Worship Notes

"Songwriting - Part 2"

In the precious article I taught on the four steps of songwriting.  Now I will share some important elements of every good song.

1)    Singability - Is the song fun and easy to sing?  Do people enjoy singing it?  Or do they struggle to hit the high note in the chorus?  The song should be in a range that is comfortable and easy for the congregation to sing.  One big offender of this (and please don't write me any nasty emails, because I like the song and even do it in our church) is "How Great Thou Art".  No average Joe Congregation member can hit both the highest and lowest notes of that song with ease...no matter what key you put it in.  Your song should be easily singable by most people.

2)    Message - Does the song have something to say?  Or is it just a bunch of shallow lyrics that have no depth to them?  Does the message of the song match the style of the song?  A song that uses childish lyrics should have childish music with it.  Consequently, a childish song belongs in children's ministry, not the main sanctuary.  The song should flow with itself in its own message.  In other words, don't write a song that talks about the Blood, the Holy Spirit, Spiritual warfare, the peace of God, and Mephibosheth's limp...all in one song.

3)    Style - The style of music that you write is an important thing to consider.  Some styles are not popular in some areas or some churches.  Learn what appeals to your congregation.  If your congregation doesn't like Southern Gospel, don't do Southern Gospel.  Some songs that will appeal to people in Birmingham, AL may not appeal to people in Cleveland, OH and vice versa.  Similarly, some songs that will go over well in predominately black churches may not go over well in white churches.  

Whatever the style, make sure it flows with itself stylistically.  In other words,  it shouldn't start out as a Southern Gospel tune, then the chorus is rock, but the bridge is Caribbean.  Also, make sure that everyone performing the song is doing so within the style of the song.  If the song is funk, your guitar player should not be using heavy distortion and bar chords.  I recently had a woman ask me to help her with a song that I had never heard before.  She told me the song was a rock-style song but she sang it like she was singing to 7 year olds.  Make sure your song's style is clear.

4)    Words - Use familiar expressions, phrases, and terms.  Don't use vocabulary that people won't understand without the help of a dictionary.  Make the song familiar to them by using words or phrases that they can relate to.  Environment is another key to success in this category.  Some expressions are more appropriate in certain settings than others.  In other words, the phrase "peace out in the house" may work in an R&B or hip-hop song, but probably won't flow very well in a song by the Cathedrals.  Your words should paint a picture in the minds of the people singing your songs.

5)    The Hook - This may apply to the words or to the music, or both.  Your song should have a hook...something that makes the song attractive to people.  All good songs have a hook, either in the words themselves, or the melody, or the way you sing the song.  Something about it turns people on to it.  Think about a popular song.  Now think about the most attractive part(s) of that song.  The hook is the part that grabs you.  

An example of a good hook, lyrically, is "You are I am".  It's an attractive line that is unique in the way it is said.  An example of a good hook, melodically, is: "Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Stayin' Alive, Stayin' Alive".  The words don't say much, but the melody stays with you.  Another example of a good, melodic hook is both the verses and chorus of "Shout to the Lord".  Examples of good hooks, musically, are both the horn licks and the rhythm lines in "25 or 6 to 4" by Chicago, or the Clavichord background of "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder.  I know some of these examples are secular songs, but I wanted to use familiar examples that most people would have heard before.

In Part 3, I'll share some more key elements of good songs.  Until then, log off of the internet, turn your computer and your monitor off, and get to writing!