As with all of songwriting, crafting a good lyric takes time and practice. If you have already created your Theme, you can get started with the ideas you wrote previously. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you are putting lyrics together:
1. Write about what you know.
Drawing from personal experience will always produce a better result than writing from theory. Monumental songs are birthed from exceptional circumstances. Think of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul”. Horatio Spafford penned those words after facing the loss of his business and the lives of his four daughters.
2. Use scripture when writing worship songs.
There is nothing quite like singing God’s word back to Him. Our hearts grow in fascination of Him as we meditate on who He is and what He has done. Feel free to paraphrase if needed. We are working from a translation anyway.
3. Match the meter of the lyrics to the rhythm of your melody.
Choose words that fit naturally. Don’t force the emPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble. If the words you want don’t fit, use a thesaurus to find other words with a similar meaning. Just make sure you really understand the words you are substituting from the thesaurus.
4. Match the tone of the lyrics with the tone of your melody and chord progression.
Each part of your song should work together to clearly communicate the emotion and message of the song. Please don’t write about joy with a sad sounding melody or chord progression. It just sends a mixed message.
5. Decide from the beginning if you will rhyme or not.
Rhyming isn’t necessary in songwriting. However if rhyming, don’t stick to perfect rhymes. Many cliche phrases come from overused rhymes. Pair words like “soul” with “all” for an imperfect rhyme. Loose rhyming opens up many options.
6. Decide whether your lyrics will be literal, figurative or a combination of both.
“How He Loves,” by John Mark McMillan, is a great example of figurative language. Word pictures provide a wonderful perspective on an otherwise familiar topic. Knowing God is love and imagining “loves like a hurricane” are two very different things. I think it’s safe to say that word pictures are also worth a thousand words.
Did I leave anything out? What guidelines do you use when writing?
Spontaneous choruses. What are they and how do you use them? First the name is rather self-explanatory. A spontaneous chorus is a chorus which is written and sung in the moment without rehearsal. Developing spontaneous choruses is a skill that comes very naturally to some people. If that’s not you, don’t worry, you can learn how to write and use them effectively. Another option is to delegate chorus writing to a capable vocalist on your team.
As with choruses from existing songs, our spontaneous ones need three things: melody, lyric and a chord progression. Typically, we will borrow an existing chord progression from the song we are singing before the spontaneous chorus. This isn’t always the case, but it is easiest and you need to tell your team if you are planning to use something different. An example of a good chord progression is: C G Am F or I V vi IV. It has a circular motion and is simple enough to create many memorable melodies.
When it comes to melody, we must think of structure. A good melody is easy enough to remember. Catchy is another word that describes good melodies. Spontaneous choruses with hard arduous melodies are not fun for anyone. So in our structure, we must incorporate some repetition. Too much and it will be boring. Too little and will be unfocused. An example of good repetition can be found in the melodic structure we call question and answer.
As children we were taught to raise the inflection of our voice when asking a question. The same is true with this type of melody. The first line ends on a high note (a question). To answer the question we can repeat the melody only ending on a low note instead. Hum the tune Mary had a Little Lamb to yourself. Notice the question and answer structure. What other songs can you think of having a similar melodic structure? We can also call this type of melody: AB.
Following the AB line of thinking, we could create many other melodic structures like: AAAB or ABAC or ABCABC. Be creative and recognize what works well. We will use this same structure for lyrics too. Here’s an example of AAAB:
You are good
You are good
You are good
And Your mercy endures
The first three lines are the same. Same words. Same melody. Only the fourth line is different. This is an example of good repetition with just enough variety. Try creating your own melody with the lyrics and chord progression above.
Moving on to lyrics, scripture is very helpful. Something extremely profound happens when singing the Word. It gets caught in the human spirit and renews the mind. The other consideration is discerning what God is saying in the moment during worship. Holy Spirit will bring scriptures or other words and ideas to our minds if we are listening. Use those thoughts to create a spontaneous chorus.
Now you might be feeling overwhelmed if you’ve never done this before. That’s okay. Give it some time. Meanwhile, you can practice your chorus writing ability with this baby step: modify an existing chorus to express a new meaning. An example of this could be the old chorus I Exalt Thee. Change the “I” to “we”. It’s not a big change, but it could be spontaneous and bring a stronger sense of community to the corporate worship setting.
Another example, singing the chorus from How Great is Our God, change “is our” to “are You”. How great are You God // Lord we sing, how great are You God // and all will sing, how great, how great are You God. This change redirects the focus from singing about God to singing to Him. There are many songs that you could try these two changes on. Practice with those first before trying to launch into a truly spontaneous chorus.
Spontaneous choruses can be used during or in-between songs in worship. Incorporating them into your leading will bring a new dimension of worship and greater awareness of God’s presence and involvement.