I have spoken to several people in my church who write music and have asked about including their music in the worship. I was writing an email to one guy, and then I realized my email was getting longer and longer. So, I copied it into my blogg instead.
I am so excited about the idea of songs for worship coming out of the particular body of believers that make up our church. In today’s atmosphere of commercially driven worship music where Sunday morning sometimes feels more like MTV’s Total Request Live, I think there is a real need for an explosion of songwriting from within each individual church. One of the unique things about New City Fellowship is that so much of its music was composed by its members. We use more songs written by my father, James C. Ward, than any other songwriter. As a result, I believe the songs have a more genuine quality that has been born out of the unique fellowship and community of believers that makes up the NCF churches.
[I must point out as well that I also support the need to be unified with churches throughout the world and through church history through music. That is why the preservation of traditional hymnody and the need for multi-cultural music (and multi-cultural music education) is very important to me.]
So how do you write worship music? Is is just like writing any other kind of music? Does it come like a flash of creativity divinely inspired like a bolt of lightning? I don’t think so. I believe songwriting is a craft that requires practice, patience, experimentation, skill, emotion, and just a little bit of talent. The best advice that my father ever gave me about songwriting is that for every 30 songs you write, 1 will be worth keeping.
Here are a few guide lines for wring worship songs that I thought of: (there could be more, so please add your tips to the comments of this entry)
- Is it singable? This is what I struggle with most when I am writing. It is easy to write a song that I can sing well, but it takes a lot more thought to write one that everyone can sing from the bass singers to the sopranos. A good rule of thumb is to keep the melody below a D if possible. If you have no idea what a D is, that is the third fret of the B string on your guitar. Think of the rhythm as well; does the flow of each line make sense? Repetition helps. Not just one word over and over; I mean like if the rhythm and melody of the first line match the rhythm and melody of the next line so that people can learn the song faster.
- Is it Biblical? The Bible is infallible; songwriters are not. Test the poetry that you write against Scripture. Don’t become too attached to a lyric that you can’t change it to be more biblical. The Holy Spirit has inspired the Scriptures. One sure fire way to have the power of the Holy Spirit dwell in your music is to paraphrase or quote directly from the Bible.
- Is the song about you or is it about God? This has been a heated debate in worship circles. Should a song be an objective declaration about the God we worship (i.e. Days of Elijah) or Should it be sung like the words were coming directly from you to God (i.e. Here I Am To Worship)? On CCLI’s website, they have the top 25 songs used in churches this week and pretty much all of them are of this second type. I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with writing from a first person perspective (the Psalms are full of poetry that does that), but I would encourage you to look at your lyrics carefully and determine ‘is this song about God and His glory and praise or is it about me’?
- Are you willing to share it? It may be obvious, but it takes a lot of moxy to put a song out there that you have put your creativity, emotion, and soul into and to subject it to the critical ears of your congregation. You might think that it is arrogant to presume that your song can be placed in a set next to We’ve Come This Far By Faith or Amazing Grace. I would say that it takes a lot of humility to put your ego into such a vulerable position. Pray for the grace to accept criticism, to love people who might laugh at your song (which has happened to me), and to go back to the drawing board to write another one.