“Joy to the World”

“Joy to the World”

The composer of “Joy to the World” was Isaac Watts (1674-1748). He was one of the great hymn writers, and the first to produce a modern-style hymnbook. A prolific and popular hymn writer, he was recognized as the “Father of English Hymnody,” credited with some 750 hymns. Many of his hymns remain in use today and have been translated into many languages. Not only did he write hymns, he wrote many books in the science and theology field. He spoke five languages fluently, and was a bit of a nonconformist against the Church of England.


Watts’ Psalms of David (1719) was first printed in America in 1729 by Ben Franklin. In Isaac’s opinion church music was boring, dreary and basically brought down the joy of the whole service. When he complained to his father, he challenged his son to write something better. The result was a revolution in church music. Isaac subsequently wrote a new song every week for 222 weeks. In 1719 Isaac published Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. “Joy to the World” is Watts’ paraphrasing of the second half of Psalm 98. This was not popular at the time, as hymns were not used in the church; rather the Psalms were sung from the bible. The new hymn style introduced by Watts caused a very big controversy that day, and it even split some churches.

“Joy To The World” is still cherished today, almost three centuries later. Set to a score adapted from George Frederick Handel’s “The Messiah,” “Joy to the World” has taken its place permanently in the hearts of both Christian and secular society. While many of Watts’ compositions have been forgotten, this Christmas hymn remains a favorite.

 Listen to Linda Brockinton play “Joy to the World.”


Playing Tips from Linda Brockinton:

This is a good tune for flatpickers and fingerpickers. The flows along the melody string. There will be picks on single strings any time the tune has a pause. This differs from strumming only in the way we fill up the spaces where the melody is not moving. A strummer just strums 3 beats on a dotted half note, while if you are picking you just pick 3 individual strings. We are then hearing the same chord but one note at a time. So basically your left hand does the same thing for either strumming or picking while the right had fills in the pauses in the tune by strumming or by picking individual strings. Either method (fingerpicking or flatpicking) you choose, just remember to always hold your chords down as long as you can. When you release them you loose your sound and that makes for choppy playing. So if you have a chord at the first of the measure try to figure out how to play the other notes following without lifting until you are given another chord to go to. This does two things. It makes for smoother playing and it helps you to keep your place on the dulcimer and you don’t have to reposition.

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