Archive | July 2013

Songwriting Basics: Theme

Today, I am starting a series on songwriting. If you are already familiar with my blog, you know that I am a big proponent of spontaneous singing, but just because I love spontaneity does not mean I am against songwriting. Writing original songs for worship is an important piece of any community because it reflects the unique work of the Holy Spirit at a certain time and place.

However, crafting a song takes time, and as I have found, being a good worship leader doesn’t equal being a good songwriter. It takes intentionality to develop as a skillful writer. It’s true that not every worship leader needs to write songs, but how about organizing people in your church to start writing songs for worship? Finding and nurturing budding songwriters will be a blessing to your community.

So, where do we start?

First of all, there is no correct way to write a song. Some techniques may work better than others, but since each of us are different, you’ll have to discover what works for you. I will write this series of posts using a specific order which you can follow, but I have intentionally left out “Part 1”, “Part 2”, etc. so that you can access them in any order you choose.

Secondly, if you’re just getting started, don’t expect your first song to be awesome. Write to worship. Write to gain experience. Awesome songs will come in time.

Third, don’t wait for inspiration. Set aside a time and place to be creative and then just keep going back. What looks messy today might end up being a masterpiece tomorrow.

Now, let’s talk about theme.

Deciding a theme is a good starting place. In a well-crafted song, the theme is supported by each element individually and synergistically. Knowing your theme from the beginning helps you make decisions that keep your song focused. Focus is important because it gives your song a specific purpose. Without that purpose, it will likely have too many ideas.

Choosing a name can be a good way to identify your topic and find additional ideas that you will use later. Once you have a name selected, write down as many other words/thoughts/feelings/scriptures that you associate with the title. Spend time being descriptive. None of the process will go to waste. Be sure to save all your ideas and organize them. These are the beginning of your lyrics.

If you’re short on ideas for a theme, look at the themes your pastor preaches. Having worship songs that support the message are incredibly powerful. Also, think about experiences you’ve had with God. What was He ministering to you? Writing what you know will always produce a better song than writing from theory.

Ready to get started? What theme will you write about?

Talking Not Required

One of the challenges every worship leader faces is knowing when to talk and how much to say. My personal preference is to err on the side of saying nothing, but for many, a few words throughout the service helps them engage. On the other hand, too many words make for a very distracting worship time.

Today, I’m proposing there is another way to communicate during worship without stopping the music and talking. Singing. Yep, that’s right. Aren’t we already singing? Yes, but the singing I’m suggesting is a sung version of what you would otherwise say. A spontaneous song. It’s possible to phrase your thoughts in such a way that instead of being an exhortation to the congregation only, it is also a response to God.

Below is a link to an example of what I’m describing from our worship service at The Well. Skip ahead to 35:00 on the play bar if you don’t want to listen to the sermon (which was very good). The spontaneous song starts at 35:39. Listen for the spontaneous chorus (37:07) I use to end the song and help the congregation respond to the message.

Sunday, July 21, 2013 at The Well

What did you think? How would you use this technique?

Practice Makes Permanent

Most people have heard the adage, “practice makes perfect.” However, this statement is not entirely true. Drawing from the wisdom of my former teachers, and my own personal experience, “muscles have memory” and “practice makes permanent.” Since permanence most certainly does not guarantee perfection, here are a few tips for making sure you get the most out of your practice time.

1. Focus

Before you do anything else, make sure your mind is clear and able to concentrate. Without the ability to focus, your practice will, at best, maintain your skill, but more likely, introduce or reinforce bad habits. It is better not to practice than to do so with a foggy, tired mind. Take a nap, have a snack, start relaxed.

2. Warm Up

Just as athletes warm up before any sport or fitness activity, musicians need to warm up as well. Since muscle memory is what we are building through practice, we must be intentional about getting those muscles ready to learn. Scales are a good way to warm up. Use something fun and familiar. Five minutes is usually enough and having a set routine makes it easy.

I remember teaching a song to my worship team when my voice was not warmed up. During the service when my voice was fully warmed, my muscle memory brought back all of the straining from trying to sing the song cold. Not fun.

3. Go Slow

Especially when learning a new song, take your time. Mistakes usually come from going too fast. Speeding up the tempo after you have learned the song is much easier than learning mistakes and having to reprogram those muscles.

4. Take Breaks

Don’t feel the pressure to have a long practice time. Even if you do practice long, take breaks. Give those muscles a chance to recuperate. Play five minutes, rest five minutes. This method will greatly increase the effectiveness of your practice time.

5. Repeat Often

It is so much better to practice everyday for 10-15 minutes rather than twice a week for two hours. Squeezing more practice times into your week will provide greater and faster results.

6. Have Fun

When practice is only about learning new songs or working through difficulties, it can be hard to stay motivated. Playing songs you love or simply improvising as an emotional release is critical to an enjoyable practice. Let your heart be happy during practice time. Make beautiful music.

7. End Early

It is possible to over-practice. Knowing when you’re done and quitting while you are ahead is important. There were times in college when I worked my fingers until I couldn’t play a song at all. If you notice that you are making more mistakes than when you started, you have practiced too long. Again, as in the first tip, only practice for as long as you can concentrate. You should feel encouraged and refreshed after practicing, not exhausted.

Did I miss anything? What makes your practice time effective?