Life in Community

A Novel Way to Memorize Bible Verses

November 27, 2020 by

Some years ago, I was teaching a Bible class to some high school students here at Danthonia. The topic of memorizing verses came up. Based on personal experiences, several of our older community members felt that there is value in committing Bible verses to memory, as they might be helpful to recall in times of adversity.

I agreed with this suggestion, gave it some thought, and wondered if it might be easiest for young people to recall verses learned as a song. Some of the lyrics in our Bruderhof songbooks are Psalms or other Bible verses; my own children learned those words effortlessly and remembered them for years.

 

To test my premise I put some effort into composing a six-part round using these beautiful words from the Gospel of Matthew 11:28–30:

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Being an old “folkie,” I had never attempted to write down any of my music before. When, after much effort, I was finally finished, a musical friend of mine declared the song “practically unsingable” and suggested I give up the whole project.

My students (typical teens) took his comment as a competitive challenge to our class, and proceeded to learn the song quite quickly. Months later, they were still able to recite the verses from memory. We were all very pleased.

We eventually sent a recording to my doubting friend, an alumnus of the Hartt School of Music, who laughed and suggested I give the whole class an A plus!

CTMEmbed

And at one point during the whole process a light bulb went on for me – it is actually not so hard to write a round! You might like to try it. This approach worked for me:

  1. Start by creating a chord progression that you like.
  2. When writing down the music, stack your staff lines so that each new voice starts a new line and each new line shows the full chord progression. (See the illustration of our Bible class round.)
  3. Compose your tune using notes from the chord played in that measure.
    For example, a C chord accompanies the voices in my first measure. That chord is comprised of three notes: C, G, and E. As long as the C chord is playing, voices can sing combinations of those three notes in any singable octave or rhythm to create nice harmonies. The second measure is an Em chord. That chord includes E, B, and G . . . etc.

Our chosen passage had fifty-two words. In order to weave them all in, I needed six lines. We sung in six parts, with several voices on each part. When all parts were in full swing, we had some very rich chords and arpeggios working together. The beauty of writing rounds like this is that nothing has to rhyme and the number of words or syllables in each line is not an issue – the mix of long sustained notes and short staccato runs adds interest to the blend.

Please enjoy listening to this recording of my students. If you can, add your voice to their harmonies and immerse yourself in the peace and comfort of these timeless words of Jesus.

Sing along two or three times and you may even memorize a meaningful Bible verse!

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About the author

Joe McKernan

Joe McKernan

Joe McKernan lives with his wife Nancy at Danthonia Bruderhof, in New South Wales, Australia.

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