(Originally published in the 2006 Worship Leader [March/April]. But it’s a fun one, so we thought we’d dust it off for you.)
Here are some classic mistakes to watch out for when you are writing a worship song.
1. “Help, help, I’m stuck in a worship song…”
Try and give your song an ending or at least a way that people can escape. Some churches have been singing “Light of the world” non-stop for 2 years now because they can’t find a way to resolve it
2. Beware of the ‘Fyllables’!
“Fyllables” are sounds that ‘fill’ up the space of a ‘syllable’ but contribute nothing (e.g. ‘just’, ‘really’, ‘that’ or even ‘Lord’). They can suddenly appear as if from nowhere. “Stretchers” are bad too. They sneak in and add extra syllables to words that ‘shou-ouldn’t’ be ‘ther-ere’ (e.g ‘ev-er-y’ instead of ‘ev-ry’). Writers often just don’t really notice that it really is just happening. Make each word really count!
3. Dead-end streets
These are lines with words at the end that force you into using an obvious rhyme (e.g. ‘love’ and ‘above’, ‘life’ and ‘strife’). Reverse out slowly and move the offending word somewhere else.
4. ‘Back to front’ writing
A weird technique involving ‘the order around of the words changing’ to try and make things sound more hymn-like. Try speaking your lyrics, would you actually ever say it like that to somebody?
Shhh … this is a secret language where ‘… although-it-doesn’t-actually-say-what-it-means-we-know-it-probably-means-what-it-says-so-we’ll-sing-it-anyway, even-though-if-we’re-honest-it-doesn’t-actually-make-sense’. Avoid.
6. Wobbly stepping-stones
Singing a song can be like crossing a stream using ‘stepping stones’. If the stepping-stones are ‘wobbly’ because they are balanced on weak lyrics, or in odd places because the phrasing is strange, then it makes it more difficult to do.
7. “Watch the step!”
Tripping up into a song is never a dignified way of entering. This can happen to congregations when the first line starts at some seemingly obscure place after the first beat of the bar, usually known only to the songwriter (or not)
8. Don’t em-PHA-sise the wrong BITS
Sounds ob-VI-ous, BUT make sure the emph-A-sis IS on the ‘important’ words IN the lyrics.
9. Sorry, but it’s the law…
Believe it or not there are musical rules for what makes songs written in a rock/pop style work, and the chance of you accidentally stumbling across some brilliant new and undiscovered way of writing a great song without taking any notice of them is not very likely. Listen to what makes good songs work and learn from them.
10. Stay out of the bars!
Don’t add extra bars at random places simply to try and create some sort of added ‘tension’. It may feel great when you are writing it in your room but can cause absolute chaos for a congregation! Have pity on that poor soul who will come in by themselves at the top of their voice at what they think is the start of the chorus…
11. It’s a ‘community’ not an ‘audience’
Finally, don’t forget that when you are writing songs for worship you are writing songs for other people to sing.
…oh, and by the way, I only know these things because I have been guilty of all these mistakes!