Songwriting Tips By Duane Maracle

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Song writing is a craft that is used for secular and spiritual ends. If you write songs, hopefully you desire to be used by God to glorify Him in some way.

As a Christian you don't necessarily have to write songs about the Lord, but you don't want to dishonor the Lord either. If you choose to write secular songs, be careful that you don't glorify sexual immorality or other things that are inappropriate.

Creativity: more than magic

The creative process of song writing is almost as varied as the shape of snowflakes. You have to find what works for you. Some composers almost always start with the lyrics and then add music. Some compose the opposite way. Others try to do both at the same time. Once in a while a song may come effortlessly, but don't expect all of them to. Learn to work at a song, crafting it into the best it can be. Don't be afraid to change things even when the song is down on paper. Be willing to add, subtract, reword, etc. Some songs may take minutes from start to finish; some may develop over months.

If you're composing the music, try to find chords that go together, that actually "progress somewhere." Listen to music, lots of it, and not just one or two styles. Try the gamut from classical to hip-hop, from Gregorian chants to country, making an effort to analyze things like: where is the melody line going? How do the words carry the rhythm of the song?

If you don't play an instrument, you can still write lyrics, but somewhere along the way you'll either need to learn some things about music -- melody lines, chord changes, etc. -- or find someone who does know. Show him or her your lyrics to see if they'd be interested in putting music to them. It could be the start of a song writing team.

Songs today don't have to rhyme if it means awkward phrasings. While most songs don't employ totally free verse where nothing rhymes or even comes near, there's more of a balance. Many songs contain "near rhymes" or "assonance." It's an improvement because it gives more freedom to express your ideas without sounding contrived. If it's a good, natural-sounding fit, then go for it.

If you decide to write worship songs to be sung in churches, something to keep in mind is that there's a dire need for songs about some of the distinctive Adventist beliefs. Example: songs about the Sabbath. What an exalted subject to write about, with different facets from creation to the weekly celebrations in heaven after the Second Coming!

Things to avoid

Making the melody hard to follow, hard to sing, therefore hard to remember.

Changing your viewpoint within a song. If you begin in the third person, it's confusing for the listener to hear "you" instead of "him" later on.

Becoming too specific so only a couple other people in the world can identify with your message or becoming too general so there's hardly any originality to it.

Wandering too much in the lyrics, not staying focused on the subject.

Changing from old English (like "thy") to modern English in the same song.

Things to do

Keep a pocket-sized pad and pen with you in case you get a song idea or a couple lines, and try to write something in it daily.

Save all the ideas and lyrics you get in your pad or on scraps of paper, napkins, etc. even if they don't seem any good. Go over them from time to time. They might spark a great song.

Review, tweak and revise a song and try to be objective enough to know when it needs a lot or little. Once you're satisfied, move on.

Vary your song writing efforts. Strive for variety in the length of lines, rhyme schemes, verse-chorus-bridge placement, subjects you write about, fast-medium-slow tempo, etc.

Write songs and write more songs. There's no real short cut. You only get good by doing a lot of song writing and trying to improve or vary from your last song.

Songwriter, Norman Gimbel once said, "You can always write a better song than the one you've done. If you think you've written the best one, it's because you're exhausted. There's a better one."

Resources

Essential Songwriter's Rhyming Dictionary, by Kevin Mitchell, Alfred Publishing Co. Inc. A handy pocket-size -- it even includes some song writing tips in the beginning pages.

Stories Behind Popular Songs and Hymns, by Lindsay Terry, Baker Book House. Accounts of how the songs were written. These are not the most modern songs, but neither are they from the 1700's and 1800's.

Worship Leader Magazine, usually has a segment entitled "Song Stories" that describes how a current worship song was written.

Worship Team Handbook, edited by Alison Siewert, Inter Varsity Press. Contains a 3-page chapter on "Writing Music for Worship."

The Craft of Lyric Writing, by Sheila Davis, Writer's Digest Books. This is an extremely thorough work on lyric writing. Don't become overwhelmed by it. Warning -- this is written from a secular perspective and there are some lyrics you won't want to dwell on. Pick and choose. 800-289-2963.

Duane Maracle is a pastor in the Carolina Conference. This article was first published on PlusLine/Adventsource. All rights reserved © 2012 VisitInSpire.org. Click here for content usage information.