Learn Songwriting

Church musicians - have some of you have found a creative outlet for your songwriting in your local church that keeps you going when the going is tough? And why not?

Scripture is filled with stories of how songs and singing have been an important part of every God-happening in all of recorded history.

Anything you can do to learn how to write songs that help people live closer to God brings Him pleasure. There is a verse in Zephaniah 3:17 that says God sings over us.

If you are a church musician, worship leader, or someone who aspires to be, songwriting is something you should pursue with all your heart. There will never be too many songs expressing the greatness, magnificence, mercy, power, forgiveness, wisdom, and love of God.

But – where to start is a fair question.

So, first, let me list the components of songwriting

    Title – this can help set the scene, even for a Scripture song. Remember “Seek Ye First” is really a song taken Matthew 6:33. The title tells you what the song is about.

    Lyrics – Should support the melody, rhythm, tempo, harmony of the song. Intense lyrics over a playful melody may not bring the affect you intend.

    Form - The most common contemporary song form is verse / chorus / verse / chorus / bridge / (verse) / chorus. The other common song form is verse / verse / bridge / verse.

      Each verse has the same melody but different lyrics. The verse lyrics give us information about the situation, emotions, or people in the song. In the verse / verse / bridge / verse song form, the title is usually in the first or last line of each verse.

      The chorus is the section in which both melody and lyrics are repeated. The chorus lyrics give us the heart of the song. The title of the song almost always appears in the chorus section and may be repeated two or more times.

      The bridge has a different melody, lyrics, and chord progression from the verse or chorus. It provides a break from the repetition of verse and chorus can be an emotional turning point.

    Melody – Should support the lyrics, rhythm, tempo, harmony of the song. If you’re writing for the typical congregation, there are other factors to consider. Use repetition and variation.

    Harmony – should support the melody, rhythm, tempo, lyrics of the song. Good news - chord progressions cannot be copyrighted.

    Rhythm – this is the heart and soul of the song – yes, even for songs in the church. I’m not sure I understand the cultural, emotional, dare I say sensual impacts of rhythm, but I know this is a key element of your songwriting palette.

The process of songwriting

The way you write a song is personal. And that’s good. Still – studying songs that touch your heart is a great way to learn the basics.

Remember, everyone stalls now and then. In a dry spell try something different. If you usually start with a title, try using a rhythm, or a melody to get started. If you use a computer normally, try just playing your guitar, piano, or favorite instrument to inspire you.

Here are some options:

    Starting with a title,
    What does the title make you think about? What emotions are stirred? What memories do you have? What are your experiences that relate to the title you have in mind?

    Write down whatever comes to mind – rhyming and structure will come later, just record your impressions. This list of ideas becomes potential directions the song could go as you journey through the process of writing.

    It can be helpful to write the chorus first.

    Starting with a tune,
    A good guide is to keep chorus pitched higher than verse. Is it memorable? Is it easy to sing? Remember the octave from C below middle C to middle C is the one most people can sing with comfort.

    Starting with a rhythm,
    Got a drum machine or are you a drummer? Then you’re qualified to be a song-writer, too. Are you used to writing in 4/4? Try 3/4 or 6/8. It may surprise you how this will help your creativity.

Songwriting Resources