Where Do You Start – Lyrics Or Melody?

April 18, 2012 | Get free updates of new posts here

[This post is part of my Write Worship Songs blog series.]

Write Worship Songs

When it comes to writing songs in general but writing worship songs specifically I’ve found there are all kinds of “yabuts” that come from new writers or those who are considering beginning to write worship songs for their church. Yabuts – you know what I mean.. “Yaaaa… buuuut…” Yabuts!

Yabuts can unveil some hidden assumptions or insecurity when it comes to actually beginning the process. (Sidenote: If you are an artist and have not read The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield, you owe it to yourself and your community to do this, now!) When new songwriters bring up concerns or questions about the process of actually writing worship songs together, it can often be a red flag that the person wants to find the perfect step-by-step outline rather than just doing the work of writing worship songs.

Although there are several concerns and questions which are raised, I’ve found the most common one is this: where do I start, lyrics or melody?

I get the question – Is it better to spend time finalizing lyrics which are accurate, helpful, inspirational, instructive? Or it is better to start with a melody which is singable, familiar and memorable? The next two posts in this series will talk more about lyrics and melody specifically when it comes to writing worship songs but in a general sense here is how I answer this question.

Where do I start, lyrics or melody?


Start. That is the important part. I know great songwriters who start with lyric and feel like a single phrase can become the cornerstone of an entire song and they will work, work, work until they nail down that phrase, build it into a chorus and develop verses around it before they go to melody. I know other writers who just record melody idea after idea after idea – they have a bank of melody ideas just waiting for lyrics and have spent hours and hours refining melodies, trying different notes on top of different chord progressions to come up with music their congregation will be able to sing.

The key to each of these options? Start. You must start.

You can spend all day debating whether it’s better or more helpful to start with lyrics or melody when you write worship songs but if you debate more than you write, you’re wasting your time. So write! Start!

When it comes to lyric and melody – both are very important when it comes to worship songs. The melody needs to be singable, the lyric needs to be accurate. The melody needs to be memorable, the lyric needs to teach. Both are important but both have different roles. You’ll sometimes hear the phrase “the lyric is king, the melody is queen” from those who write worship songs.

The lyric is king – this is really the distinction of what makes a worship song a worship song. The lyric must be focused on Jesus, accurate in its theology, teaching for the believer, instructive for the skeptic – all of those things. The lyric is king.

The melody is queen – don’t neglect the role of melody as you write worship songs! The melody is actually what helps us memorize songs. We remember the notes, the hook, the phrasing of our favourite songs even if we don’t remember all the words. The melody is crucial to help our congregation actually sing these songs we are writing.

So don’t neglect either – both are important! But don’t get so tied up in asking questions that you neglect to actually do the thing you are trying to do: write worship songs!

Where do you start, lyrics or melody? Yes! Next up: five things to remember about lyrics as you write worship songs.

[This post is part of my Write Worship Songs blog series.]

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  • Reply brenmclean April 19, 2012 at 1:07 am

    Another great post Chris. Loving the series!
    In terms of my songwriting, I usually start with chords, which then helps me to srite lyrics that will compliment the feel/vibe. Ultimately, just START!
    PS. I haven’t read “The War Of Art’ yet, so thanks for the tip 🙂

  • Reply Laura Chambers April 19, 2012 at 8:55 am

    This is a great series! I’m enjoying this – I follow your blog now through my e-mail for the express purpose of reading this series. You should write a book and elaborate on some of these themes a little more. Maybe adding advice from other people.

  • Reply Kyle August 14, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    I start with concept or big idea. In other words what needs to be said. Based on the concept the vibe,chord structures, rhythms and such start to take shape, early scratch melodies start developing. Then finding the right words to use to communicate the idea and that can take a long time.

    After rewriting process I get it to place I’m comfortable with and ask my pastor to review and give feedback, then the band, then perhaps it sees the light of day. I usually give it 3 weeks in a row to see if I’ll bring it back around. I’d say around 50% of the time originals make it past the 3 week mark.

  • Reply Jameson Reynolds August 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    I always start with the melody. To me if I don’t have a melody that is catchy/singable/memorable then I can have the best & most biblically sound lyrics but it will be more of an awesome poem than a great song.

    I know it sounds weird when it comes to writing worship songs. But I also believe that the lyrics have gotten so much of the attention when it comes to Worship/Christian music and the music can become watered down and unimpressive. I think that’s why a lot of people from the outside looking in on Christian music label it as second rate.

    But I also recognize there are so really killer sounding Worship/Christian songs that sound AMAZING but don’t say a thing or they say something inaccurate. It’s definitely a struggle for sure!

  • Reply Mark Snyder August 28, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    Melody first (after the concept or the theme of the song is defined). The reason why is that you can work and work (and work some more) to get a rhyme scheme and a lyrical theme to fit and flow over a melody, but its much harder to make a melody better when its mediocre to start with. Either a song ‘has it’ from a melody and catchiness perspective or it doesn’t. So I will work long and hard to make a great song once I have a great melody. But I won’t take lyrics forward until I have a melody idea to wrap it around, generally.

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