Monday, May 31, 2010

song choosing, song writing

I'm running an elective at Twist on Saturday about how to write congregational songs and how to choose songs for your church to sing. I'm trying to work out how to make it fun and useful for the two distinct groups of people that will be there.

While the two topics I have might seem very different, they are actually closely related. If you know how to identify a bad song, you'll be a better judge of your own work. 80% of good writing is throwing out the rubbish.


  1. Ohh - nearly came to that but decided I'd better stay at home and work on my endless number of work projects due by end of June. Hope it goes well! I think I have a good if idiosyncratic sense of what is a good song, but my critical faculties get completely scrambled when it comes to my own as I have no objectivity and it's so hard to get honest feedback.

  2. Jon - it's not too late! Come on!

  3. If you've got a text of the talk I'd like to pass it on to the musos here.
    Both parts are relevant.

  4. I'm late, I'm late for a very important date. deadlines looming, impatient clients. Regrets aplenty.

  5. Gary - text of talk? That would require me to have written it...


    I'm actually opening with the 'Sunday's coming' movie trailer that you linked to. I'll be putting the question - 'what's wrong with the way music is used here', then going to 1 Cor 3:10-15 to say that we should be careful how we choose/write songs. We want to build people up with gold, silver and precious stones, not straw. We want out ministry to last into eternity, not to be burnt up.

    Then I'll talk about what our songs should be about. Jesus, the gospel, God's promises, God's character... I'll talk about what they shouldn't be (straw that burns up!) - sentimental, vacuous, unclear/vague, downright heretical (uncommon)...

    Then I'll talk about how to identify/write a song with good content that people will actually want to sing. ie. It can say good stuff but still be a bad song - poorly crafted. We'll look at lyrics mostly (cause that's my thing) but also at music. I aim for my words to be fresh, crafted, disciplined and engaged.

    fresh - fresh in ideas and expression. Should make the gospel hit us anew. Turn of phrase etc should be non-cliche.

    crafted - what we are saying needs to be crafted, needs to go somewhere. We need to sculpt some kind of figure out of our ideas, not just chuck 'em out there randomly.

    disciplined - metrically. Syllables should line up. Verses etc should be under control and tidy.

    engaged - emotionally. The song should make us feel something. (But we shouldn't cheapen this with sentimentality. Saying 'Jesus, I love you, you are everything to me...' is not being emotionally engaged. It's most likely building with sentimental straw.)

    Through all this we'll look at examples of good writing. We might debate whether a particular song should be added to our church play list. Then we'll have a show and tell session with a few homemade songs that people have brought along. I might have feedback forms for people to fill in for each song.

    Wow! Maybe I've just written my material!

  6. Thanks.
    What thoughts do you have on songs for particular phases of the Service?

  7. Many different ways of doing this. I've got no problems with opening with an upbeat song, moving to one everyone knows and then doing the new one. In a lot of ways this makes sense! But there's no law about that. I'm fairly committed to the song at the end expressing something that people should be feeling/thinking at the end of the sermon.

    I don't really want all the songs to be on the sermon topic. I'd want one song to be overtly conscious of the fact that we come as sinners. I'd want at least one song (hopefully more) to be specifically Jesus focussed.

    I think it's fine to play with music to set the mood to help people listen as the bible is read and expounded.

    Do you have any thoughts?

  8. I've been working through the notion of dialogical worship: God speaks - people respond.
    The idea is that the pattern of the Gospel is hardwired into the service order.
    That has us praising at the beginning then moving to some form of confession of sin. I've used songs as the confession or praise at the affirmation of forgiveness.
    For the last 18 months we've been following a lectio continua reading pattern (1 chapter a week in sequence from a book of the bible distinct from our preaching cycle.) I've tried to use song as a new covenant appreciation or response to those chapters when we've read them.
    Orders are posted on our website.