most Congregations as well as they can any one Way; which must therefore make him a better Judge then they are or can be;) affirms, that the Notes sung according to the Scale and Rules of Musick, are the true old Way. For some body or other did compose our Tunes, and did they (think ye) compose them by Rule of by Rote?  If the latter, how came they pricked down in our Psalm Books? And this I am sure of, we sing them as they are there pricked down, and I am as sure the Country People do not.  Judge ye then, who is in the right. Nay, I am sure, if you would once be at the pains to learn our Way of Singing, you could not but be convinced of that I now affirm.  But our Tunes have passed thro’ strange Metamorphoses (beyond those of Ovid) since their first Introduction into the World.  But to return to the Standard from which we have so long departed cannot fail to set all to rights, and to reduce the sacred Songs to their primitive Form and Composition.

AGAIN, It will serve for the Introduction of more Tunes into the Divine Service; and these, Tunes of mo small Pleasancy and Variety, which will in a great Measure render this Part of Worship still more delightfull to us.  For at present we are confined to eight or ten Tunes, and in some Congregations to little more than half that Number, which being so often sung over, are too apt, if not to create a Distaste, yet at least mightily to lessen the Relish of them.

THERE is one more Advantage  which will accrue from the Instructions of this little Book; and that is this, that by the just and equal Timeing of the Notes, our Singing will be reduc’d to an exact length, so as not to fatigue the Singer with a tedious Prostration of the Notes beyond the compass of a Man’s Breath, and the Power of his Spirit: A Fault very frequent in the Country, where I my self have twice in one Note paused to take a Breath.  This keeping of Time in Singing will have this Natural effect also upon us, that the whole Assembly shall begin and end every single Note, and every Line exactly together sounding forth the Divine Praises.  But for want of this, I have observed in many Places, one Man is upon this Note, while another is a Note before him, which produces something so hideous and disorderly, as is beyond Expression bad. And then the even, unaffected, and smooth sounding of the Notes, and the Omission of those unnatural Quaverings and Turnings, will serve to prevent all the Discord and lengthy Tediousness which is so much a Fault in our singing of Psalms.  For much time is taken up in shaking out these Turns and Quavers; and besides, no two Men in the Congregation quaver alike, or together; which sounds in the Ears of a good Judge, like Five Hundred different Tunes roared out at the same time, whose perpetual interferings with one another, perplexed Jars, and unmeasured Periods, would make a Man wonder at the false Pleasure, which they conceive in that which good Judges of Musick and Sounds, cannot bear to hear.

THESE are the good Effects, which our Skill in the Gamut will produce.  We shall then without any further Preamble, proceed to give the Reader some brief  and plain Introduction for singing by Note and Rule.

[The Instructions for Singing follow here.]

Anthology of the American Hymn-Tune Repertory