Creating a Custom Hymnal?

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Some members of my church are attempting to create/publish a custom hymnal. So far what has been done is scan/photocopy each hymn, (along with the desired tune and wording), and compile them into a 3-ring binder as sort of a rough draft.

The problem is that the hymns were taken from a variety of hymnals, so the typesetting/formatting is different for each of them.

I was wondering if the technology/resources exist to possibly pick and choose certain hymns/tunes from a unified database (such as the Hymnary) and have them compiled and printed into a custom hymnal? I've found a couple of resources online, but none of them seem to be quite there yet: though I have a feeling that this will become a viable option in the future. Does anyone have any input or experience with this sort of thing?


Have you tried

I tried emailing them, but got no response. (This seems to be a recurring theme with various publishers I've contacted...)

Does anyone have any other options or alternatives?

I don't know if that will be directly helpful to the author of this thread, but the Timeless Truths online hymnal is a very interesting collection, extremely well formatted, and one that I had not previously been acquainted with. Thanks so much for sharing the link.

The option to switch the Scorch scores from round notes to shaped notes and back is particularly welcome! ;-) I notice they have the website set with round notes as default, but their magazine prints hymns in shaped notes. (7-shape, not Fasola, but oh well, you can't have everything here below...)


My Little Hymnblog
North America's leading Esperanto hymn writer and hymnologist
Webmaster, Fremont Baptist Church, Seattle

In making your own hymnal by law you must get copyright permission for each song. Surely, the copyright owner to lead you to the hymnal. Yes, copyrights are required even if you are only making 2 copies.

If a hymn is under copyright in the jurisdiction you're in, you need copyright permission to use it legally. But if a hymn is not under copyright, either because of when it was published (e.g. in the United States anything published prior to 1923 is no longer under copyright; same goes for some but not all material published between 1923 and 1951) or because the author has placed it in the public domain, then you don't need permission. It takes research to figure out whether some pieces are under copyright or not, and if they are, it may take more research to determine who has the power to grant permission for their use.

Unless you believe that "Free from the law! O happy condition!" means that "Thou shalt not steal" is no longer in force, you should try to make your hymnal legal. IMO.

Our church has its own "hymnal" -- it's a collection of hymns in a looseleaf binder duplicated for the whole congregation. With appropriate copyright permissions secured, of course.

I wonder if there would be call for similar capabilities at -- select a set of hymns, title, etc, and have provide a PDF file of a whole hymnal that could be printed and bound at a one-off printing place. Or presented as a hymnal on an iPad, perhaps. Hmmmm.

I've been trying to convince Hampton Baptist Church in Virginia (a church I know only through online acquaintance a current, musically engaged member and a past interim pastor) that in their current search for a new pew hymnal (to replace Baptist Hymnal 1991; I gather Celebrating Grace is the front-runner but not a foregone-conclusive winner) they should consider publishing their own supplement to whatever hymnal they choose, since neither CGH2010 nor anything else on the market is going to have all the content they consider important. I'm sure there are other churches with similar wants and needs, and that might be a line of sales that could well tap into.

I don't think Hampton is interested in an iPad hymnal, but I (and others) might be. In 2015 I intend to publish a multilingual shapenote tunebook, Sankta Harmonio, and I noticed at the last Sacred Harp singing I was at that a number of people were singing off of some sort of tablet or notebook computers, I didn't look close. So either Denson 1991 is available in such a format or someone has cobbled it together at home and shared with friends. I may well be interested in putting out an electronic version of Sankta Harmonio, so again, others may too.

Also, of course, a projectable PDF or PPT version like the ones you have of many hymns should be available in a package with print and iPad versions. Again, at this point I think Hampton is not interesting in projecting the hymns—even with the scores—but who knows down the road...

In case it's helpful, I have a Make Your Own Hymnal app--


I would like to create an app for my youth group to use, what are the copyright laws that you followed in order to create your apps?

A little self-promotion here...
In the last decade I've made 15 or 16 custom hymnals and hymn booklets as a side-business; I'd like to do more.

Michael Owens

It might be a possible approach to pull the hymns into MuseScore and run them off, they'll look all nice and uniform. I'm using itself to try to make a custom hymnal.

I have a side business typesetting custom hymnals for churches: meticulously typeset and professionally printed and bound. Many people don't realize how affordable a custom hymnal can be.

You can see some examples of my work and learn about the process at 

My church wants to use the hymn, "Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness" but I'm not sure to gain permission from the composer, etc. Please advise. Thanks! Dave

In cases where the copyright is held by the author and composer, contact one publishers of a hymnal that the hymn appears in. They will have contact information.

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