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Sweet is the Work

The chords:

No hard chords in this song, unless you absolutely cannot play barre chords. If that’s the case, or if you cannot hit the final GIII chord in rhythm, substitute a normal G. It won’t sound quite as good for a final resolution, but it won’t sound bad. Only you will know the difference.

The rest of the chords are just your old friends G, D, D7, and C, with two miniscule exceptions. D/A is just a normal D chord, but you play the open A string, instead of damping or omitting it, as usual. This is important, as the melody depends on this note, but it’s no harder than playing a normal D

The other exception is GaddD. This is played just like a normal G, except that the second string is fretted in the third space, instead of the first string, which is not played. This is very similar to the hand position required for a normal G, except that it’s actually easier to play! Just be sure not to play the open first string. If this is hard for you, fret the first string in the third space too, and play all six strings. The high G note will distract a bit from the melody, but it’s far better than an open E, which has no place in any G-type chord.


Most of the transitions in this song are quite easy, but there are three spots that can be difficult to play quickly and smoothly, unless you use some easy, but counter-intuitive techniques. 

In the transition from measure [3] to measure [4], you can reach the chord more easily if you fret the final note of [3] with your ring finger. This may feel odd, but it positions your ring finger on the correct string for the D chord in the next measure. For this to work, you will have to do the glissando between measures [2] and [3] with your middle finger. It won’t take much practice for you to see that this is a much faster and smoother way to play this riff.

In measure [14], the chord labelled G7 should really be a G, but it’s a lot easier to get to the G7 hand position from the preceding C. Since the first string is not played anyway, it doesn’t really matter. The notes form a G chord anyway. To avoid confusion, I have shown the way to fret the G7 in the chord diagram, but have placed an X instead of a 0 on the first string, to show that it is fretted but not played. 

The third sticky spot is the trickiest of the lot. It occurs in measure [15]. To smooth the transition to the barred GIII chord, fret the last note of [15], in the fourth space on the fourth string, with your little finger. This positions it handily on the correct string for the following chord. As you make the barre with your index finger, your little finger will just automatically slide up a fret to the fifth space. It’s counter-intuitive, but it really works. To add a bit of expression, you can even allow the little finger to press on the string as it slides, creating a bit of glissando between the notes.


Isaac Watts, the author of this hymn, was born near London, England, on July 17, 1674. He was a precocious child, studying Latin by the age of four, and “writing respectable verses at the age of seven” according to biographical notes in a later Anglican hymnal. At the age of 24, he became assistant minister of the Independent Church in London. In 1702, he became pastor. He suffered from delicate health all his life, but managed to publish over 800 hymns during his lifetime, as well as books of poetry, treatises, sermons, and tracts. Watts died November 25, 1748. There is a monument to his memory in Westminster Abbey.

“Sweet Is the Work” has been sung to several tunes. This one, called “Douglass,” was composed by John J. McClellan, Jr. (April 20, 1874 – August 2, 1925), while he was serving as chief organist of the Salt Lake Tabernacle. McClellan was born in Payson, Utah. By eleven, he was church organist there. He studied music in the US and Europe, was organist of St. Thomas Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, taught music at Brigham Young Academy, forerunner of BYU, and served as pianist for the Salt Lake Opera Company. McClellan became the Tabernacle organist in 1900, where he accompanied the Mormon Tabernacle Choir until 1925, and inaugurated the free weekly organ recitals there.

John J. McClellan is also known for making the first known organ recording, recorded at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City in September 1910, by the Columbia Graphophone Company. Although technically successful, it was never released for publication. 

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