[This post is part of my Write Worship Songs blog series.]
There is no question that the most meaningful part of the journey as you write worship songs will be developing lyrics. The lyrics of our worship songs are what makes them unique – the subject, the object, the topic, the focus should all point towards God, glorifying and honouring Him because of who He is and what He does. The church’s responsibility is to sing the praise of God with songs that speak clearly of His attributes and His activity.
Lyrics can also be a real sticking point for new songs and there is no shortage of controversy when it comes to the lyrics of worship songs. To be honest, sometimes it feels like there are songwriters who are using odd words and phrases simply for their own sake rather than for the purpose of writing a better song. At the same time, certain words or phrases can quickly become trite, overused and lose any kind of significance for our churches as they sing.
Here are five things you need to remember about lyrics when you write worship songs:
- Jesus is the centre
Don’t run from it, don’t deny it, don’t hide it and certainly don’t try to be clever. Make Jesus famous with your songs. Proclaim His goodness and mercy. Write about His compassion and His grace. Tell the story of the gospel – the whole story! – through the lyrics when you write worship songs.
Lyrics focused on Jesus is the hallmark of Christian worship and really the only distinctive that makes a worship song a worship song. And no, capitalizing You and He is not enough! Be clear, be specific!
- Rhymes are a two-edged sword
Rhymes help your audience remember the song and give our brain some hooks to grab on to when we are learning a new song. Rhymes can be very helpful and you should learn about rhyming patterns and structure as your write worship songs. Do you have the last word of each line of your verse rhyme? The 2nd and 4th lines? The last line of each verse rhymes? The structure should serve the song but use rhymes in a way which will help your audience remember the song.
At the same time, rhymes can very quickly become cliché and every songwriter has had the experience of tearing a song apart because he just can’t find a way to get out of the face/grace rhyming trap! Don’t go to a familiar rhyme too quickly. Look for alternatives, find a different way to say what you’re trying to say and find a better word to use.
- Lyric ideas are everywhere
Expect words and inspiration to find you at the strangest moments. Sitting in the chair at the dentist. Waiting at a red light. Eating the first bite of a great meal. Be on the lookout for phrases or word combinations which catch your attention. I’ve heard Paul Baloche describe this as having your “antennae up” – always expecting that a conversation or book or movie might produce a line which could eventually find its way to a song.
Be ready for this inspiration. Don’t dismiss a phrase which comes to mind after you hear it. If it’s caught your attention it might be a signal that there is a deeper significance to this phrase which could be used as you are writing worship songs.
- No, you will not remember!
I don’t know how many great song titles or ideas have been lost forever but great songwriters because they were never captured. I know my first reaction when I come across a word or phrase which grabs my attention is “Of course I’ll remember that!” No, of course you will not. You need a way to capture these ideas quickly that will allow you to process them later.
At the end of this post I’ll show you three tools you must have to remember lyric ideas.
- Lyrics live on
The last 10 years or so has brought a resurgence of rewriting old hymns of the church. The interesting thing for me from a songwriting perspective is that when we talk rewriting we are really talking about new melody – in most cases we have kept the lyrics the same but found a way to make the melody more singable, more accessible, more memorable for a modern audience.
The point of this is not to say that this is what should happen but this is what is happening. The lyric lives on, the melody is temporary. Should you ever write a worship song which is being sung after you are dead it will probably be due to the lyric – what the song says about Jesus, how it encourages followers of Christ in their faith and how it proclaims different attributes of His character.
Here are three tools that I use to help remember lyric ideas and inspiration:
- Notebook: I have a Moleskine notebook with me almost all the time. I have several Moleskines filled with notes, ideas, conversations and all kinds of scribbles. I review these often and go back to ideas I’d captured years ago.
- Evernote: I know people who love Evernote and people who hate it. If it works for you, make it work! I have mine setup to receive new notes via email and use the iPhone app all the time to capture lyric ideas. Again, I go back every now and then to review these ideas.
- Voice recorder: This might be an app on your phone or maybe a voice recorder like the Roland R-05. The beauty of a voice recorder is that you can quickly explain what it is about the idea that captured your attention.
Five things to remember about lyrics when you write worship songs: Jesus is the centre, rhymes are a two-edged sword, lyric ideas are everywhere, no you will not remember and lyrics live on. Next up: five things to remember about melody when you write worship songs.
This post isn’t intended to be a biblical defense of how to write worship songs or writing lyrics for worship songs but if you are interested in this, you should read through some of these passages of scripture:
- Psalm 33
- Psalm 92
- Psalm 150
- 1 Chronicles 15
- Nehemiah 12
- Ephesians 5
- Colossians 3
[This post is part of my Write Worship Songs blog series.]