Worship Notes

"Songwriting - Part 1"

For the next three articles I will be addressing the subject of songwriting.  For those of you who have been following these "Worship Notes", you may have noticed that I stress the importance of songwriting quite often.

Heath Jarvis Ministries' founding verse of Scripture, Psalm 33:3 says "Sing unto the Lord a new song.  Play skillfully with a loud noise."  The phrase "a new song" is actually found nine times in Scripture.  As I have stated before, I believe that singing a new song is important to keep our praise and worship from getting stale or routine.  The problem is that most of us tend to wait for the newest CD release from our favorite worship leader before we will step out on our own and try to write our own music.  Writing your own music gives your ministry a freshness and uniqueness and will make your worship much more personal.

In this article I will share a few pointers on song writing.  Let's focus on some how-to's of songwriting.  The following are the four steps of songwriting (in order):

1)    Preparation - Before you sit down to write, you should have an idea of what you intend to write.  Perhaps you will only know that it's a song of praise, or of worship, or about the blood.  Or perhaps you will only know what style you want to write in (i.e. funk, rock, ballad, etc.), but you should write with a purpose.  Don't just throw phrases and melodies together.  Know at least somewhat of a direction you want to go when you sit down.

Part of preparation is the gathering of ideas.  Listen to the way your Pastor preaches.  Listen for key phrases or ideas that you can incorporate into songs.  Listen to little melodic things on radio, TV, grocery store music, etc. that might prove to be a catchy part of the song.  I can't tell you the amount of times that people have come up to me and said, "That song sounds like something I've heard before, but I can't put my finger on it."  I take it as a compliment.  Be familiar with what is musically and lyrically appeasing in order to be effective.  You want people to enjoy singing your music.  Pocket tape recorders are great to use when gathering ideas.  Also, don't throw ANY ideas away.  You never know what you may end up using someday.

2)    Incubation - This is the stage where you take the ideas that you've come up with and put them together.  This stage should be done all at one time, not in stages.  You may have picked up little things in the preparation stage over a period of months, but the "putting together" stage should be done deliberately and at one sitting.  This keeps the song flowing together with itself nicely.  If you do it in separate sittings, you may be in a different mood or mindset the second time, and the second sitting won't flow with the first.

Incubation takes patience.  You should set enough time aside that you can do this without disruption or interruption.  By the end of this stage, you should have an idea of the order of the song (intro, verses, chorus, bridge, etc.).

3)    Illumination - This stage can come during the incubation stage.  This is the stage where you can throw in little additions to the song that will add to its flavor.  For example, a syncopated rhythm during the third time through the chorus, or having the singers bend a certain word or phrase in the bridge.  The song really isn't changed from its base components.  You've just added some flare or flash to it.

Illumination usually comes very quickly.  It may come after the song is done.  You may listen to it and say "I should have the singers say such-and-such in the background while I sing the second verse" or "I'll have the horn section do a stab in the second measure of the bridge".  Write down your ideas or record them on a pocket tape recorder.      

4)    Verification - This is the stage where you look at your (almost) finished product and make sure it makes sense, musically.  It should also be verified with the Word of God to make sure it is accurate according to Scripture.  You may also want to make sure that it flows with the vision or season that your church is in.  The song may be great, but if the timing is off it won't be received well.

Don't be too intimidated to change anything in your song.  Be open to change, advice, and even criticism.  This doesn't mean that you will please everybody your first time out, but you should be open to constructive advice, especially from your Pastor.

The best advice that I can give about songwriting is this...you will never learn to write until you start writing.  So get to it...log off the internet and get to writing!