Making an old song sound new

You can refresh many older songs and still maintain their impact and integrity. Here are some things you can do to keep them fresh.

Evaluate the song.

  • Start by stripping the song down to the lead line and lyrics. Then ask yourself, “What could we change?”

  • Could you substitute chords? Would a Dm7 sound better than an F in that section?

  • Could you change the bass line? Could the bass intro the song?

  • Could you adjust the tempo or the rhythm style to make the song feel fresh? Try some different drum grooves and see how the song lyrics and lead line feel with the different grooves. Experiment. I recommend that you keep the vocal lines and vocal rhythms the same or very similar to the way the artist wrote them to avoid confusing the congregation.

  • What about trying different keyboard sounds. If you’ve been using a traditional piano sound and the song has been piano-driven, try a synth sound or a string pad instead and make the song more guitar-driven. Or, if you’ve only had a synth sound on the keys, try a retro Rhodes sound.

  • Could you create an acoustic version of the song? Some songs sound fresh when the electric instruments are stripped away and the song is played with an acoustic guitar or two and maybe a cajon for rhythm.

Switch the arrangement.

  • You could start the song with the chorus or the bridge instead of the standard intro into a verse.

  • You could start the song with a new intro, or you could change who starts the song: the bass, or just the vocals, or the drums.

  • You could start with an updated intro and then go immediately into the chorus (and sing only the chorus and maybe the bridge), and then go immediately into another song.

Recognize that some songs are what they are.

  • Some songs wouldn’t benefit from a change in the tempo or style. Some songs are incredibly powerful in their original arrangement, and you may not want to change that. If you have overused the song, you could set it aside for a while until you feel inspired or prompted to use it again. If that song glorifies God—it’s about Him or directly to Him—it will be timeless, and the people will connect with it.

The important thing is to remember that you are not limited in your creativity, nor are you limited by an arrangement that someone recorded. Keep it fresh and enjoy experimenting with the team.