Test your knowledge of the Sacred Harp

By Ginnie Ely (September 2003)

(Circle one answer in each of the first four questions.)

  1. We know this music as "Sacred Harp" music today, but that wasn't always so. Do you know when and where this music began to be called "Sacred Harp" music?
    1. With William Billings in the 1780s in New England.
    2. After The Sacred Harp was published in 1844 in Georgia.
    3. No idea.
  2. Where and when was the four syllable Fa Sol La Mi system used to teach singing?
    1. Italy in the 11th century
    2. England in the 1500s
    3. New England in the 1790s
    4. The South after 1844
    5. No idea
  3. Where and when was the "shape-note" system first used to teach singing?
    1. Italy in the middle ages
    2. England in the 1600s
    3. Philadelphia in the 1790s
    4. The South after 1844
    5. No idea
  1. What are the primary characteristics, other than singing this music from The Sacred Harp, which make this tradition unique? (True-false. Circle all that apply in the remaining questions.)

    General structure

    1. The 4 parts are called tenor, bass, alto, and treble.
    2. The 4 parts are seated in a square facing in, with the tenors facing the altos and the basses (to the left of the tenors) facing the trebles.
    3. Both tenor and treble are sung by both men and women in both high and low vocal ranges.
    4. The parts are SATB.
    5. The notes (shape names) are sung before the words are sung.

    Leading and keying music

    1. People take turns leading their own choice of tunes, either democratically or using a leader list.
    2. The leader stands in the center and always faces the tenors,
    3. People sit in a circle and no one leads.
    4. One person does the leading.
    5. Usually one person is designated to set the beginning notes of a tune for each segment of a convention. This person is known as the "keyer" or "pitcher."


    1. At a convention there will be opening and closing prayer, and prayer before each meal,
    2. At a convention there will be a Memorial Lesson honoring singers, family and friends who have died during the past year and those who are sick and home-bound.


    1. There is a dress code at traditional conventions and blue jeans or other sloppy clothing should not be worn,
    2. Wearing grungy clothing is acceptable,
    3. People of all ages attend and sing, great grandparents, parents, and children,
    4. Allowing children to run around and make noise in the singing room is acceptable.
  2. What is the role of the front-bench tenors? (circle all that apply)
    1. To assist the leader.
    2. To help keep the class together.
    3. To provide visible beat-keeping for the altos and others with bad sight-lines.
    4. To sit with their heads in their books and ignore the leader.
    5. To speed up and ignore the tempo set by the leader.
  3. What are the important points of good leading style? (circle all that apply)
    1. Leading style in the Sacred Harp tradition is simple, the arm kept in front of the body, with the elbow tucked at the side, or with the arm elevated, and the hand and forearm move in one piece with no flourishes.
    2. Traditional leading is a down-up on all duple and compound (4/4 2/4 2/2 6/8 6/4) music and down-down-up on all triple ( and 3/2) music,
    3. The leader faces any direction they want to and ignores the front-bench tenors.
    4. The leader does a straight-arm swing, the arm swinging behind their back, which makes it hard to see the end of the beat and threatens to hit the altos in the face.
    5. The leader conducts like a choral director.

Have you finished? Compare your answers with the answer key.

Ginnie Ely (ginnieely@gmail.com)

[ Sacred Harp Singing | Warren Steel | Music Dept. | UM Home ]