Just ran across this fantastic article containing some real nuggets of helpful advice from several prominent theologians and teachers of our day. You can find it here at WorshipLeader.com. Highly recommended!
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Partly due to time, but partly because I felt I didn’t have anything to write about. And that’s exactly what I’ll be talking about today – Something to Write About.
If we’re writing Christian music, and Christianity is a complete world view, then why do we cover such narrow ground with our lyrics? Over the last year, I’ve heard too many songs that not only sound the same, but talk about the exact same thing … mainly God’s grace and his salvation. God’s grace is incomparable and his salvation a blessed mystery, but there is so much more to God than just what He’s done for us. So much more to write about!
The Almighty is worthy of worship and honor, regardless of what He does for mankind. Consider Job … Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. (Job 13:15 KJV). It’s not about us. It’s about Him. Yet, way too many of our “worship” songs are really about us, when you get right down to it.
The many attributes of God are all worthy of worship and praise … There are a myriad of scripture verses that reveal these attributes. In addition to being merciful, faithful and loving toward us (which is what so many of our songs are about), He is all-knowing, never-changing, ever-present, sovereign, holy, righteous, absolute-truth. He’s ultimate ruler, decision maker, king. He is to be feared. He is beyond our comprehension. Who can know the mind of God? Who is like Him? He said to Job, Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. (Job 38:4 KVJ); How great is God–beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out. (Job 36:26 NIV)
All too often our lyric writing defaults to words like “great” and “amazing” and “wonderful”. Then we add something like, “because You saved me”, and we never go deeper. What if we focused a worship song on one particular aspect of God (any number of which are worthy of worship independently)? For example, if I tell my wife that she’s beautiful, that’s good. But if I tell her that she has the sweetest smile and the most alluring lips, then that’s better. I’m telling her some of the ways she’s beautiful and she knows I’ve noticed and given it serious thought.
In 1 Corinthians Paul challenged the church that they had not matured enough, and he likened it to still feeding on baby’s milk. Christian song lyrics are often milky and not meaty. As the Church, we all need meat to grow and the pastor is not the only one feeding the Church. Christian songwriters are feeding the Church something every Sunday! In fact, it has been said that the Church body learns most of their doctrine from the songs they sing, rather than from the sermons they hear. This is scary, unless our songwriters are serious students of the Word.
In addition to God’s attributes, there are many Biblical doctrines that we can share, teach or act upon in our song lyrics. Here’s an example…
BLESSING: The Bible is full of teaching on “Blessing”. We often bless the Lord in our worship songs. But do we have songs that speak blessing on each other, on those who persecute us (Romans 12:14), on our cities, our churches, our country, etc.? Out of our mouths can come blessing or cursing. We have the authority to bless as the body of Christ in this Earth.
There are so many things to write about! Let’s jump into the meat of the Word and write it on our hearts. Then, out of the abundance of our heart, our mouth (or pen) will speak!
At a recent retreat for indie artists and songwriters, I asked Hillsong writer, Mia Fieldes to teach on lyric writing. Her class entitled, Message In a Bottle, was quite inspiring and, I believe, helpful to the artists and writers attending. She began her talk with this:
If a bottle washes up on the shore and you find an interesting message inside, it’s something quite special. But if a bottle washes up without a message, it’s just trash.
Mia’s point of course, was that the music is your delivery vehicle for something really special, so don’t waste it.
You can find many helpful tools in this blog for lyric writing. Check out blogs on Alliteration, Apostrophe, Personification, Repetition, Anaphora and more, at the links provided or under the Lyric Writing category.
Lennon and McCartney called the bridge section of a song, “the middle eight”. Although there is no rule as to the length and location of your bridge, typically a bridge will be about eight bars and will be located near the middle or last third of your song, usually immediately following the second chorus. (Personally, I prefer a shorter bridge, if well written. Some of the best bridges I’ve heard are only a couple of lines.) But what is the purpose of a bridge?
In short, the bridge is an optional transitional section. Unlike your verses, pre-choruses, and choruses, your bridge should only occur once in any given song, and should be musically and lyrically different from the rest of your song. A bridge prepares your listener for the return of the original material section.
In classical music the bridge is often a musical passage from one portion of an extended work into another, or serves to smooth what might otherwise be an abrupt modulation. In popular music however, the bridge lyric is as important as the bridge music.
Lyrically, the bridge is typically used to pause and reflect on the earlier portions of your song, to sum up the main idea in broad terms, or to prepare your listener for the climax. It can sometimes be an “ah-ha” moment, adding words to expand upon the main theme or helping to finally clarify the previous words or phrases in your song, that may have intentionally had a double meaning.
Back to Lennon and McCartney … some say they wrote the book on great bridges. They would often supply each other with bridges for their songs. The brilliant idea of shifting from one writer to the other for the bridge, only added to the desired contrast that the bridge section was to bring. Take for example Lennon’s addition of the “life is very short” bridge to the otherwise hopeful song, “We Can Work It Out”.
Another thing to consider when writing your bridge is that, by the end of the second chorus of your song, the listener has often had a lot of information to process. A well-crafted bridge will often be used to change the pace of your song, both lyrically and musically, becoming a short respite or oasis from the intensity of the rest of the composition. You’ll note this use of the bridge if you study a variety of popular songs of today.
Adding a bridge to every song is not necessary, but this section can be an important element of your song, when used properly.
Check out our Lyric Writing category for help as you develop that next great bridge!