Shape Note Singing in Florida

Woman leading Sacred Harp singing at the Bethlehem Primitive Baptist Church - Old Chicora, Florida

Triangle, circle, square and diamond – these four simple shapes were used to teach people to sing throughout the United States during the 19th century. “Shape note singing,” as it was called by the traveling music teachers that spread it throughout the country, helped amateur singers navigate the melodies and harmonies of church music.

Floridians have been singing from shape note books like The Sacred Harp since the mid-19th century and continue to do so today at all-day singings around the state.

This educational unit provides photographs, audio recordings and documents from the Florida Folklife Collection that demonstrate the place shape note singing has held in the cultural life of Floridians from the 1800s to the contemporary era. A brief history of this tradition is included along with lesson plans and other resources.

Thanks to the work done by the Florida Folklife Program, much of the shape note singing culture is well-documented. Audio recordings, photographs and supporting materials are housed in the State Library and Archives of Florida.