10 Ways to Use Past Hymns in Today’s Songwriting


1. Familiarize yourself with both classic and obscure hymns and hymn writers

a. Ambrose, Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Isaac Watts, Ira Sanke, Thomas Dorsey, St. Francis, Philip Bliss, Wm. Bradbury, Frances Ridley Havergal, William James Kirkpatrick, Robert Lowry, George Stebbins, Paul Gerhardt, Joachim Neander, and a thousand others.

b. Look at the hymns’ structure, rhyme, and meter

c. Look at each author’s perspective and use of literary devices

d. Look at what story is told, where the story begins and ends, and how it is developed musically and lyrically.

e. Practise playing and singing your favorites

2. Familiarize yourself with both poets/poetry and theologians, old and new.

3. Immerse yourself in Scripture

4. Listen to newly relased hymns and hymn remediations

5. Experiment with different approaches

a. Add a new chorus or bridge to an existing hymn

b. Add a new melody to an existing hymn lyric

c. Update a hymn lyric, keeping depth of content, but using only contemporary language

d. Practice using different literary devices: paradox, personification, metaphor, symbol, simile, alliteration, etc.

6. Collaborate with someone whose strengths support your weaknesses and vice versa

7. Regularly write a new hymn in the style of a classic hymnwriter.

a. Choose a specific hymn, and mirror its time signature, meter, rhyme structure, and subject

b. Pick a specific audience for your song, i.e., your local church, your best friend, your wife, your child, your Sunday school class or youth group.

c. Pick a specific occasion: Sunday service, a funeral or time of grievingng, a wedding, a joyous occassion, a baptism, etc.

d. Find a fresh way to tell the story and musically illustrate it.

e. Sing it a capella to see if it’s user friendly

8. Try your hymn out on your family or home group, if it works, move it to the larger community for a trial.

9. Submit your songs to a circle of friends who are theologically schooled, pastorally oriented, have a history with God, and are creatively inspiring for review.

10. Eliminate time as a factor. Relentlessly pursue beauty, theological truth, emotional resonance, lyrical poetry, musical accessibility, relevance and match to content till the song is truly complete.


*You’ll find that your time spent in hymn exploration and creation will season all your songwriting regardless of form or function, style or situation. So even if you decide hymns are not your thing, you’ll write infinitely richer songs.


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