Jenny and I are off for a few days of playful rest in the south Pacific with our oldest two. Taking advantage of life’s many blessings.
This is a continuation of my 3-day series on notes taken from Brenton Brown’s workshop on worship song writing at CMS in Buffalo, NY.
Songs are short. They use 100 words to make a point.
What’s the main point of your song, and the reasons (sub clauses) for the main point? How tightly argued are the successful songs you know/write? The reasons behind them?
How well a song is received is determined by how strong and concise an argument it makes.
To lead people in prayer you need to give them a clear prayer.
Find out what’s not being said doctrinally around you. Because you’re actually responsible for teaching them doctrine in your songs. And even more severely:
People remember your songs long after they remember your sermons.
Ask your teaching pastor where your church is lacking. Writing worship songs shapes the way people think about the Lord – it’s a teaching role.
The first gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was to communicate with people in their own languages. Likewise, how are you pursuing trustworthy communication?
Writing a worship song is composed of three core elements:
1.) Have something worth saying.
2.) Say it in a way people will understand.
3.) Say it persuasively.
Don’t waste one word.
As you come out of a verse, just before you sing the chorus to a song you’re writing, say, “And that’s why I want to say…” Then you’ll have your chorus.
The song Here I Am to Worship has 11 sub-clauses to support the reason to worship right now.
Repetition also serves as a type of sub-clause.
Example: let my life revolve around you, be my focus, be the center, be the most important thing in my life. All saying the same thing, just different ways of saying it.
The Koran is not allowed to be translated; meanwhile Pentecost opened up Biblical (and dangerous but potentially powerful) re-interpretations.
David Wilcox (folk music writer) tries to fill 3 legal pads with a single theme of thought.
Storytelling worship songs are difficult to write, and not popular in pop music (almost exclusively in country, however). But they’re extremely effective. To work in worship, they must encompass a universal theme (Example: I Coming Back To The Heart of Worship: first the music faded, then You searched deeper, now I’m coming back, etc).
Universal themes are essential. During a particular songwriting competition we held back in England, we had one great entry that had a bogus ending: “God you’re amazing / Your power is awesome in the place / You heal your people / And my cousin Dave.”
How to chose your topic? Yes, some songs flow Pentecostally and just “happen” to us; but others we must labor over. Start to think about your songs as you would a sermon: it makes it easier. Like Alister McGrath said about writing sermones, at a certain point in writing a song you’re going to have to study.
Lastly, try lowering your goals as a writer. For example, yes, everyone wants to write a collection of songs in a week that are worthy of recording on a CD; but how about just vowing to write one good song a year – one song you’re really proud of and that stands on it’s own. Now that’s a solid goal.
I had the privilege of sitting in on Brenton Brown‘s workshop on “worship song writing” this weekend at the CMS event in Buffalo, NY. He’s known for writing such memorable choruses as Your Love Is Amazing, Lord Reign In Me and Holy Holy Holy.
Aside from appreciating Brenton’s ability to articulate profound truth with effortless means both with regard to Christianity and in teaching song writing, he’s also an extremely personable man. The first time I ever met him, we were sitting in the VIP trailer at Creation, talking about South Africa, Boy Scouts and family. He didn’t know me, and I didn’t know him; only later would I piece together just who he was.
His points on song writing for churches were profound enough that I felt lead to share them here over the next three days. I hope his words are as inspirational to you as they were to me, and that my notes do his talking points justice. I’ve taken the liberty to expound in places in the hopes of capturing what he was saying and eliminating the “chicken scratch” mentality of the moment I wrote this in.
Enjoy. And write well.
Our goal is to help a large group of non-musician people who don’t normally sing at all to worship the Lord with music.
We need to write songs that are easy enough for a large group of diverse people to sing, but interesting enough that people will want to sing them again.
This thing is art. It’s elusive. And songs are like hums:
You don’t find hums, hums find you.
-Winnie the Pooh
To get “found” by a song, you need to find head spaces that inspire you. This is because we’re essentially playing when we make music. It’s important to be in a playful mood when you write. The other head space we write from is pain, brokenness and desperation, and I don’t recommend actively looking for that one.
What things make you happy? What seasons where you most prolifically writing in? Take 30-seconds to think of these things and seasons in your life.
My wife tends to know what mine are better than I do; I love to be around water and to surf. She has always notices that I’m happier when I come home from surfing, and grumpy when I’m not. So she’ll kick me out of the house on occasion to go surf. I tend to write a lot of my songs while I’m sitting on the water. It’s a good head space for me. These are your fishing holes. Find good fishing holes.
Fishing also has a catch and release element to it. You must work an idea until it’s “done” and then put it away. Let’s songs gestate and mature. This practice ensure only your best stuff will come out. If a melody keeps popping back out and getting stuck in your head, it’s a keeper. If a particular lyric or phrase won’t leave you alone, it’s a keeper.
Stephen Covey talks a lot about the Scarcity Mentality and the Abundance Mentality. The Scarcity Mentality says, “Hold on to the precious, few songs you’ll ever get, and don’t share them with anybody, especially don’t share the credit.” The Abundance Mentality says, “There are plenty of wonderful ideas out there that I’ll discover. I need to share them to bless other people, and to let my ideas get refined, regardless of who gets credit – I’ll always have more.”
Write with the door open.
This open door policy will help gain outside perspective. Anyone can critique a song; my mom can tell me when something sucks. But asking other writers for objective input will build your songs.
What’s makes you feel good in this song? And what makes you feel odd in this song?
Remember that when you’re writing a worship song for people to sing, you’re actually contributing to an ongoing conversation between God and his people. What do people need to say to God? (Prayer). And what does God need to say to his people? (Prophetic).
Take 30-seconds to think about the 3 favorite careers you’d love to have. It’s in these personal states of “favorite” that we find the same inspiration to write out of as artists.