Don’t Lock Yourself In

The vocal melody is one of the TWO most important parts of any song (lyric being the other).  Lyric and melody make a  song.  You’ll rarely hear someone walking down the street humming chord changes, or whistling a guitar riff (unless maybe they’re a musician).  The general population is attracted to the primary vocal melody, and if they don’t like it, then they don’t like your song.  If they can’t remember it, then they won’t sing your song.

Songs can generally be grouped into a couple of categories – songs written around a melody and songs written around chord changes or riffs.  As a music publisher, I’ve seen the majority of songwriters in my genre begin with chord changes rather than with a melody.  In contrast however, most of today’s successful pop writers, start with a melody.  Both processes can work.  However, if the vocal melody is one of the most important parts of your song, be extremely careful not to make it an afterthought.

Building your song around a chord progression can be severely limiting.  Amateur writers often use only the chords they know best … the ones their hands automatically go to when they pick up the guitar or sit at the piano.  They hang out and jam on some chord changes until they get something they really like.  Then they try to impose melody on top of the progression.

We can get very creative with the way we string our favorite chords together, and how long we stay on each chord, leading to hundreds of chord progressions for new songs.  However, laying down the progression first, boxes us in when it comes to creating melody.   It locks us in with regard to both the rhythm and the notes we can use in our melody.  And we may also limit ourselves with the way our phrasing and our pattern of repetition can work.

Try starting with a melody.  Work on building it without your instrument, if necessary.  Develop something enjoyable, beautiful and singable.   Then let the melody determine the rhythm and the mood and the chords that will support it.   This change of process sounds simple enough, but is extremely liberating for most writers.  When there are no more walls, no more limits, no more boxes, they find that their melodies truly begin to soar.  Their songs become more singable, more memorable and more enjoyable.

How To Write An Awful Worship Song

So you finally learned to play the guitar and now you’re wondering, “How do I write a truly awful worship song?”

You’ve come to the right place my friend. Here are some sure fire ways to write a truly horrible worship song.

Recycle A Love Song.

Write a song for your girlfriend. When she breaks up with you, convert it into a worship song. Be sure to change all uses of “girl” or “baby”.

Use Time Tested Rhymes.

Make sure that you rhyme “love” and “above” at least twice. The song becomes doubly awful if you can also incorporate the word “dove”. Example: “You sent your love from above, makes my heart feel like a pure white dove.” You get the point.

Be Vague About Your Theology

Make sure to avoid any theology at all costs. Don’t talk about atonement, wrath, or any other biblical concepts. You want your song to be all about feeling. Don’t let the mind get in the way. Repeat after me: “Worship is a warm feeling, sort of like heartburn, only better.”

Make the Song All About You

The main point of your song should be your experiences and how God makes you feel. Don’t bother with objective truth about God. I would suggest that you use the words “I” or “me” at least 12-15 times. For example, “I feel like singing, yes I feel like spinning, because You make me feel so good inside. Like it’s my birthday, but more awesome.”

Be Incredibly Poetic

If you can, muddy the waters with poetic phrases that don’t make much sense. Example: “Your love is like a warm summer’s breeze, washing over my heart like a crystal river.”

Use Well-Worn Musical Progressions

If you can, keep your music and melody boring. I would suggest that you use no more than four distinct notes in a song, so that by the time someone is done listening to it they want to scream. A worship scream, but a scream nonetheless. It also helps if you use the chords G, C, and D over and over.

Defend Your Song Like It’s Your Firstborn Child

Do not, I repeat, do not, let anyone make suggestions for improvement. Tell people that God laid the song on your heart. Tell people that you really want to preserve the artistic integrity of the song. Tell people that you already did the song at your campus ministry and that a revival broke out. Don’t take advice from anyone.

There you have it. Seven ways to write a terrible worship song. You can thank me later.

What else would you add to the list?

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Guest post by Stephen Altrogge, from his blog THE BLAZING CENTER

Stephen Altrogge works as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, where his main duties include leading worship, working with college students, and shining his dad’s shoes. He also has written a number of worship songs that have been included on Sovereign Grace Music albums. Stephen is the author of the book Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wanabes, which was published by Crossway Books in September 2008, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, which was published by Crossway Books in April 2011. When not shining his dad’s shoes, you can find Stephen drinking coffee or playing video games. You can contact Stephen by clicking here.