Hi Friends, its been a while since I’ve posted anything here. So, I thought I would change that by sharing my latest song with you. I’m going to let the song sing for itself. Enjoy!
Have any thoughts or comments? Feel free to share below.
A major roadblock to spontaneity in worship is linear thinking. When all of the songs on our setlist have a precise beginning, middle and end, there is very little room for creativity or even just lingering in the moment. Sure, tight arrangements sound great and have their place, but every worship service needs to have at least one portion that doesn’t feel programmed or rushed.
Instead, I like to think of each part of a song as a cog or gear. The verse, chorus and bridge are all connected, but in a way where we can move from one to the other without a specific order or pattern in mind. Each part can be repeated as many or few times as necessary. I’m even a fan of repeating one line of the verse a few extra times for impact. It makes us think about what we are singing.
Some songs lend themselves to this kind of thinking very easily because the chord progressions they use are circular. For instance, C – Am – F – G is a circular chord progression. The bass note moves down from C, down from Am, up from F and up from G. One time through the progression is one revolution.
Songs with only one chord progression are the easiest to lead without a linear structure. Your band can’t mess up too badly when all they have to play is four chords. Using simple songs and intentionally practicing them with no order will give your team confidence to flow. Sometimes, I like to start a song with the bridge or chorus rather than the intro or verse. My team is generally prepared to jump in wherever I start.
Teach your team how to follow your body language and use hand signals. My team knows how big I want to build by how high my hands jump off the keyboard. I also signal them in other ways if they are going a direction that I am not headed. Sometimes I follow the lead of one of the other instruments if they are really flowing well.
Flowing together spontaneously as a team takes practice. Give them lots of opportunity to do so before Sunday morning.
Do you think more or less linear when it comes to worship?
Songwriting Basics: Lyric
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.
This post concludes my Songwriting Basics series. Don’t forget to catch the other posts on Theme, Structure, Melody and Chord Progression.
Did I leave anything out? What guidelines do you use when writing?
Songwriting Basics: Melody
Melody is a series of notes from the scale of a particular key. A good melody has enough repetition to be memorable and enough variety to be interesting. If I sing one note over and over that would be easy enough to remember, but way too boring. On the other hand, I could sing all kinds of notes up and down the scale and sound good without being able to remember their sequence. Finding the balance is key.
Depending on your song’s structure, you will need two or three different melodies: one for the verses, one for the chorus and one for the bridge. Create as many melodies as you can. I am constantly recording melodic ideas on my phone to use at a later time. Don’t assume your first melody is going to be best for the song. Having more melodies than you need allows you to be selective and purposeful. Also, one of the extra melodies may make for a good instrumental or intro riff.
Consider the the theme of the song when writing your melody. If your song is about the joy of the Lord, please do not have it sound sad! Unless sarcasm is your goal, your melody should communicate the same message as your lyrics. It gives us additional emotional content that the lyrics alone cannot provide.
Melodies are expressed in phrases. Organizing the phrases is a way to develop the melody. If we name the phrases A and B, we might create a melody like this: ABAB or AAAB. Notice how both examples show repetition and variety. Other examples could be AABAAC or ABCABD.
Question and Answer is a type of melody where the first phrase (Question) ends on a high note similar to the vocal inflection used when asking a question. The second phrase (Answer) may start similarly, but ends on a low note often the starting note of the Question.
Worship songs are most congregational friendly when they are written within one octave. More notes is not necessarily better. Many melodies only use five notes. A singable melody is what we are after. Be creative and have fun crafting a great melody!
Check out more songwriting posts on Theme and Structure.
Have you started writing? What are you waiting for?
Songwriting Basics: Structure
Last week, I started a series on songwriting with the topic of Theme (read about it here). As I said previously, there are many different ways to go about songwriting. This particular order of posts is a good starting place, but feel free to write your song in an entirely different order.
Much like selecting a theme at the beginning, choosing a structure for your song is like drawing plans for a house. Having a structure helps to organize the information and makes sure nothing is left out. The structure is a guide during the creative process.
Let’s look at some of the most common parts of a song’s structure:
- Chorus – If your song is a house, the chorus is the main room or living space. It summarizes the theme perfectly and is repeated over and over. The simplest songs have only one part, and for that reason, are called choruses. A good chorus will have a catchy melody and be easy to remember.
- Verse – With the chorus as the main room of our song-house, verses are like bedrooms. Each verse contains specific information that relates to the theme, but is different from the other verses. If our song is telling a story, each verse describes a different event as it unfolds. Verses are not typically repeated like the chorus and they usually share a melody and chord progression that are different from the chorus. Hymns are a good example of songs with only verses.
- Bridge – We could consider the bridge to be the deck or patio of our song-house. It continues the theme by restating it with different words, melody and chord progression. Typically the melody is higher and bigger than the chorus. The bridge is usually the climactic point of the song.
Other elements of structure include music before, between and after the Verse, Chorus or Bridge.
- Intro – The chord progression and melody used to start a song are called the Intro. It’s like the porch and front door of a house.
- Interlude/Instrumental – This is like the hallways of a house, they help us get from one room to another, but there are no lyrics.
- Ending/Outro – Similar to the Intro only at the end. Sometimes the intro and outro are identical. Other times, they are very different.
A great way to learn structure is to listen to your favorite worship songs and analyze their form. Using an existing song as a template is perfect for getting started. Mimicking successful songwriters speeds up the learning process.
Who are your favorite songwriters? Why do you like their songs?
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?
Worship from Rest
It’s been a while since I last posted mainly because I started leading worship full time at The Well.
On January 4th, 2013, The Well hosted its first monthly worship night. We are gathering at 7pm on the first Friday of every month for an extended time of worship with a bit of teaching. The service is called REST because we want our community to experience and express worship from a place of resting rather than striving.
Striving in worship appears in different forms, but the root comes from an incomplete revelation of the grace of God. God’s grace is His unmerited (undeserved, unearned) favor toward us. This favor is a guarantee of right relationship with God because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Grace is a gift which can only ever be freely given and freely received.
Worship, by song or prayer, that disregards, ignores or misunderstands this grace begs God to do something for the believer which He has already done. For instance, asking God’s presence to visit us completely ignores Jesus’ statement that He would never leave nor forsake us, and that in His physical absence, He would send the Comforter, His Holy Spirit, to be with us.
Conversely, worship from rest declares and reminds us of God’s nearness and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We rest in the finished work of Jesus and cease our striving to be acceptable to God in worship through our own efforts. He has made us accepted in Christ. God has made us righteous in Christ. Jesus is our all in all. This worship takes our eyes off of ourselves and looks to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
In this place of worship, we can freely experience God and come to know Him more. We are already cleansed and can fellowship with God as Adam and Eve did in the garden. Interestingly enough, God’s day of rest is the Sabbath which begins at sundown on friday night. God ordained the Sabbath as a day not just for resting, but also for worship. God’s original design of worship is found in rest and only fully realized in Christ Jesus.
So join us and bring a friend! We plan on lingering long in the wonderful revelation of Jesus and the work he has finished.
Have a story about striving or resting in worship? I’d love to hear…
Spontaneous Choruses Part 2
If you missed my first post on Spontaneous Choruses, you’ll want to check it out. As it was quite the lengthy post, I thought I would wrap up a few details in this one.
When you are first introducing your congregation to spontaneous choruses, don’t try to do too much. Keep the choruses simple and not more than one or two per set. You want them to be interested rather than turned off.
The other thing that you must do is repeat, repeat, repeat. Eight times per new chorus is good. The first two times you sing the chorus all the way through are the writing process. Once the chorus has been written, then your worship team vocalists can join in. If they join in too soon, there is a disaster waiting to happen. Instruct them to join in after you sing the entire chorus two times through, and have them only sing the melody. This helps the congregation learn the chorus well.
After two times through with the worship team singing melody, then the chorus is established and you can introduce harmony. This helps to build the chorus and avoid monotony. Continue to build with instrumentation during the last two repetitions. Of course if the chorus is a real hit, you don’t have to stop after 8 times, but go at least 8 times so that people get familiar enough with the new words and melody to worship.
Here is a breakdown in list form:
Write: Sing chorus 2 times through solo
Establish: Sing chorus 2 times adding vocalists (melody only)
Build: Sing chorus 2-4 times adding harmonies and other instrumentation
End: Sing a name of God
Ending a spontaneous chorus is easy provided the worship team is communicating before and during the worship service. Use a phrase or name of God to signal that you won’t be repeating the chorus. An example chorus, “All our love is to you // You are our reward // All our praise we give you // You’re worth living for”, can be end by singing “You’re worth living for, Jesus”. That addition of the name “Jesus” lets the team know you are ready to end.
One more thing that can really help you do spontaneous choruses well is getting your video projector operator on board. Many worship projection programs have an option for spontaneous text. Have your projector person type the words for the chorus on the spot so the congregation can engage even more easily.
Alright, I’m sure I could find a few more things to say, but we’ll keep this one short!
What are your questions? Would you sing a spontaneous chorus during a worship service?
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.