Beauty You Can Afford: Singing the Psalms to Simplified Anglican Chant

My family will happily tell you that I have a thing for Panetonne, that wonderful Italian Christmas bread that seems to be gaining popularity in the States. And let me tell you: looks can be deceiving. At first sight, it doesn’t really look that good. It’s not quite cake. It’s not quite bread. Am I even pronouncing it right? It couldn’t be that good, right? Well, that was my first impression. The first time I tried it, I thought…that was weird. Then I thought about it more…that was delicious! Then I had a piece with a cup of coffee…and then I ate the whole loaf.

My experience with learning and teaching Simplified Anglican Chant in my parish has been similar. At first, it was awkward – it felt like we were doing it wrong. But we quickly gained confidence and experience with the craft, and pretty soon, we were flying! I now use SAC on a regular basis in private and family devotions. The same is true in corporate worship.

But at the start, part of me thought, our folks will never go for this. Our parish is pretty “mid-church” (my term) liturgically speaking, and this was our first foray into chant. I was pleasantly surprised. Our people took to it, and before we knew it, we were gloriously singing the Psalms together.

But What Even Is It?

SAC may feel like a stretch today, but chant has sustained the Church’s worship longer than any other form of music. Psalms, meaning songs, are meant to be sung. We should also remember that the Psalms were meant to be sung corporately. Additionally, the forms of chant that arose in the ancient and medieval periods were probably closer to how they would have originally been sung, connected to the practice of the synagogue.[1]

The singing of the Psalms in Christian worship enjoys a particularly rich heritage within our Anglican tradition. Gregorian Chant, Full Anglican Chant, and here, Simplified Anglican Chant, are all beautiful, effective, tried and true ways of worshipping through the Psalms of David.[2]

Created by Robert Knox Kennedy in the 20th century, Simplified Anglican Chant (consisting of 8 notes and 4 bars of music) maintains the characteristics of Full Anglican Chant in a form more conducive to full congregational participation. SAC is meant to be sung in unison by the congregation with a choir and/or keyboard participating in the harmonies.

Practically speaking, the power and genius of SAC is its ability to allow Christians to simply and beautifully sing the actual words of the Psalms, without any alteration necessary. And please note: the Psalter as given in the Prayer Book tradition is specifically set up with chant in mind. Versification in other translations, such as the ESV, will not work as well. See page 268 of the 2019 Book of Common Prayer for more on how our Psalter is specifically designed for private and public worship.

SAC is highly adaptable and it’s easier than you think. With that said, let’s talk about some practical tips and advice for getting started.

Practical Advice

Firstly, have a point person. A minister of music or song leader (or parent!) needs to be confident in leading this form of reflection on Holy Scripture before anyone else can benefit from it. Confident singing and practice go a long way here.

Secondly, go slow. Practice on a few people – make your family the Guinea pigs! Get some folks together before service and practice chanting the psalm with them. A few confident singers will take you even further!

Thirdly, choose one tone and learn that tone well (a “tone” is simply a given musical setting). Don’t mix it up at first. Just stick to one tone, even if it doesn’t match your given psalm perfectly. Learn this well, and then move on.

Fourthly, select three to four SAC tones that you really like. Like any other form of good worship music, this will give you the musical “library” you need to marry psalm text and tune well. For example, at New Creation, we use three tones: a minor and two major settings. These work reasonably well for every psalm in the Psalter.

Fifthly and lastly, don’t overcomplicate it. SAC can be done without musical accompaniment. But, I do find it works best with simple guitar or piano accompaniment. I personally taught our music minister this skill, and he picked up very quickly. If you have more resources available, you can go further and add in harmonies for choir singing, but this is most definitely not necessary.

Get Beautifying!

You know, I started learning SAC because I wanted to go deeper into the Psalms of our Lord (Luke 24:44). The Psalter is, first and foremost, the songs of Jesus. His words on our lips. God’s Word and ours. SAC has helped me, my family, and my people to sing the songs of Jesus in a deeper and more reflective way. Simplified Anglican Chant can be as solemn and simple as the Daily Office and Family Prayer, or as glorious and full as corporate worship. In all these places, the songs of Jesus can go with us, beautified in sung chant.

Now, where to go from here? For a practical guide on all the ins and outs of learning this art, I humbly direct you to my very own Anglian FAQ video tutorial. As mentioned in the end notes, the ACNA also has a whole page dedicated to psalm singing – there you will find four examples of SAC tones and a whole lot more. Pick what works and run with it! Here’s to beauty you can afford in your worship of the Lord!


  1. See Dix, Gregory. The Shape of the Liturgy. London: Continuum, 1945, 39.“In large gatherings at least, if not always, the lessons were chanted to a simple inflection rather than read. This was partly in order to secure that they should be heard distinctly, and partly to give them solemnity as the Word of God to the church, and through the church to the world. This custom also had been known in the jewish [sic] synagogues, even if it was not necessarily always observed in small country places. Between the lessons came the singing of psalms or other canticles from scripture (a chant known in later times as the ‘gradual’ from its being sung by the soloists from the ‘steps’ of the raised lectern), a custom which must have been familiar to our Lord and His apostles, since it was universal in the synagogues of their day.”
  2. For a fuller explanation of these terms, see Williams, Mark. “Psalms in Worship.”


Fr Justin Clemente

Fr. Justin serves as Associate Pastor to the people of Holy Cross Cathedral in Loganville, GA. He was ordained a deacon in December 2015 and as a priest June 2016. In terms of pastoral credentials, he wants you to know he has never owned a pair of skinny jeans. Justin earned his B.A. in Biblical Studies at Trinity College of Florida and earned a Master of Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. He has a supportive and strong homemaking wife (Brooke) of twenty years and six beautiful children (Lucy, Forrest, Copeland, Crosby, Theodore & Clive). If he’s not in church, with his family, or reading, then he is definitely fishing.

'Beauty You Can Afford: Singing the Psalms to Simplified Anglican Chant' have 4 comments

  1. March 3, 2023 @ 4:11 pm Wesley Mcgranor

    A good idea!


    • March 5, 2023 @ 12:05 pm Justin Clemente

      Glad you think so, Wesley! Go for it!


      • March 9, 2023 @ 10:50 am Jackie Crews

        I wasn’t excited about “chanting the Psalms” at first. I appreciated being educated and informed about the practice and love
        to chant the Psalms now as we as a congregation have learned and progressed! Our music director’s lead on the piano is very helpful as is our priest and his guitar, in our music director’s absence.


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