There are some practical, musical components that you will need to create when you write a worship song. The experience doesn’t have to be frustrating if you follow a simple process.
Here are my suggestions for you when you start to write a worship song.
Write the words first.
Ensure that the words are meaningful. A common way to write the words is to focus on the chorus first and express the theme of the song in the chorus. Then write the verses to support the theme that is found in the chorus. The verses can be more specific, possibly stating the why or the reason for the thought found in the chorus.
Here’s an example from a song I wrote titled None Like You.
The chorus states the general theme of the song, which is that Jesus is above all: “And Your Name will be exalted, the Word of God who is victorious. Lord of lords You rule in power. You are glorious. Seated high above the heavens with the Father in all glory, You will reign with Him forever for your Kingdom has no end.”
Verse 1 gives specifics on the theme: “In all the world there is none like You. The only One who’s faithful and true. Worthy to be honored and adored, Jesus, You alone are Lord. You are the only blessed Son who was sent to make God’s Kingdom come, and on earth His will to be done. Jesus, You’re the Holy One.” © 2002 Melody Lavin / ASCAP / CCLI #4028963
All verses should have the same rhythm and melody structure to create consistency in the song. You also can write a bridge and/or a pre-chorus, both of which provide musical interest and can augment the song. A bridge can express the thoughts found in the chorus in a different way, or it can add an additional thought that augments our understanding of the main theme of the song. A bridge usually has a slightly different musical feel and group of chords. A pre-chorus can be a line or two of words and melody that create musical and thought movement from a verse into the chorus.
Examples of a pre-chorus and a great bridge are found in the song More Than Amazing by Lincoln Brewster and Mia Fieldes. (Click the song title to listen in YouTube.)
Create a lead line—a melody line—for the words.
The melody should be singable by people who don’t have trained voices. You want the congregation to be able to sing it easily. Select a key in which the congregation can sing the song. Some songs have melody lines that are written in two octaves, and while a trained tenor or soprano can sing them, the congregation may wonder what notes to sing if they can’t hit the notes that the worship leader is singing. Be thoughtful when choosing the melody line.
A musician friend of mine once said that we often write lyrically and musically in the styles that we know or are comfortable with. I do agree that when we’re looking for a lead line or chord progression and we’re using our naturally-developed musical skill we’ll tend to lean to our musical knowledge and experience. However, I find that when I’m just privately worshiping God, I’ll hear lead lines and chord progressions in my spirit, not in my mind. If I write those down and use them as the basis for the song, they are more powerful than what I can create from my mind and musical experience. They came from my spirit, and there is a spiritual depth and connection when they are played.
Create a basic chord structure that supports the melody line.
If you start with simple chords that work with the melody, when the song is roughly finished, you can go back and rework those chords, substituting the simple chords with some that are more rich and complex in their structure. This will create musical interest within the song. If you aren’t comfortable or skilled in doing that, you can ask another musician to help you.
Establish the rhythm and tempo.
Choose a rhythm style that expresses the meaning of the song. Also, your culture, your church and its vision, and your personal preference for the song’s rhythmic feel can all be powerful influences when you select a rhythm style.
Choose a tempo for the song. You may have thought that you wanted to write an uptempo song; however, if you’ve written verses that have a lot of words, you may need to slow the song’s tempo. Since the words are more important in a worship song than the music (because it’s worship to and of God which is defined by the words), then you want to ensure that the congregation can sing the words and engage with their meaning. This doesn’t mean that worship songs all need to be slow. It means that you should be musically thoughtful.
A song of praise or worship of God will focus on Him, but it also will give you a way in which you can be uninhibited before God. The song will provide a way through which you can release and express the joy and love within you toward Him.
I encourage you to evaluate the musical components of your song. When you’ve chosen your chords and rhythm, ask yourself this question: Is the music manipulating my body or my soul? Determine if the song allows your spirit to rejoice or if the music is simply inspiring you to want to dance because the song has a great rhythm. Ask yourself if the musical lead line is so plaintive, so melancholy, that it affects your emotions. Ask yourself why you chose that structure or chord progression. Be thoughtful and focus on being inspired and sensitive to what will bless God and give people a great vehicle through which they can praise and worship Him.
Play the song for trusted friends and other worship leaders.
Ask them what they think about the song—the words, the melody, the rhythm, and the chord structure. Be open to hear what they have to say. They’ll have suggestions that may make the song better and stronger. Try to avoid being defensive when they give their suggestions. The way to do that is to remember that other people may have exactly what you need to augment what you’ve written and created.
Enjoy the process.
I love the process of writing music. I love music. Even more, I enjoy spending time with God to discover what will please and honor Him. I’m blessed in the development of the songs.
When I look back at the songs I wrote years ago, I see my musical and spiritual immaturity. Those songs helped people to worship God, and I grew in the process while writing them, but I understand more now. When I write, it’s a connection with God combined with the desire to give something to other Christians—a meaningful way to express their adoration of God.