During the past several decades, an important advancement in the worship of God's people has been the recovery of singing the psalms—the hymns of ancient Israel. The psalms are a rich anthology of praise and prayer that cover every aspect of the Christian experience.
In recent worship books, the chanting of psalms has been revived through the use of simple psalm tones which provide the congregation with an uncomplicated mode of singing any psalm.
The goal of the Lectionary Committee was to include as many psalms in the hymnal as possible, realizing that it will not be feasible to include all 150. Lack of space in Lutheran Worship (LW) resulted in the inclusion of only 62 psalms in that book, a number that is too low. (This does not count, however, the many psalm texts that were printed as introits along with the other propers.)
The primary criterion for selecting psalms for inclusion was the requirements of the lectionary. In addition, the committee examined current Lutheran hymnals in order to identify which psalms are most frequently included.
Anyone familiar with Lutheran Worship has quickly observed a change in Lutheran Service Book when it comes to singing the psalms. Unlike LW, where specific tones were assigned to each psalm, LSB has made no such assignments. Instead, this general rubric is given together with the 11 psalm tones on p. xxvi:
“Any psalm can be sung to any tone. It is best, however, that the tone, which can range from cheerful and bright to somber and austere, be appropriate to the text.”
In other words, when it comes to psalm tones, LSB provides you with lots of freedom.
Using the Psalm Tones
Think for a moment of congregations that have done little or no singing of the Psalter. Because there are no assigned tones, the congregation can choose to begin with just a couple of tones and use them for an allotted period of time. Then, as they become more comfortable singing the psalms, they can venture on to other tones.
So how does a church musician or pastor go about choosing a specific tone? In that quotation above the advice is given to try and match the character of the tone with the psalm text. The tones can be divided into two groups. Those in a major key (tones A–E, I–J) can be characterized as “cheerful and bright” and would be most appropriate with psalms of praise and thanksgiving (e.g., Psalm 96, 100, 150). Psalm tones in minor keys (tones F–H, K) can be characterized as more “somber and austere” and would be more appropriate for psalms of penitence and lament (e.g., Psalm 6, 32, 42).
To start using the psalm tones, a congregation might choose one from each category, tones A–E and tones F–G. As the musician prepares for a service, a careful reading of the Psalm of the Day will reveal which of the two tones would be the most appropriate for that particular psalm.
If you have seen the LSB Altar Book, you also know that specific tones have not been assigned for the Introits and Graduals. Again, the congregation is free to choose which tones to use. If a congregation is learning how to sing the psalms, it might be helpful to use the same tone for an entire season. In choosing the tone, consider the character of that season. For example, the tone for Christmas and Epiphany would likely be a major-key tone (A–E, I–J) while the tone for Lent would be from the minor-key group of tones (F–H, K).
A Brief Word on Tones I-K
These tones are called double tones in which two verses of text instead of one are sung to the tones. They are especially appropriate for use with longer psalms, since it cuts in half the number of times that a psalm tone is repeated. Be aware, however, that these tones can only be used with psalms that have an even number of verses.
An Insider's Look at Tone C
Tone C has another use that congregations should be aware of. When using Divine Service, Setting Three, this tone makes a perfect match with the Gloria Patri that concludes the Introit (LSB p. 186). Some of the intervals in the psalm tone actually match the intervals in the Gloria Patri.
If the congregation wishes to follow the historic form of the Introit by having the antiphon repeated after the Gloria Patri, then this same tone can be used following the Gloria Patri before the Kyrie. You may need to demonstrate this to the congregation before actually doing it.
Further information regarding this use of tone C is included in the LSB Accompaniment for the Liturgy (p. 100). The music is even provided at that place in the service for ease of use.