Worship Notes

"Songwriting - Part 3"

This article will finish my series on Songwriting.  I hope this has been helpful to you in your endeavors to become a songwriter, or to become a better songwriter.  I want to continue what I started in Part 2 by sharing some more important key elements to every good song.

1)    Repetition - One key element to every good song is the use of repetition.  Repetition, when used in correct proportion, can really enhance your song.  Think of the most popular songs out there.  Almost all of them use repetition, both in their melodies and in the lyrics themselves.  I'll use one of the secular examples that I used last week, "Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Stayin' Alive, Stayin' Alive...Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Stayin' Alive..."  Let's be honest.  There's just about nobody out there that knows the verses to that song, but we all know the chorus.  The chorus has a very attractive repetition to it.  

Click here to listen to an excerpt of a song I wrote entitled, "We've Come to Praise".  Listen to the repetition.  Not only did I repeat the words "worthy" and "praise you", but I had the choir repeat me as well.  Repetition is a good tool to use in making your song attractive.

Remember to be careful not to use too much repetition, or your song will sound like a broken record.  Your song will sound like it doesn't have any depth to it if you repeat the same thing over and over again.  

This is a true story.  Two well-known worship leaders (Clint Brown and Geron Davis) were conversing on the phone not too long ago.  Clint was singing his newest song to Geron.  The song he was singing repeats the line "He Got Up" in the chorus about 16 times.  Taunting his friend as he listened to the song, Jeron said, "Wait a minute.  Let me ask you...what's the title of the song?"  He knew full well that the title was, "He Got Up", but thought he would poke a little fun at the repetition in the song.  Make sure that your repetition is in good taste and does not take away from the song.  The song I just mentioned is actually an awesome, energetic song that's great for Easter.  Geron was just poking fun at Clint.

2)    Rhythm - Your song's words should match the meter of the song.  Listen to the rhythm of the words you are singing.  Do they match the music that is backing them up?  Also, you should incorporate repetition in your rhythm.  Let me give you an example.  Read the two examples below out loud, stressing the words that are capitalized.

        a)    i GIVE you ALL the PRAISE

               i'll PRAISE you ALL my DAYS

        b)    i GIVE you ALL the PRAISE

               i'm GONNA praise you ALL my DAYS

In example (a) you'll see that the phrases match each other, primarily because they have the same amount of syllables.  In (b) the second line has more syllables, so you would have to sing "gonna praise you" in a different rhythm than the rest of the phrase, making it sound a little off.  Structure your phrases rhythmically so that they match the rhythm of the song, and match each other as you sing them.

3)    Melody - Your song should not only be easy and fun to sing, but there should be something catchy about the melody.  One of the best ways to know if there is something catchy about your song is whether or not it sticks with you throughout the day.  Do you or others find yourselves singing the song or whistling it during the day?  If you are, then you have a catchy song.  Not too long ago I was in my car and a song came to me and I started singing it to myself.  I thought to myself, "Man, that's a cool song.  Now, who wrote that again?"  Then I realized that it was ME who wrote the song!  It had been so long since I had done the song, I forgot that I wrote it.  But the fact that the song jumped into my head and I started singing it is a good sign that the song is attractive and catchy.  If people walk out of your church singing your song(s) to themselves, you've done a good job.

4)    Flow - The song should flow with itself.  There should not be one element of the song that competes with another element.  Your music should enhance your words.   The music should not compete with the words.  The song should not be so busy that people do not recognize what is going on in the song.  In other words, your guitar player should not be doing a solo while at the same time you are singing a verse while at the same time the choir is singing at the top of their range while at the same time your drummer is doing such a syncopated beat that the congregation doesn't even know what beat to clap on.  That's too busy and is not conducive to worship.

However, there is an increasingly popular thing going on, especially in black gospel music, that sort of breaks this rule.  In some songs people are having the tenors sing one line while at the same time the altos are singing something else and the sopranos are singing yet another line.  These types of things sound real neat, and I even do a few songs like that myself.  However, I would not suggest doing that type of thing for a real long period of time during the song or during the worship service.  Although they sound neat, I've noticed that congregation members sometimes switch to "observation" mode rather than "participation" mode, simply because they don't know what to sing because there are 3 different lines being sung at the same time.

Just a few more pointers...

The Bible says to teach and admonish one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  The songs you write should instill the Word of God in your congregation.  Always make sure your song lines up with the Word.  Also remember that you can never go wrong when writing directly from the Word.  There are some great songs out there that are simply Scripture verses put to music.  

Also remember that some of the greatest songs out there have been written out of experience.  David wrote out of experience many times.  As an example, look at Psalm 3, Psalm 18, and Psalm 137.  Psalm 3 talks about David's struggle when his own son was trying to kill him.  Psalm 18 talks about David's deliverance from Saul.  Psalm 137 talks about Israel's struggle when they fell into Babylonian captivity.  Environment and experience are two of the greatest assets of great songwriting.  Use them both wisely.

Collaboration is another tool that can lead to effective songwriting.  The only problem with collaboration is that most people that are involved in music are fairly strong-willed people.  Many good musicians are fairly set in their ways and don't work well, creatively that is, with others.  If you know someone who you can work well with, by all means, collaborate with them and pool your strengths and abilities together.  Fanny Crosby, one of the greatest hymn writers of all time, wrote over 9,000 hymns in her lifetime.  However, she was only a lyricist.  She worked with a man who put her lyrics to music.  Eventually they married.  Together they wrote such great hymns as "Blessed Assurance" and "Pass Me Not".

Another thing to consider is this.  Fanny Crosby once said that she could write lyrics that would impress the greatest literary critics.  But she wanted to write what would appeal to the common person coming into church.  Likewise her husband said that he could write music that would impress the greatest music critics.  But he wanted to write what would appeal to the common people.  Make sure that your congregation can relate to your music and be ministered to through it.  This does not mean that you have to sacrifice excellence.  Just make sure it is relevant.  One of the greatest ways to make sure your music is relevant is to listen to music...and listen to a lot of music!  I would even suggest listening to music that you don't like.  Be familiar with the various styles of music out there.  It will make you a better writer.

I know that this has been a long "thought" but I have one more thing to share with you.  These past few weeks about songwriting have been informative, I'm sure.  But they are just guidelines.  Don't think that you can't break or bend the rules once in a while.  Music is an art form.  One of the things that makes art what it is is the fact that it doesn't necessarily have rules.  I have seen people criticize songs as to whether or not they are grammatically correct.  But the wonderful thing about music, and all other forms of art, is that they don't have to be grammatically correct...or correct in any other manner.  The only thing that you really need to be concerned about is whether or not your music lines up with the Word of God.  Don't be afraid to be an artist, all the while keeping in mind that abstract art sometimes confuses the common folk.  Remember to be relevant.

As I have said before, the best advice that I can give you is to write.  You'll never learn to write until you start writing.  The more you do it, the better you'll become.  I never knew that I could write until I tried it a couple of times.  The people liked what I wrote and that inspired me to write some more.  Well, I had better go.  I've got some writing to do...and so do you!