The classic hymn ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ is beloved by Christians worldwide for its uplifting message about the comfort we find in Christ. Many church pianists have played this song over the years, leading congregations in singing praise to God.
If you’re looking to learn the chords for ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ on piano, this comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the chords for ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ on piano are C, F, G7, C7, F, C. Now let’s dive into the details…
The History and Background of ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’
The author and original composition
The beloved hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” was written by Joseph Scriven in 1855. Scriven was born in Ireland in 1819 and grew up in County Down. After graduating from Trinity College in Dublin, he moved to Ontario, Canada in 1844 to become a teacher.
There, tragedy struck when his fiancée died in a drowning accident on the eve of their wedding in 1845. Heartbroken, Scriven turned to his Christian faith for comfort. It was during this time of grief that he penned the lyrics to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as a poem titled “Pray Without Ceasing”.
Scriven intended the verses as a source of encouragement for his sick mother in Ireland, to whom he sent the poem anonymously. He did not publish the lyrics himself during his lifetime.
The poem became matched with music and grew into popularity when Charles Converse, an American lawyer and composer, added the tune in 1868. He named the music “Converse” and published it along with Scriven’s lyrics.
Together, the words and music formed the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” that we know today. Over 150 years later, it remains one of the most beloved hymns of the Christian faith, translated into over 40 languages worldwide.
Popularity and significance of the hymn
Since its publication in the late 19th century, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” has become enormously popular, crossing denominations and languages. Ranked among the top 15 hymns of all time, it has been included in over 77 hymnals and has been recorded by prominent artists like Elvis Presley, Mahalia Jackson, and Tennessee Ernie Ford.
According to a United Methodist Church resource, it is estimated that the hymn has been translated into 40 different languages.
The widespread popularity of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” stems from its uplifting message of hope and God’s comfort amidst adversity. The hymn reminds believers that they can find rest and solace in bringing their troubles to the Lord in prayer.
Scriven’s lyrics emphasize God’s grace and the relief found in Christ’s sympathy. For over a century, the hymn has encouraged and sustained Christians through difficulties and trials.
Scriven’s famous opening lines “What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!” highlight the special relationship between God and man. The hymn’s themes of friendship with Christ, prayer, and God’s faithfulness resonate across cultures and eras, providing a timeless source of hope and reassurance for Christians worldwide.
Chord Progression for ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’
The main chords used
The hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” utilizes a simple I-IV-V chord progression in the key of F major. The main chords are:
- F – The I (one) chord, centered on the key note F.
- Bb – The IV (four) chord, provides a subtle shift from the tonic.
- C – The V (five) chord, creates motion back towards the tonic F chord.
This I-IV-V pattern gives the hymn a bright, uplifting sound that befits its hopeful lyrics about turning to Jesus in times of trouble. The repetitive nature also makes it easy for worshippers to quickly pick up and sing along.
Chord changes by verse and chorus
The chords remain the same throughout each verse and chorus of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The pattern simply repeats in the following sequence:
- F – Bb – C (x2)
- F – Bb – C (x2)
- F – Bb – C
So each verse and chorus contains 7 total chord changes, following that I-IV-V pattern. This consistent repetition is common in hymns and helps drive home the central message of relying on Jesus’ comfort and aid.
Occasionally the final C chord may be extended if musicians want to embellish the ending.
Tips for Playing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ on Piano
Left hand positioning
When playing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ on piano, proper left hand positioning is essential for executing the hymn’s chordal accompaniment. Here are some tips for left hand technique:
- Keep wrists and knuckles relaxed to avoid tension.
- Curve fingers so fingertips play on pads for a round, full tone.
- Use the pinky finger on bottom notes of chords to reach full voicings.
- Keep wrists higher than knuckles so hands aren’t flat on keys.
- Aim for a legato left hand style, connecting chords smoothly.
Positioning the left hand correctly allows fluid shifts between chords and creates a steady, supportive foundation for the melody.
Making smooth chord changes
Mastering smooth chord changes is vital for a polished performance of ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus.’ Here are some tips:
- Analyze chord progressions to understand harmonic movement.
- Isolate tricky changes and practice transitions slowly at first.
- Keep unused fingers close to keys to minimize hand movement.
- Use pedal to connect disjunct chords and create legato.
- Lead with weaker fingers when crossing over stronger ones.
Planning ahead for chord changes and keeping efficiency in mind when shifting hand positions results in seamless transitions between accompaniment chords.
Varying dynamics and articulation
Adding expressive nuances like dynamics and articulation brings ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ to life at the piano. Consider incorporating:
- Crescendos and decrescendos on rising and falling phrases.
- Accents on downbeats to emphasize rhythm.
- Staccato touches on repeated notes and chords.
- Legato lines to connect melodic fragments smoothly.
- Rubato by slightly stretching or compressing tempo.
Applying a range of articulations reveals the hymn’s lyrical beauty. Thoughtful use of dynamics creates natural rise and fall within phrases. Implementing variations in touch and volume adds expressive interest to the hymn.
Other Arrangements and Variations
Simplified versions for beginners
“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is a beautiful but somewhat challenging hymn for beginning pianists. Many simplified arrangements in easier keys with reduced hand movement are available. These help students learn this classic song when they are just starting out on piano.
Some simplify the left hand into single bass notes or basic chords. The right hand is often adapted to have melodies within a 5-finger position. Teachers may also create their own easy versions for students by transposing to a better key or rewriting difficult parts.
With practice over time, beginners can advance to fuller arrangements of this encouraging hymn.
More advanced arrangements
“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” has been arranged at many levels for more experienced pianists. There are standard hymnal versions in keys like G major or E-flat major using basic chords and melodies.
Then there are more advanced piano solo and duet arrangements by publishers like Alfred and Hal Leonard. These may add stylistic variations, richer harmonies, descant melodies, modulations, arpeggios, and more. Some incorporate jazz, ragtime, Latin, or contemporary rhythms.
Advanced pianists can also find sheet music for solo concert arrangements or accompaniments for choirs and vocalists. Performing more complex versions allows experienced players to explore the musical possibilities in this hymn.
Instrumental and choral versions
While piano remains the most popular for “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” many other instrumental and choral arrangements exist. There are organ, orchestral, and band settings for church or concert use.
Other instruments like guitar, violin, saxophone, handbells, and more have special solo or group versions too. Vocalists can find choral octavos for choirs or smaller ensembles. PraiseCharts alone offers over 50 different arrangement types.
Exploring these can breathe new musical life into this treasured hymn and allow sharing its uplifting lyrics in fresh ways with wider audiences.
With its timeless message of hope and reassurance in Christ, ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ continues to uplift and inspire. Now that you know the chord progression and have tips for playing this hymn on piano, you can confidently lead others in singing this beautiful song.
Let the truth of its lyrics wash over you as you play: ‘What a privilege to carry, Everything to God in prayer.’ What a friend we have in Jesus indeed.