Acoustic Hymns: The Old Rugged Cross

The Hymn Refresh Series Continues!


Old rugged cross is a classic hymn, but the slow, old school gospel tone doesn’t live up to the celebratory nature of the lyrics. Jason -- our lead guitar instructor --  wanted to create a more upbeat version of the song to match the joyful spirit of this worship essential. Try this version of the Old Rugged Cross hymn for an acoustic refresh of the classic. No tambourine or harmonica necessary (but we do like them).

Watch to the end for helpful tips and tricks about finger placement, and notes on how to play this faster, fresh version of Old Rugged Cross.


The Old Rugged Cross chords

Here is a chord chart for the Old Rugged Cross. Instead of slowing the hymn down, this faster version amps up the verses and chorus, making it a ton of fun to play.  

You can play this lively version of Old Rugged Cross on either piano or guitar and it will still sound awesome. Of course, you can always add a harmonica or tambourine to spice things up and add more dimension, as Jason did here, but with this version of the hymn you really don’t even need it.

Jason Houtsma serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA, Husband to Alli, Father to Bjorn and Asher, and guitar instructor for

Acoustic Hymns: The Old Rugged Cross

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I love it! This looks just like something that I would do. I might get some weird looks at first until everyone gets caught up in the sheer joy of it all. Then they'd all be too busy dancing and clapping and singing along to have "sour Christian syndrome" anymore. Thanks, Jason, for the joyful reinterpretation.

Sometimes a little intro

helps get things going. Church is a celebration of Christ. Might as well actually celebrate :)


Thanks for doing "The Old Rugged Cross." I'm just now getting the intro to "Come Thou Fount" down. A little more work and I should have it down and up to speed. I might of missed you saying this in the video but is your version in 3/4 time or 4/4? The reason I ask is because the slow version I do is in 3/4.

I changed it to 4/4

The 3/4 feel just felt the same every way I played it.

Very cool

Great job! Love the upbeat tempo, harmonica and tambourine! There have been several hymns that I've tried to spice up as well. At times you don't necessarily need to change any arrangements but implementing a faster strum pattern (while keeping the same overall cadence of the original) can give the song the lift it needs. Adding a splash of tambourine is a good touch as well. Speaking of tambourine, what are you using in this video? There have been moments in our group where we could use one, but not enough people to play it. What device are you using?


P.S. I'm eagerly looking forward to more installments of Acoustic Hymns!

My "device" is pretty lo-fi

It's literally just a tambourine laying on a small piece of egg crate foam. The foam gives it enough room to bounce back. At church the floor is wood so I usually don't even use the foam because the stomp gets some sound from the floor as well. Marcus Mumford uses a drum pedal and the guy from The Dodos used to duct tape one to foot. I think it's pretty much a whatever works scenario. One thing I would advise is to only use it to give a song a lift. I try to keep it to choruses for the most part. You'll tire your leg out quick.

lo-fi fits my budget

I researched "kick tambourines" and got some results such as the pedal you described as well as a tiny tambourine that straps to one's foot. But in your case, you have a tambourine just sitting on a piece of foam and you stomp on it. That is lo-fi. ha ha! We currently have a tambourine in our group and it gets limited use. Mostly as you described, choruses and accents to give the song a lift. When our tambourine player can't play it, due to playing a different instrument, it sounds as if giving it a kick will do the trick. Thanks for the tip!


Nice Update!

Thanks for bringing upbeat joy to this classic! It says a lot about a song when you can sing it introspectively as well as up-tempo and "festive." Nice job on the harmonica, too! Will we be having harmonica lessons on Worship Artistry any time in the future?! You're a regular one-man band :)


Is actually fairly easy to learn but not quite as easy as some folks try to make it. I usually try and find a simple melody and stick to that. It drives me crazy when blowing in and out in rhythm Is called "playing" harmonica.


Keep them coming!

Are you washed in the blood... There's power in the blood...


Thank you!


Love it! We do a lot of hymns at our church, remixes like these are a perfect fit.
Just a few suggestions:
How Deep The Father's Love, How Great Thou Art, It is Well, Be Thou My Vision,
Blessed Assurance, and Jesus Paid it All


YES AGAIN! I have sung this version endless around my house for 2 days now. My 4 year old is picking it up. It's some much more celebratory. It's evolving into a little blues edge for me though. Start getting excited and the soul starts creeping out.

Also, a 2nd for be thou my vision. I'd love to here your take on that one.

Thanks man, love the site, starting to really love the community and looking forward to what is next. Whens the worship community get together??? :) Be Blessed

My dream

is to get this community together in an actual physical space.

Be Thou My Vision is next. I've got 2 St. Patrick themed hymns for this month. Stay tuned.

We did this yesterday!

Thanks for this version, Jason. Our worship team used this version in our service yesterday - we had an acoustic guitar (me), a piano, and 4 female vocalists, and a shaker. No harmonica or tambourine, and we played in G (no capo) to make it easier for the female voices, but it was fun, raucous, and with almost a bluegrass feel! Thanks again!

Warms my heart!

We need to set up an open mic thread where we can let folks post their own versions :)

Reminds me of playing my banjo in a traditiback in the lare 50s.

This tune was popular amongs British Tarditional Jazz bands back in the late 50s and I recall accompaying a lone clarinet player on my Plectrum G Banjo, it was done a little slower than Jason's version but in 4:4. Here is a nice version and this is more like how we used to play it:

Old Rugged Cross

That's Awesome to hear you play that with an upbeat tempo. My Mom loves that song. Can you play around with an electric guitar to back up the acoustic? That would be great if you get the time to figure that out.

I would like to hear an old hymn that no one ever plays or sings anymore but I heard it all the time when I was a kid. It would be cool to hear you come up with a contemporary version of that.

Onward Christian Soldiers

Glad you enjoyed it

Not sure if I can pull off the lead in a video but I'll give the other song a look