John Wesley's Instructions for Singing 1761

  1. "Learn these Tunes before you learn any others ....
  2. Sing them exactly as they are printed here without altering or mending them at all ...
  3. Sing ALL. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can ...
  4. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength ...
  5. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony ...
  6. Sing in Time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it ... and take care not to sing too slow...
  7. Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself or any other creature."

It's hard to imagine hymns as something new, daring, even mildly subversive, but in the eighteenth century they were not only a novelty, their use in parish churches was strictly speaking illegal. Until about 1700 both Anglican and nonconformist congregations sang almost nothing but metrical psalms in the 'Old Version' of Sternhold and Hopkins, 1562, to a limited number of tunes.

The new forms (hymns) were seized on with enthusiasm by John Wesley and his brother Charles who made hymn-singing an important feature of their ministry.

The Wesleys' appeal was largely to the working classes and their hymns were often used in large open-air meetings.

The Methodists soon began to write new tunes for their hymns in an unashamedly secular style which would not have been out of place in the theatre, the pleasure gardens, or even the tavern. It was this which so shocked the Establishment and delayed the introduction of hymns into parish churches. Such was the popularity of hymn-singing however, that by the end of the century it was widespread in nearly all denominations.

Taken from HQL-9848, p. 11,12