Simon Says..."10 Worship Writing Tips"

Posted by Simon Hawkins on 17 December 2015

Fresh from a stint at the Write About Jesus (WAJ) songwriters' conference in St Louis, Missouri, Simon Hawkins reveals his top-10 worship writing tips to check when you’re next rewriting…

1. Get the words-to-music right – Here’s the principle: Stressed syllables (for example one syllable nouns like ‘God’, ‘Lord’) should land on the 1st or 3rd beat in a 4/4 bar. Unstressed syllables (for example ‘if’, ‘for’, ‘to’, ‘’cause') should land on the 2nd or 4th beat in the bar. This is a surprisingly common issue.

2. Keep focus - Keep the lyric focused around one (and only one) central idea. Have each section move the song on and towards a pay-off. For example, each verse should recolour the chorus or refrain. This is the difference between rambling and crafting.

3. Rhyme for a reason - Get your rhyme scheme to be consistent. I'm not saying every line needs to rhyme (it doesn't) but once you commit to it in verse 1 make sure verse 2 follows through. Even internal rhyme.

4. Structure matters – There are several well-known song structures out there – VCVCBC, AABA, AAA, AABACA and variations using refrains and outros. These are all good. It’s when the song starts and finishes without being able to identify any structure that a song becomes impossible to follow, let alone memorize or hum on the train home.

5. Write your best (substantial) ideas - I believe you can write pretty much any title. But not every title makes a great song. It needs a substantial idea behind the title. When you find a substantial idea, if it’s been written already, look for a new approach to it and use your own voice to articulate it.

6. Beware of words and phrases that have lost their power - They are still beautiful concepts but their impact has been weakened by overuse. There will always be a better, fresher line out there somewhere.

7. Keep in the genre - Rule of thumb: Worship = theology, Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) = therapy (more conversational). Southern Gospel = fire and brimstone or inspirational, Black Gospel is… you get the picture. So know your genre and use appropriate language.

8. Paint your lyric with your music - In songwriting speak this is called ‘prosody’. In other words don't put a repentant, reflective lyric to a bouncy happy tune. It will undermine the potential impact of the song.

9. Ensure authenticity - You have a unique lens through which you see the world and God has chosen you to draw that picture in a song. Anything outside of an authentic lyric will not be your best. And you owe it to your calling as a writer to write your best.

10. Scale it down – In other words, keep your worship song singable. If your aim is for God to use your song from stadium to small home group, you need to keep the range to within one and a half octaves (max) and not move beyond around top D. Here I Am To Worship uses just 5 notes. Just sayin’.

Although God can obviously use anything he wants for His glory, I believe if we want to write about Jesus then applying the best crafting is in itself an important part of our worship. Even before we get out our 12-string. I hope this helps!

Simon.

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