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Tuesday, 10 November 2009

46 Worship Songwriting Tips

The following  worship songwriting tips came out of this discussion on Worship The Rock: Top 10 Worship Songwriting Tips.

I've grouped together the best tips and included them in sub-headings below.

So, whether you're a new worship leader looking to write your first worship song, or if you're a veteran Christian worship songwriter, hopefully you'll find something here that will get your creative songwriting juices flowing!

46 Worship Songwriting Tips




Write, Write, Write!

1.    Write, write and write... Write as much as you can. The more you write the greater you will hone your skills and become a better writer. I heard Matt Redman once say that he will write anywhere from 30-40 songs in preparation for a project. Out of those 30-40 songs only 10-15 will make it on the final project.

2.    One  trick I do is to put all the songs on my mp3 player, listen to them in random order while I'm out walking the dogs in the morning for an hour or so... and then paying attention to which ones I'm singing to myself later that day.

3.    Try to write a little everyday, even if it is only for 5 or ten minutes. Practice makes perfect as they say!

4.    Write always! Most of it will be dookey, but in the midst of our poo God may harvest something amazing.

5.    If you have just written your very first worship song ever, it's probably not nearly as good as you think it is... make a recording of it so you know how it goes and then move on and write the next one (like somebody else said, "write, write, write!").

6.    Our worship is a response to what God is doing in our lives. Songwriting is often a musical expression of that response. You can never write too many songs. Even if most are lousy as far as making a "hit" or touching other people. As Jeremy Riddle has said before when he told God to give him words that would touch the hearts of His people, he felt God respond by telling Jeremy to write songs that touch God's heart and He'll take care of how it touches His people. In this context, every song is a "hit." God loves to hear our response to Him. So, even though it makes you super vulnerable, just be real and respond to the story God is writing in your life.


Worship Him and Study His Word

7.    Become very familiar with Scripture - overall content, themes, specific verses and sections.

8.    Let the Holy Spirit work through daily devotions, etc to drive new song ideas.

9.    Worship, read the Bible and listen - songs will come.

10.    My experience is while worshiping the Lord He has always given me songs. A couple of them were dead on scriptures only to find that out afterwards. Prophetic worship works too especially if you record your worship sessions you can go back and take from that. All in all be lead by the Holy Spirit. Ask the Father what He would like to be blessed with.

11.    Worship Him, keep it real, walk humbly with God. Don't try to write a song to write a song or to try to copy what is popular. Just let yourself express experience and reality as it has been pressed out of you and allow the truth of God's word as it has been walked out in you be communicated in spirit and in truth. There's nothing worse than writing something from a place of..."this is how I think it should be written...this is what I think I should say...this is what they will want me say ".
Let it be honest.....the reality of your life's expression and worship to God. Remove the 3rd person from your mind. Let it just be you and God. No imaginary critic waiting to judge you on how well you did. If it goes platinum...to God be the glory! If it is just written for Him alone, then what an honour!


Don’t Overuse Words!

12.     Avoid overused words and phrases. Delve deep into the truths of God and let that truth well up into the content of your songs.

13.     Be Concise lyrically... remove redundant words... less is more! Example:

"Fill this place
with the praise
Of the God
Of all grace
Lift Him High
Glorify
The Ancient of Days

Oh ye saints
Lift your voice
Lift your heads
And rejoice
God is here
Fill this place
With praise

("Fill This Place With Praise" / Bo Cooper/ Integrity's Praise! Music/ Sunday Shoes Music)

Notice that each line except the last line in each stanza has only 3 syllables- this song is easy for the congregation to pick up and learn.

14.     A title like "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord" has already been used a zillion times, and when I was picking new music for our band, if I already had a song called "Hosanna," I wasn't going to add another different one... so if your new song wants a very used name, think about calling it something else.

15.    Try to write worship songs on themes or passages of Scripture that haven't already been done to death. I once did a CCLI title search on "Create In Me" (Psalm 51) and got 199 matches (which doesn't even count songs that are based on Psalm 51 but have a different title).
And while I'm sure we all agree that God is great and God is holy and God is awesome, we already seem to have dozens, if not hundreds, of worship songs that express those truths very well. Surely there are other spiritual and biblical topics (and greater levels of detail) that can be explored.


Always Be Ready

16.    Carry either a pen & paper, or a recording device to write/vocalize your ideas, as they come to you.

17.    Have something to record your ideas. This does not have to be some new fangled recording software...an old tape recorder you can buy for five bucks at a thrift store will do.

18.     Call yourself and leave messages of a melody or line that pops in your head so you have something to go back and listen to.


Ask Yourself

19.    What thought, message or theme am I trying to convey?

20.    Do the verses support the theme?

21.    Does the chorus hook you on the theme?

22.    Does it cause the worshipper to be drawn in?

23.    Is it easily repeatable? Is it singable the first time a person hears it or do they keep asking how does this or that section go?

24.    Is the song theologically correct? (Check with theologically trained friends or your pastor and be willing to change the song).


Quick Tips

25.    Avoid using words that end in "t" followed by the word "you". Always comes out to sound like "____ chew" at some point.

26.    Lots of times I find that a song gets better if I put it aside for a while, then go back to it.

27.     Put your recording in a key that is singable.

28.    I think one of the most important things in worship songs is affection.

29.    Make sure the theme of the song is consistent throughout. An easy way to check would be to try to summarise your song in one short sentence.

30.    Write from the heart for an audience of One. God loves your songs, whether they are congregational or not. Some will be, some won't, but write them for Him.

31.    If writing a congregational song, try to keep the range within an octave and a third as this will allow for all members of the congregation to join in.

32.    When you think the song is done, make a recording of it - even just a rough guitar/voice demo - and then pack it away for two or three weeks - then get it out and see how you like it after hearing it with "fresh ears."

33.    Don't be afraid to be creative. One day, someone will write the "Bohemian Rhapsody" worship song. Crowder has come close.

34.    Be a better musician! Practice your guitar more, buy a theory book, and take some lessons. "Play skillfully before the Lord". Your songs will be better for it.

35.    I once heard Rich Mullins say that he never tried to write hits he only tried to write songs for the people around him. Consider your motivations. What is it you want to accomplish in writing songs?

36.    One I liked from a Stuart Townend class: write co-operatively with your pastor since (s)he may be stronger Biblically, and probably knows the church's current needs and vision better - get ideas, phrases, even whole lyrics from them.


Longer Songwriting Tips

37.    Finish what you've started. That's one of the best songwriting tips I've heard and put into practice with great effectiveness. How many half-baked songs do you have right now? Put them back in the oven. Tonight. Then start a new one tomorrow. The last thing a potential song needs is for you to sit on it. Finishing a song is like Nike. Just Do It. In the words of Jon Foreman (of Switchfoot) - "You climb a mountain because it's there. You write a song because it's not."

38.    Decide if the song is TO God (refers to God as "you"), ABOUT God (refers to God as "He" or "God"), or GOD SPEAKING (refers to God as "I") and be consistent throughout the song. I know that a lot of very popular worship songs break this "rule" but I think they'd be better songs if they didn't. And if the song isn't working one way, try re-casting it... maybe a song lyric about God would actually work better written TO God.

39.     While Christian songs can be "preachy" and tell the listener what to do, "worship" songs should not. Larry Norman's "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus" is a good Christian song, but that's not a statement that the congregation as a whole would make in a worship setting.

40.    One of my tricks when I'm writing a worship song is that I don't give it an official "title" until I'm done working through it and revising it and making it work right. If I'm working on a song and I call it "You Lift Me Up," and then as I'm working through the song I realize that it's really not a song about God lifting me up... once I've given the song a title, it's very hard to change the title words in the song.

41.    This is sort of a pet peeve with me in terms of how people make hymns (and Christmas carols) "contemporary" - for the congregation who is singing the song, the words should move along at a moderate pace - and if you're double timing the guitar part U2 style to make the song more exciting, you're probably also singing it even slower than you would otherwise. Assuming you have a recording setup, record the guitar/piano part and then force yourself to just sing along with the song and try to sense whether it feels like you're holding out every word forever... for a congregational worship song, the CONGREGATION need to feel like the song is moving at a good singing pace.

42.    Pay attention to the TIMELINE of the song, although with worship songs, most of them are mostly in the current moment... but pay attention to which things the singer is saying happened in the past, which things are happening as he/she is singing, and which things will (hopefully or not) happen in the future. And think about whether that timeline could be shifted. For example, the other day I did one of my songs that starts out with a lot of "In my weakness, you made me strong" past-tense stuff and it occurred to me while I was practicing that it might work better in the present - "In my weakness, you MAKE me strong." Be aware of the timeline and consider how you can make it work for you.

43.    When you think the song is done, share it with others who trust you enough to be able to give honest feedback. I find it very helpful to debut a song with our worship team as a pre-service song and get input on singability from those who are around. It also points out to me where my transcription doesn't match what I'm actually singing or playing!

44.    Worship is to God. Personally I dislike songs that talk about the sinner down the street. While we must keep those people in mind and in heart, these songs are hardly congregational and are not real worshipful songs, as they are not to God. Also songs that discuss our former sins, they are not worship songs. Though it must be kept in mind how God turned us around we must not dwell in the past or on our sins.

45.     Start with lyrics or with a melody and/or chord progression.

In the beginning I started with lyrics. I'd get some truths scribbled down and pick one of the lines to try singing out ... to whatever tune came to me. I know that sounds cheesy, but that's what I did! And it even worked! Then I would build the melody around that line and figure out chords later. (Unfortunately, I usually found these melodies pretty hard to play on an instrument other than my own vocal chords, so buyer beware).

Nowadays I still start with lyrics - though it might be just a few random lines and an overall theme - then I play some chord progressions on the piano (for instance, C G Am F, repeated) until I come up with one that seems to fit the lyrics both melodically and rhythmically. Then I fill in the additional lyrics as needed.

For those of you who are strong instrumentalists and can come up with great riffs and rhythms and progressions, you might want to start there and then sing out scripture as you play. This is what Charlie Hall does with his band. He brings lyrics, they bring riffs and instrumentals - and they mesh them together.


And Finally...

46.    Remember that not everyone will like your songs.

8 comments:

  1. 47. Share the original worship music you write with hundreds of other worship leaders and churches around the world for free at www.ShapingWorship.com

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  2. OOOH, the best advice just might be #46 ... sometimes people can't recognize a good song b/c it's not in their favorite style, doesn't feature their favorite instrument, or - to be brutally honest - wasn't written by them! Oooh jealousy.
    Thanks for the compilation, Phil!!
    -Tricia

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  3. Hi Tricia,

    Too true! We all have our own favourite styles and our own opinions - can't please everyone eh?!

    Glad you like the list!

    Phil

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  4. Thank you Phil , you are a blessing...my first try was in the 3 minuter Cebuano vernacular based on Proverbs..Verse 1: Tahora ang Ginoo,Tahora ang Ginoo, maoy sinugdanan sa panabot, Ilhon Siya balaan, maoy sibugdanan sa panabot.. Chorus: Tahoron ta, tahoron ta, tahoron ta ang Dios 2x.never sang it in English, here is its translation.: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding... the fear, the fear of the Lord...The congregation got to sing the song right away.. i have 8 bars guitar riffs to give it a "fearing, reverence effect". Thanks for the tips, many worship songs are yet to be done, sang while awaiting Christ.s coming...ROY EDADES, Pagadian , Philippines

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  5. Hi Roy,

    No problem at all. I love scripture based songs like the one you've shared with us here.

    Keep it up!

    Phil

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  6. What you say in 46 is true. I am usually one of those non-likers with regards my own songs! (Especially in the eloquence of lyrics department) Oops!

    Blessings,

    Henry Denner

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  7. What a great article, how did you gather all these great tips? In my point of view i think the most crucial factor is to be consistent and write everyday as you've mentioned.

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