I recently realised that ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’ would make a wonderful two-chord song for beginners and wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before.
It was a song we sang at school right at the start. Reception age, when memories begin. I have memories of other songs from that time, I’m a little teapot, I quite liked the gentleness of Kumbaya. In particular I have a strong memory of finding the tune of ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ moronic and feeling very disgruntled at being made to sing this and clap my hands in affirmation whether I actually felt happy or not. (I never did like ‘forced jollity’ and I suppose this song is the embodiment of that!)
I really was happy when we sang ‘Whole World’, and that feeling as a small child is what I associate the song with. I don’t remember it that clearly, but I remember loving it. There’s something about the rhythm that sets it apart from other songs, something that forces you to swing it and move like you’re in a gospel choir.
Put all that with the fact that the structure is easy to grasp instinctively and only uses two chords. A perfect recipe for happy music-making.
This is the structure throughout-
(see an explanation of harmony writing here)
At my last Big Fat Music Party, we played it as a group in C to suit the piano and ukuleles, and the guitars played it in A with a capo on the 3rd fret. Here are the charts –
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands uke
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands guitar
The pianist played ‘um cha’ on C and G –
(She loves playing this to accompany herself singing).
Because of the gospel feel, I took this opportunity to get people to practice clapping on beats 2 and 4, to the right and then the left. A great exercise which lightens and brings music to life, rather than the dull, lumpy clapping on 1 and 3 which seems to come naturally to us white Europeans, I’m afraid!
There are various different verses, I have put a selection of popular ones in the charts. You can always make up your own. Nina Simone sang, ‘He’s got the gamblin’ man in his hands’ in her achingly beautiful slow chordal version with the sublime descending basslines. Not a two chord version, that one. It changes chord on every beat. I was once asked to write down all the chords to this version, so you can have it too.
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands Nina Simone version
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