Christian music has a number of uses, but if you’re like most people, there doesn’t appear to be an easily known way to go about writing Christian music.
Luckily, there are methods that can be used by anyone wishing to write a Sacred song for almost any purpose. So in this article, I’m going to show you how to write Christian songs that’ll make your friend and family proud!
Christian Songs That Inspire
While you might wake up with a beautiful and fully formed idea once in a while, this is unlikely to happen on a regular or predictable basis. This means that ideas often must be sought. The best and most obvious place to do this is in the Bible itself, although your own minister’s sermons, quotes from great Christian thinkers, or church prayer books are also splendid resources.
Find a Psalm, a prayer, a proverb, a narrative, a paragraph, or even a single sentence upon which you would like to focus. It may be that this particular text speaks to your own experiences in some personal way, or you may simply want to delve into the truth you have found there on a more general level.
Select at least three key terms from this passage, preferably words that speak either to sensory detail or to your own emotion. For the first word, set a timer for ninety seconds and write anything that the term brings to mind without stopping until the time is up. Try to focus on either your five senses, or the emotions this word brings up for you.
You might find yourself going off topic, but do not stop or edit your work as this is a brainstorming exercise to utilize your imagination. For the second word, do the same with your timer set for five minutes, and set it for ten minutes for the third word. This will hopefully have brought you some material with vivid detail.
Structuring Your Song Properly
Spend time reading and considering your chosen text closely. Familiarize yourself with its larger context. Write an outline of the primary themes, ideas, propositions, or events taking place, and discover the structure of the text.
Try to find the central or recurring theme in your outline and mark it as your chorus, if you wish to have a chorus. Mark the other sections of your outline as verses. If you would like a bridge, look for the theme that points most toward the future, or is second in importance after the primary theme that you have made the chorus.
After doing this, you may find that your outline is not structured like a song at all, and you may want to rewrite it in order. Think about how you would like your song to flow based on the sections you have. It is most common to start with one or two verses, enter into the chorus if you have one, go into another verse or two, and repeat the chorus.
If you have a final verse or bridge, you would then go into that and repeat the chorus again. Write your song’s outline into the structure you desire, and make sure the chronology of ideas or events makes logical sense.
Finally, complete your outline by elaborating on the theme in each section. Use bullet points or regular prose, because these are simply summaries. This is where you can come back to the deeply personal if you so desire. You can talk about your own experiences or emotions under these headings, or of course you can make it more universal.
Once you have finished this task, you will have what is known as a song map in front of you and will be ready to begin getting musical.
Understanding Poetry Mechanics
One of the most important things to remember about lyric writing is that it is the creation of poetry. This should not be intimidating, but simply means that they rhyme and are in meter. Neither of these must necessarily be precise.
Half rhymes are in most cases, just as affective as true rhymes. Once a rhyme scheme has been established however, it should be followed, whether it is A A B B, A B A B, A B C B, or any other pattern.
In its simplest form, meter is the number of syllables in each line. If you have ever examined a hymnal, you have probably seen strings of numbers such as 22.214.171.124, meaning that the first and third lines have eight syllables and the second and fourth have six.
Particularly if you are writing more of a modern hymn, you could take a melody from the hymnal and try to write your lyrics to it. If that melody is in the public domain, meaning it was written before 1926, you could even keep it with your own lyrics if you wanted to do that. Otherwise, you could simply use it as a temporary melody to help you shape your lyrics neatly.
Meter can get more complicated however, because in English, we emphasize some syllables over others. The technicalities of poetry are beyond the scope of this article, but suffice it to say sometimes accents fall on the first, middle or last syllable. Not all words or syllables carry equal weight, and because this is sung poetry, it is important to try to prevent syllables from being accented in a strange manner. Try to keep the emphasis as close to the natural spoken word as possible.
Using Resource to Help You
Rhyming dictionaries and thesauruses are always helpful tools to keep on hand. If you are writing something based on a Psalm, it is helpful to have at least one Psalter, which is a version of the Psalms written as hymns on hand. Here is an example of a paraphrase of Psalm 133:1 which in the King James Version reads:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” The ARP Psalter writes it this way:
Behold how very good it is, A pleasant thing to see;
When brothers join to live as one
In peace and unity!
Seeing the same Psalm upon which you are working put into poetry will often give you ideas for phrasing and rhyme. Similarly, if you are using a biblical text, referencing several different translations or even a short theological commentary on the text can help with wording ideas. Seeing the same text in different words might help you view everything differently.
Writing Lyrics for Christian Songs
Keeping all of this in mind, as you sit down to write your lyrics, have your notes from the earlier writing exercise nearby along with your song map. Take one section at a time, trying to write only four, six, or eight poetic lines. There is no need to hurry and you can even confine yourself to one section a day if you would like.
Try to capture some of the vivid details from your notes in each section of the song as you convert your song map summaries into meter and rhyme. It may be necessary to redraft your lyrics more than once, and once you have a melody, you may need to revise again.
Melody Writing for Christian Songs
As stated above, it may be possible to use a hymn tune in the public domain. Folk tunes such as “Auld Lang Syne” have also been used in worship songs, most recently in the song “All Glory Be To Christ”. It is however, entirely possible to write a melody of your own.
If you play an instrument, try different chord progressions and hum or sing along with them. Find the patterns of notes that stand out inside the chords. For a musician, this is the easiest way to build a melody.
If you are not a musician, it is no less possible to compose a melody. Talk through your lyrics, perhaps recording yourself. Take note of your vocal patterns, paying particular attention to the rise and fall of your vocal inflection. Try to chant or talk-sing your lyrics, imitating as best you can those vocal patterns you have observed. It will likely take time and experimentation, but you will discover the musicality that already exists in the English language and in your own lyrics. Make sure to record yourself chanting your lyrics so that you can remember which melody you want.
Ultimately, you should have a completed set of lyrics with a melody to fit them. I hope it will be a true, God honoring work to encourage you, your family and friends, your local church, and perhaps people you have never met. Whether its purpose is worship, teaching, or inspiration, I pray your song fulfills what you set out to do. If all goes well, it will be far from the last of its kind.
An understandable concern upon reading an article such as this might be that your originality, personality, and very self might be lost in the use of external material and the close following of formulas. In reality, I think you will find that restricting yourself to specific texts, outlines, and structures gives you freedom to write clearly, logically, and in a manner true to your love, pain, delight, and praise.
Hopefully this article has better helped you learn how to write a Christian song!