8 tips for singing the Psalms

Posted by Brian Doerksen on 10 June 2014

It seems like worshipping songwriters never wander too far from the Bible's hymnbook, but that doesn't mean we should never vary our approach. Brian Doerksen has some thoughts on how to shake things up a little...

 


I don’t think the content of the Psalms will ever go out of style or become irrelevant. Granted, Psalm 144 is one of the tougher ones to set to music— but it’s still needed.

Don’t be afraid of the “out of key” chords
In the song ‘Fortress 144’, I use both the flat 6 major 7 and the flat 7 major (Cmaj7 is the flat 6 and D is the flat 7). If you have no idea what I just said, and your heart is being stirred to write music, taking a basic music theory course would be really helpful and actually lots of fun. Understanding the basics of how music works helps unlock all the potential building blocks of music so you can write songs that move other people.

Take a lyrical risk lyrically
Include things that are unexpected but true. I watched a few people raise their eyebrows the first time they heard the phrase “father of lies.” But that is the battle we are in: a battle over our thoughts and coming into agreement with God.

Focus your song around a key word
What is that word that jumps out at you, the one you sense you need to focus on? Build your song around that word!

Bring a little dissonance into your melody and chordal structure
That tension and dissonance reflect life all around us. If everything is too predictable, the song may be dismissed as too sweet. Find ways to let these kinds of tensions tell a bigger story with your songs.

Don’t let a song go by without bringing God and His character into focus
This song is primarily about declaring our choice to follow God. However, the bridge gives me a chance to lift up the character of the One we are following: Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, etc.

Pick one of the lament psalms, and set it to a new melody
Even if you don’t write it for the public to hear, it will do your soul good to enter the world of the psalmist and make it your own!

Write your own lament
Express some of your grief and loss. If you have nothing to lament, maybe you are not risking enough for love.

Don’t just declare your confident strengths—confess your humanity, your weaknesses, your fragility, and your questions.
For some reason worship songwriting launches into this unending stream of confident declarations — but this confidence puts distance between the song and the lives of most people. Our songs should express who we really are, not who we think we ought to be. One is worship in truth; the other is flattery and religion. Of course there are times when we need to simply sing a song about the greatness of God. But worship needs to be a good balance of all of the human experience. That’s why the Psalms worked so well; you find it all there!

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