Everything you would need to know about performing Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise” with your choir.

The song was on the “Adoration: Live in Atlanta” album by Richard Smallwood and Vision, released in 1996.

It is hugely popular in the gospel music world. It is not a simple song to learn or perform, but many choirs include it in their repertoire.

A masterpiece of songwriting, “Total Praise” is regarded by many as their favorite gospel choir song ever.


Overview of the song “Total Praise”

The song is in the key of Db. It is written for three-part choir (soprano, alto, and tenor). On the original recording it is accompanied by piano, drums, and string orchestra.

The most beloved thing about this song is the choral harmony. Each syllable brings another beautiful chord, forming a progression through the lyrical line. It starts off sweet and peaceful on the opening (“Lord, I will lift mine eyes to the hills . . .”) and gradually builds more and more tension as it goes through next lines. When they reach the word “storm”, you can feel the energy that has built up and is then released as the choir lets loose on “You are the source of my strength; You are the strength of my life.”

Following that climax, the choir comes back down on “I lift my hands in total praise to you”, with a descending line that soothing and sweet and then goes straight into the other high point of the song, the dramatic “Amen” done in four inversions.


Songwriter and publisher info for “Total Praise”

“Total Praise” was written by Richard Smallwood, one of the most accomplished and admired gospel songwriters ever.

The publishing company is UNIVERSAL MUSIC-Z SONGS.

A mechanical license for recording “Total Praise” can be purchased through the Easy Song Licensing, Limelight Licensing, or the Harry Fox Agency.

Performance and broadcast licensing is available through BMI.


Video of the original recording

by Richard Smallwood and Vision


Buy the recording


Poll: How do you feel about “Total Praise”?

"Total Praise" by Richard Smallwood is:


Does your choir sing "Total Praise" by Richard Smallwood?


Teaching “Total Praise” to your choir

Points to keep in mind

  • It’s a complex song.
    • The notes the choir sings form some unusual chords, so it’s not the kind of song where you can just teach the soprano part and everyone else will automatically know what to sing.
    • It will probably take more rehearsal time to learn “Total Praise” than it takes to learn a typical gospel choir song. So make sure that you plan for enough time, at several rehearsals, for your choir to be able to learn the parts well.
  • It may help to encourage your choir members to get practice tracks (available from that they can listen to on their own time to practice their individual parts.
  • There are some serious high notes in the song.
      • “Total Praise” starts in a lower range, but at the end it does get high. The highest note the sopranos sing is an F (an octave and a half above middle C), the highest alto note is a Db, and the highest tenor note is an Ab.
      • If your choir members have trouble with notes that high, you might want to change the key or rearrange the parts.
  • If your choir reads sheet music:
    • There is sheet music available for “Total Praise”. There is three-part (SAT) sheet music (which is the original arrangement), and also a four-part (SATB) arrangement.


Get the choir parts for “Total Praise”

You can buy mp3 files with practice tracks for the soprano, alto, and tenor parts from



Other “Total Praise” resources

Lyrics to “Total Praise” — From
Chords to “Total Praise” — From
“Total Praise” MIDI file (instrumental) — Done by Dave Longenecker. Featured on

Accompaniment tracks for “Total Praise” — Very nice ones from 99 cents each. They have one in the original key (Db) and also one in Bb.

Total Praise sheet music — SAT & piano — This is the official sheet music for Total Praise. For three-part choir, plus piano accompaniment.

Total Praise sheet music — SATB — This sheet music is written for four-part choir. It is not the official version, which is in three parts.


The hymnal arrangement of “Total Praise”

from the African-American Heritage Hymnal

The arrangement (done by Stephen Key) of “Total Praise” in the African-American Heritage Hymnal changes the alto and tenor parts on some portions of the song.
In the places where the notes go the highest, the alto and tenor parts get switched. The altos sing the part that the tenors had on the original recording, and the tenors sing the part that the altos had, but an octave lower. The advantage of this is that the sopranos can still hit their beautiful high notes without the tenors and altos having to go so high. This could make the song much more accessible for some choirs.



The Donnie McClurkin version is popular, too

Donnie McClurkin did a rendition of “Total Praise” on his album Psalms Hymns & Spiritual Songs.


Other versions of “Total Praise”

“Total Praise” is a very popular song for other choirs and groups to cover.

The Howard University Gospel Choir features it as one of their signature songs. I like the ending they do on it, the way they use the sopranos.

The Churches of Christ All Conference Choir does it a cappella in four parts, with a really cool bass part (even though they have some of the notes wrong on the tenor part).



How to play Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise” on piano

A tutorial by ExtremeKeyboard (in two parts)



More choir songs by this brilliant songwriter!

If you love “Total Praise”, check out more of Richard Smallwood’s music

The page below is my compilation of the very best choir songs that Richard Smallwood has released in his decades-long career:

Richard Smallwood Singers first album cover.


This song is my Christmas gift to everyone


When Christ Was Born is a lovely gospel choir song for Christmas. It has an African choral feel to it, and it’s easy to learn and easy to sing.

I wrote this song in 1995, and I’ve taught it to choirs at my own church and other churches. It always goes over well when it’s sung in services and programs.

On this page you can hear and download a demo version of When Christ Was Born for free. This page also has the complete lyrics to the song. I hope you enjoy learning, teaching, and sharing this sweet Christmas song.


(This picture is the cover graphic that I used when I made a CD version of When Christ Was Born with some friends of mine. The graphic was made by the guy from the company that manufactured the CD package, Cargill Consultants, Inc. Unfortunately, he didn’t include his name on the credits.)


Video: Demo recording of “When Christ Was Born” – with lyrics


This video uses the same demonstration recording that you can download for free on this page. It’s just me multi-tracking myself.


How “When Christ Was Born” was written

I was driving when I wrote it. Yep, really.

The first seed of the song came earlier, when I was listening to some African music on the radio at home. I heard a little two-note rhythm and shape that I thought would be great opening for a “Hallelujah” (although the song on the radio took it in a very different direction and had other words). That little seed of an idea just stayed in the back of my mind for a long time.

Then, one night in November of 1995, I was driving home from a church convention (in San Bernardino, as I recall, or maybe Ontario). As I was driving I was thinking that I’d like to write a song for our upcoming Christmas concert. I wanted to write something that would have a different sound from the standard Christmas carols. Then I remembered that little “Hallelujah” idea and decided to try making a song that drew on a bit of the feeling of the South African choirs that I love so much, like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, etc. I started putting pieces together in my mind as I continued driving, and by the time I got back to Los Angeles, the song was just about done.

And don’t worry, I’ve done all the paperwork to get it copyrighted.The Library of Congress Registration Number is PAu002042251



The first performance . . .

Image shared on Wikimedia Commons by Alina Zienowicz.

Image shared on Wikimedia Commons by Alina Zienowicz.

. . . almost didn’t happen.

The choir that was having the Christmas concert was the District Choir that I direct, which is a mass choir made up of several churches. So any songs that were suggested for the concert had to be approved by the head of the district.

I made a quick tape recording of myself and a few relatives singing the song (after Thanksgiving dinner) and sent it to him. I was hoping that he would get the idea of the nature of the song in spite of the roughness of the tape recording. He didn’t. He called me and politely suggested that he had some other Christmas music in mind that he was hoping I would consider. I negotiated with him to let me try the song one time in rehearsal and then we could decide whether it should be included in the concert program (I had already started teaching it to some of the choir members at my own church, so I was confident that it would sound just as good with the whole district). He agreed to give it a try.

Things went great in the district rehearsal and I got the green light to include “When Christ Was Born” in the concert. The District Choir did a lovely job on it at the concert and it has been done in several Christmas services since then.

Free download of “When Christ Was Born”

This is a living-room recording I made of the song. It’s me, multi-tracked, singing all the parts along with a very simple piano and percussion track. You’re free to download it, learn it, teach it to your own choir, and sing it in your church.

When Christ Was Born

words/music by Joan Alexander (Hall)

(right-click to download)



Lyrics to “When Christ Was Born”

by Joan Alexander-Hall


The angels sang in heaven, the night when Christ was born

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

They told the humble shepherds, about the holy child

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Oh holy night, when Christ was born, Hallelujah

The wise men came to worship, the night when Christ was born

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

They journeyed from the East, to the place where Jesus lay

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Oh holy night, when Christ was born, Hallelujah

He came to be our Savior, He came to set us free

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The holy one from heaven, lying in the bed of hay

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Oh holy night, when Christ was born, Hallelujah


CD version

I made a CD of When Christ Was Born back in 1997 with some friends of mine. The name we gave our group was The Apostolic Project.

The CD was a single with two Christmas songs. One was When Christ Was Born, and the other was a song called Glory, which is a cappella and has a Baroque feel to it.

The recording came out pretty good, but not completely the way I hear it in my head. I’m very grateful, though, to the wonderful people who devoted so much time and energy to learning the song and recording it with me. I love you guys.

If you see any websites with this CD listed at a high price, don’t buy it! There are some sites that seem to just feature anything that’s listed at CD Baby without knowing what it is. I have seen sites trying to charge full album price for this CD when it’s a single that only has two songs on it.

Both songs are available as MP3 downloads at Amazon.


Tips for performing “When Christ Was Born”

Angelic Choir of the Nativity.  Ancient Greek painting.  Public domain.

Angelic Choir of the Nativity. Ancient Greek painting. Public domain.

I do When Christ Was Born in G. If you’re working with gospel musicians, they might prefer Ab, which will work fine as well.

I originally wrote the song for a 3-part choir — Soprano, Alto, and Tenor — because that’s the most common configuration for contemporary gospel choirs. The altos sing the main words on the verses, with accents from the tenors and sopranos. All of the parts sing together on portions of the verses and on the chorus.

I added a Bass part later and have taught it that way to 4-part choirs, which was great for me because I’m a big fan of 4-part singing.

Choirs like the song because it doesn’t have any notes that are painfully high.

The 3-part version would definitely need the instrumental accompaniment to have a full sound. The 4-part version would probably sound good with nothing but the percussion, especially if the basses added a low hum on the G underneath the altos when they do their part.

For accompaniment I use one keyboard instrument (either piano, electric keyboard, or organ) and bongos to keep the African feeling going. At the end of the song, when we get to the repeating chorus, I usually have the keyboard drop out after a couple of repeats and finish the song with just the choir and the bongos.

On the final “hallelujah” that closes the song, I have the choir hold out the syllable “LE” for a while — “Halle – – – – – – – – – – – lujah”.

Practice tracks and sheet music

WhenChristWasBorn-scoreYou can purchase individual practice tracks for the Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass parts from

There is sheet music there as well (vocals only) in PDF format.

Here’s the link: When Christ Was Born — choir parts and sheet music.

Want to make my day? Record my song!

I would love to see other choirs make recordings of any of my songs, especially When Christ Was Born.

If you want to record it, just send me an email informing me that you plan to do it. Royalties would be at the regular statutory rate and could be done through PayPal, nice and easy.

Church choir music for memorial services

(gravesite photo by GrzegorzPetka at Wikimedia Commons)

(gravesite photo by GrzegorzPetka at Wikimedia Commons)

What should the choir sing at the funeral?

Funeral, memorial service, celebration of life, homegoing. Whatever they call the service, it is one that will be remembered for a long time. A tribute to someone who was a beloved part of a community.

In most Christian funerals, the music selected is hopeful, focusing on the expectation of eternal life. In some instances, the “homegoing service” will be a genuinely uplifting occasion, with feelings of joy and inspiration right along with the tears and memories. And the soul-stirring sounds of gospel music can be an unforgettable addition to the program for any Christian memorial service.

Here are suggestions of some of my favorite gospel songs for choirs to sing during funeral services.

And please, if you have a suggestion for a good gospel choir song for a funeral, please add your song!

Index of choir songs for funerals

Below is a list of the songs that are currently profiled on this page.

With each song I will also give my opinion about how easy or hard each song is for the singers and for the musicians. These difficulty levels are expressed on a scale of 1 to 5, so “1/5″ means that a song is very easy, while “5/5″ means that it is very challenging. In my opinion, anyway; you’re free to disagree.

Click on a title to go straight to that song.

Bye and Bye

by the Georgia Mass Choir

“Bye and bye, bye and bye
When I reach, that home, beyond the sky
The wicked will cease from troubling
And the weary will be at rest
Every day will be Sunday by and by”
An old-fashioned foot-stomper.

Tempo: Fast
Key: Bb

Resource links:

Difficulty level:

  • For singers: 2/5
  • For musicians: 2/5

Lead singer required? Yes

Going Up Yonder

by Walter Hawkins

Going Up Yonder by Walter Hawkins

“I’m going up yonder,
Going up yonder,
Going up yonder,
To be with my Lord”

This is THE definitive gospel funeral song.

Tempo: Moderate
Key: Db

Resource links:

Difficulty level:

  • For singers: 2/5
  • For musicians: 2/5
  • Lead singer required? You can get by without one if you need to.

I’ll Fly Away

by Hezekiah Walker

I’ll Fly Away by Hezekiah Walker

“I’ve got a home in the sky
Gonna tell this world goodbye
You see I’m gonna fly away . . .
I will be free, free one day”

A lively song with a contemporary sound.

Tempo: Fast
Key: Eb

Resource links:

Difficulty level:

  • For singers: 3/5
  • For musicians: 3/5
  • Lead singer required? Optional.

I’ll Fly Away

by Sounds of Blackness

I’ll Fly Away by Sounds of Blackness

“I’m going to fly away
In the morning, children
I’m going to fly away”

A stirring arrangement of this hymn, with a soulful traditional gospel sound.

Tempo: Slow, with a strong beat
Key: Bb

Difficulty level:

  • For singers: 3/5
  • For musicians: 2/5
  • Lead singer required? Yes.

I’m Free

by Milton Brunson and the Thompson Community Singers

I’m Free by the Thompson Community Singers

“I’m free, praise the Lord I’m free
No longer bound, no more chains holding me
My soul is resting, and it’s a blessing
Praise the Lord, hallelujah, I’m free”

This is an easy one for the congregation to catch onto and sing along.

Tempo: Slow
Key: Db

Resource links:

Difficulty level:

  • For singers: 1/5
  • For musicians: 1/5
  • Lead singer required? Not necessarily. There is a lead on the recording, but he just sings the same verse that the choir does right after.

I’m Going Away

by Walter Hawkins

I’m Going Away by Walter Hawkins

“I’m going away, I’m going away
To a place, prepared just for me
A special place, I’ll live eternally”

This one is a favorite, especially the final chorus. It has some progressive harmonies, so if you want to do it the authentic way it will take some rehearsal time.

Tempo: Moderate
Key: Db, then Gb

Resource links:

Difficulty level:

  • For singers: 4/5
  • For musicians: 3/5
  • Lead singer required? Yes.


by James Cleveland

Jerusalem by James Cleveland

“When the battle is over, we shall wear a crown
In the new Jerusalem”

A stately anthem with lovely harmonies.

Difficulty level:

  • For singers: 3/5
  • For musicians: 3/5
  • Lead singer required: You could do it without the lead verse, but it’s better with it.

Soon As I Get Home

by Thomas Whitfield

Soon as I Get Home by Thomas Whitfield

“I shall wear a crown, I shall wear a crown
When it’s all over, when it’s all over
I’m going to put on my robe, tell the story how I made it over
Soon as I get home”

This song has some of the most exquisite harmonies in the whole gospel choir repertoire. It starts gently and builds intensity leading up to a powerful closing.

Tempo: Slow
Key: Eb

Resource links:

Difficulty level:

  • For singers: 4/5
  • For musicians: 3/5
  • Lead singer required? No.

Till We Meet Again

by Kirk Franklin

Till We Meet Again by Kirk Franklin

“May His peace be with you, till we meet again”

Contemporary sounding, but also touching and sweet.

Tempo: Slow
Key: Eb

Resource links:

Difficulty level:

  • For singers: 3/5
  • For musicians: 3/5
  • Lead singer required? Optional.

Well Done

by Mark Hubbard

(this is the album that “Well Done” is on; it’s not available as a single)

“What do you want the Lord to say?
Well done, my good and faithful servant
That’s what I want the Lord to say
That is what I want the Lord to say”

Difficulty level:

  • For singers: 2/5
  • For musicians: 2/5
  • Lead singer required? Yes, but the lead has a very small part.

This album is out of print, but there are some copies available from resellers. The CD has 9 songs on it; “Well Done” is track #4.

Angels Will Be Singing

by Edwin Hawkins

“Angels will be singin’
Joy bells will be ringin’
They’ll all welcome me when I get home”

It’s really a shame that this song (and album) are out of print.

Tempo: Moderately fast
Key: Bbm

And remember, if there’s a particular song that was a favorite of the deceased, it always makes a touching addition to the music for the memorial service, even if the song isn’t “on topic”.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

Psalm 116:15


(photo of rehearsal with Eric Whitacre from Flickr, courtesy vocalessence)

You hear a choir song that’s just fantastic, but you know that it will be a serious challenge for your choir to learn it. Can you do it?

Gospel choirs love to sing songs that are easy and natural to learn, but there’s a lot of wonderful music that takes more work to learn and sing well. These songs can be a blessing and inspiration in your church, and it’s worth the time and effort it takes to learn them.

If you, the choir director, want to teach your choir a song that’s a bit difficult, you need to plan and prepare beforehand the best way to present the song and how to help your choir in learning the material. This page gives tips for how to help your gospel choir learn challenging material.

Contents on this page

These are the topics covered on teaching difficult songs

First, make sure you know the basics

Here’s a link to another page that covers the fundamentals on teaching ANY song to a gospel choir.  Whether the song is easy or hard, there are some practices that are always recommended.

How to Teach a Choir Song: The Basics

Once you know the fundamentals of song teaching, you’ll be ready to take on teaching more complex material.





Choosing the song that you will teach your choir

What’s too hard and what’s not?

Anthem Of Praise by Richard Smallwood

Know your choir members. Before you pick any song for your choir, you need to get to know your choir members and their abilities. and be really sure that they can do it. It’s OK if it’s a stretch, but don’t pick something that’s totally out of their reach.

Listen to the way that your choir sings now. How strong are they on harmonies? How do they do with fancy rhythms? How well do they hit high notes? This can give you an idea of what type of more complex songs they would be ready for.



How does your choir respond to material that might be difficult to learn?


Prepare the song well

Preparation is important with any song, but especially with hard songs!

Learn the song inside and out. Once you’ve chosen a song, the first thing you need to do is get familiar with it yourself. When you teach the song, you want to be totally comfortable and confident. So you need to get to know the song yourself backward, forward, and sideways. Practice it on your own until you know every part down pat and can sing them all with ease.

I Will Bless the Lord - chartKeep the parts straight. Make sure that you’re certain about what the starting notes are for the sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses on each portion of the song. It’s easy to get mixed up during a rehearsal and starting teach the wrong line to the wrong section of the choir. I like to chart out what all the parts are using scale tones. The picture at the right is an example. You can click this link to see it larger -> Chart for “I Will Bless the Lord”. Often I’ll have a paper like that with me when I’m teaching in case I need a reminder.

Help is available. Another resource for working out the parts on choir songs is, where you can get downloadable MP3 files with individual practice for soprano, alto, tenor, and/or bass parts. You can listen to them to train yourself on the parts, and you could also send your choir members to the site to get the parts for their own learning and practice.



Plan the way that you will teach the song

Caught Up by James Hall

Have a lesson plan for your song. Once you know the song yourself, make a plan for how you want to teach it. Most of the time when a choir director teaches a song, they will start with the first passage of the song and teach the soprano part first, then the alto, then the tenor. But I’ve found that with more complicated material it helps a lot if you choose the right “entry point” for teaching the song. Start with whatever passage you can get the choir flowing with and enjoying. If you do that, they will be more motivated to learn the difficult parts.

I remember one time when I was teaching a song where the most complicated part was the introduction. I felt that if I started teaching it straight from the beginning, there was a possibility that some of the choir members would make a quick decision that song was “too hard” and they didn’t like it. So I planned to start with a passage in the middle that was somewhat challenging but very pretty, then add to that the easy part that came right before it. This would get the choir flowing really well with the main body of the song. Then I could teach the ending part with the high notes, and then teach the introduction LAST. I’m happy to say that the plan worked very well and the choir did a great job on that song.


Consider giving them their parts before the rehearsal. If you decide to use practice tracks as a part of your teaching, you can either have the choir members download the practice tracks they need or you can make them practice CDs. Either way, this can make it possible for the choir to start hearing their parts before the get to the rehearsal.


Plan the rehearsals

Hallelujah Lord by Sounds of Blackness

Plan for plenty of rehearsal time. When you’re doing complex music, you’re going to need more rehearsal time. Start rehearsing the song far enough in advance of when you plan to sing it so that you can have enough rehearsal and put enough time into practicing the song.

Plan for where to place the song in the rehearsal. Sometimes if I’m going to be working on several songs in one rehearsal, I try to go over the most challenging song late in the rehearsal. My theory is that whatever song we practice last, that’s the one that will be “stuck” in everybody’s minds after rehearsal is over, which will help them remember it more. This might work for your choir, or they might have less energy for working on difficult material after they’ve already sung four other songs. Experiment and see what’s right for your group.

Consider doing sectional rehearsals. If you separate the sopranos, alto, tenors, and basses, and have them practice by themselves, there is less downtime and more real practicing can happen. For this idea to work, you would need to either: 1) Have section leaders who know the song just as well as you do and are capable of doing good teaching, or 2) Have the different choir sections come in to rehearse with you at different times. Something that I did for one project was to have a selected section come to rehearsal half an hour earlier than the rest of the choir to do a sectional rehearsal right before the main rehearsal.

And He Shall Purify from the album Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration


Presenting the song in rehearsal

OK, now we’re actually in rehearsal. What do we do?

Should you use the word “hard”? I don’t think so. There are some directors who do say to their choirs, “This song is hard!”, but I think that can discourage a choir. I will often say things like, “This song is going to take some work.” I think that communicates that I know they can do it, even though we’ll be putting a lot of time and effort into it. The only time I use the word “hard” is AFTER they finish something (“that was the hardest part of the song right there, the rest is easier”).

Drill, baby, drill! Do lots of repetition. And again I say, do lots of repetition (did I repeat that?). Just because they sing something perfectly one time doesn’t mean it will stay. The things we remember are the things we do over and over. Once you’ve done a passage right a few times, go on to the next passage, then go back and do the two passages again together. When you’ve gone over the whole song (or all the portions of the song you’re going to be rehearsing that day), sing it all one more time from the top. Repetition drills it into the brain.

Should you play the recording for them? I think that varies from choir to choir. For practical reasons, it can help the choir understand what the song is supposed to sound like. And some singers may find it inspiring and fall in love with the song. But others might get discouraged and think, “no way are we ever going to sound like that!” Again you have to know your people. If you do decide to play the recording, only do it once. Practicing along to the recording is a bad idea. It makes it difficult to hear your own singers and really tell whether they got the parts right. It may also cause them to use the recording as a crutch and feel like they can’t sing without it.


Deciding when they’re ready to sing it

Come Unto Me by Take 6

How “perfect” do you want them to sound? You should have your own standard for what you expect from your choir. A director at a huge church that broadcasts their worship service on TV will be looking for a sound that’s almost like a professional recording. But a choir in an average setting should understand that there is a level of performance that they can achieve that will be good enough to be a blessing to the service. When you are singing the song to the best of YOUR ability, then you’re ready to share it with your church.

Sometimes when you’re about to do really challenging material, people will get nervous. As the performance day gets closer, people may voice doubts . . . maybe we should wait a few more weeks on this one . . . maybe we’re not ready . . . can’t we just sing Jesus Is Real again?

Business guru Seth Godin talks a lot about “shipping”. Shipping is when you take the product you’ve been working on and get it out the door and released to the public. And something that happens a lot in business is that fear creeps in when it gets close to a shipping date. All kinds of reasons get tossed around for why it’s not ready, why it might fail, why the shipping date should be pushed back a little.

It’s the same with our music ministry. All of us have a little bit of that voice of fear within us that will NEVER be ready to do anything risky. We have to overcome that voice of fear if we’re ever going to do anything that will challenge us, stretch us, and cause us to grow. If we’re trying to wait until “everything is perfect”, we’ll never grow. Decide beforehand how good is good enough for your choir and your church, and when you reach that level, then SHIP.