Sacred Harp singing is a tradition of sacred choral music that originated in the American South of the United States. The name is derived from The Sacred Harp, a ubiquitous and historically important tunebook printed in shape notes. The work was first published in 1844 and has reappeared in multiple editions ever since. Sacred Harp music represents one branch of an older tradition of American music that developed over the period 1770 to 1820 from roots in New England, with a significant, related development under the influence of "revival" services around the 1840s. This music was included in, and became profoundly associated with, books using the shape note style of notation popular in America in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Sacred Harp music is performed a cappella (voice only, without instruments) and originated as Protestant Christian music.
The name of the tradition comes from the title of the shape-note book from which the music is sung, The Sacred Harp. This book exists today in various editions.
When Sacred Harp singers begin a song, they normally start by singing it with the appropriate syllable for each pitch, using the shapes to guide them. For those in the group not yet familiar with the song, the shapes help with the task of sight reading. The process of reading through the song with the shapes also helps fix the notes in memory. Once the shapes have been sung, the group then sings the verses of the song with their printed words.