Hymn – What it is, Definition, Characteristics, Types of Hymns and More 


What is the hymn?

It is one of the most important sub-genres of the lyrical genre, recognized as one of the oldest in universal literature, which has managed to maintain itself over time and spread to many areas of the world, standing out with its particular union with other artistic fields such as music. More than a song, the anthem nowadays has become a symbol that allows to identify a country, a collectivity or a nation.

The hymn is a type of composition that although in the beginning was directed in praise to the deities, soon began to be used also as a work to celebrate a specific event, as they are, especially military victories, expressing feelings of happiness and satisfaction.


The term -himno- comes from the Latin hymnus and the Greek hýmnos, which has had several uses throughout history. However, it has kept its same meaning, as it is used to refer to a type of poetic work that is performed in order to praise deities or divinities, but also addressed to characters considered heroes.

Definition of the hymn 

Ultimately, we can define the hymn as a type of poetic, musical or solemn literary composition that is performed in praise of divinities, heroes or certain events such as victories in confrontations. On the other hand, the hymn also defines a type of musical composition that allows the identification of a country or a nation, which are characterized by being marches or lyrical poems, especially.

Origin of the hymn

The hymn is one of the oldest poetic forms in the world, since its birth is located in ancient civilizations, who made the compositions to raise them in praise of the gods of the communities. One of the places of origin of the hymn is located in Greece and Rome, places that after the birth of Christ, already had compositions of hymns that later began to exalt the figure of God within the Christian and Catholic faith.

In the antiquity the hymns were sung with the accompaniment of lyres and harps besides the voices, some with choirs included that divided the stanzas and intervals, they repeated proverbs or other elements incorporated to the composition.

Such was the evolution of the hymn that soon mutated to other types of compositions that besides exalting divinities, began to focus on heroic figures and joyful situations with formal musical compositions that made clear the patriotic feelings, gallantry and bravery, as well as the honor and pride of the nations where they began to develop what will later receive the name of national anthem. This type of anthems arise as a form of vindication of independence from oppression, so anthems such as those originating in South American countries highlight their independence from the conquest of Spain. In this way the national anthems highlight this achievement and give account of the courage of its people before events like these.

What is the hymn

Characteristics of the hymn

To delve deeper into the hymn as a subgenre of the lyric genre, it is necessary to identify key characteristics about its composition, dimensions, etc. These are:


As we mentioned, the hymn has several options of theme, so that its composition should revolve around a particular element, event or character, so that the hymn can maintain a solemn tone that favors the emotionality of the listener and those who feel identified with it.


The person who composes the hymns not only takes into account the values and hopes of a group of people, but also considers the feelings, dreams and strengths of the collectivity, as happens, for example, in the case of national anthems, although obviously many of the other hymns reflect the same characters.

Function of the hymn

The reason why the use of the hymn arises and increases has to do with the idea of praise to the deities, soon begin to exalt figures of important and heroic characters, given its intention to highlight the value and feeling, soon begin to develop compositions that highlighted the honor of the people.


This is one of the main peculiarities of the hymn, given that to be completed it requires an organization based on stanzas that include rhymes, a chorus or a refrain that is repeated at the end of the stanzas.

Literary figures

Hymns are compositions that include literary figures, which allow them to add poetic expressiveness to the content of the hymn, increasing the value of what is being said. Some of the literary figures found in this type of compositions are metaphors, personification, comparison or simile, among others.

Musical accompaniment

The first hymns that were composed were subject to a melodic accompaniment, however, with the passage of time, the plain chant appears, which is distinguished by being a melodic line that can dispense with the accompaniment of musical instruments. It was around the 13th century that the first polyphonic compositions began to appear.

It identifies a community

Referring especially to the case of national anthems, whose themes in principle enclosed events such as independence giving account of the bravery, strength and courage of many of the conquered peoples, the hymn also allows the identification of a community in this line. The hymn can strengthen the identification of a people or a nation containing in its verses events of great meaning and feeling for those close to them.

Religious link

Many experts agree that the most sublime hymns were composed by Saint Thomas Aquinas, who wrote a series of hymns for the feast of Corpus Christi, as well as for the Blessed Sacrament.

Types of hymns

With the passage of time the anthem has incorporated another series of spaces in which its main characteristics are executed, giving rise to other types of anthems among which are:

National anthems

It is one of the best known anthems nowadays, which refers to a song whose work allows identifying a country or a group, through the exaltation of the patriotic feeling. Some of the national anthems are created for this exclusive purpose, although there are others that adopt melodies and poetic compositions that begin to become a symbol of the population only with the passage of time.

Hymn chants

It refers to those spiritual compositions that are not part of the liturgy and are used after the liturgy has passed. In this type of hymns are housed works closer to the popular songs differentiated by canticles, which are written in ecclesiastical Latin and sung by official singers, however they are not sung by the people.

War hymns

A type of hymn, also known as a military hymn, which is intended for use in war, highlighting the values of combatants within armies, for example, and fostering a sense of belonging to the nation they defend and care for.

Sports anthems

In this field we also find a type of hymn that raises the value of sportsmen, given that in this field the feeling of competition that encourages athletes to represent their region or country is propitiated, so that sports hymns are composed in different disciplines.

School hymns

They are also another of the spaces that in addition to distinguish, awaken the sense of belonging of the students and other organs members of the educational spaces, so that hymns are composed for schools, universities and other academic training institutes that highlight the values with which the institution is created, making clear the mission of the same, its objectives and achievements.

Liturgical Hymn

This type of hymn is divided into two groups. On one side the hymn that is part of the sacrifice of the mass and is found in the official books of the liturgy of the mass, called Gradual or the Missal, and on the other side we find the hymn that is part of the liturgy with the canonical prayers, so it is found in the Antiphonary or Breviary.

Types of hymns

How to write a hymn?

Although the composition of this type of work is an important and careful task in terms of its structure and organization, it is important to take into account other aspects that allow us to trace a more visible path for the creation of a hymn. Let’s see:

Initial approach 

This first part includes not only a theoretical approach in which you get to know on a large scale what a hymn consists of, as we have seen throughout this section, but it also involves an approach to important works of this lyrical subgenre. Therefore, it is convenient that you know, read and listen to compositions of well-known hymns, such as those we leave you in the following point with the most important works and authors, but also the hymns that are closer to you, such as the national anthem of your country.

Identify the main theme 

As we saw, hymns can focus on different themes or aspects to start their composition, so the next step is to choose the theme to which the hymn is going to focus. Keep in mind that, in this sense, the composition should be able to collect the feeling of a group, whether it is a soccer team, students of a high school, residents of a region, among others.

Define the intention and use 

The next step is to define the intention with which the hymn is written, which should be limited to aspects such as the awakening of a sense of belonging and unity, for example. In this way we can later define the use and circumstances in which the hymn will be presented or interpreted and the space for it.

Make a brainstorming session

Before you start writing the hymn, it is also necessary to have sketched a series of ideas that will allow you to maintain the objective and intention of the composition. Therefore, what you can do is brainstorm ideas that you write as a list, in which you include aspects that you do not want to overlook, some of these can be values, qualities, characteristics, attitudes and all kinds of elements that are related to the theme of the hymn you are going to write.

If you are writing a hymn for a type of collective, for example, a very good option would be to listen to the opinion of those involved. You can ask about their aspirations for the theme, what makes them proud, and so on. This way you can create a list of key ideas that should be in the anthem.

Remember the structure of the anthem 

Now that you are about to start, it is time to establish the structure of the hymn, which, as we saw, should be in verses and stanzas. Be sure to organize the ideas and your writing according to the limitation of the verses, especially those that will be part of the chorus or refrain.

Do not forget to include the literary figures, which will allow you to add a fascinating poetic expressiveness to the hymn, combine the collected ideas and start composing.

Review the first draft 

As with any composition, one or several drafts will be made at first, which will allow us to perfect the hymn. In them you should review the fulfillment of the objectives set at the beginning, as well as the ideas and the theme on which you wanted to compose, the values and so on.

In addition to this, you should also review other aspects of vital importance such as spelling and ease of understanding, even if it is possible to musicalize. If you know music, this aspect can be reviewed with the writing of the hymn, but if not, then you should look for a musician to take a look at the composition to determine its viability in music or the arrangements that could be made.

Most important authors and works

One of the most important compositions is “God save the queen”, one of the best known hymns in the world, which was adapted by the United Kingdom as its anthem around 1745. Another of the most important hymns is “La marseillaise” or in Spanish “La marsellesa”, hymn of France composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle. There is also “My golden flare”, national anthem of Bangladesh written by Rabindranath musician and poet.

To learn more about lyrical genres and other literary genres, don’t forget to visit our Literature section where you will find these and more topics related to this type of art.