I have been having a blast writing this series focused on helping you write worship songs and the response from worship songwriters has been incredible. Thanks to everyone who has shared these posts and passed them along to songwriters and those who are writing worship songs for your local churches.
So far, we’ve talked about inspiration, co-writing, conversations and begun to talk about lyrics and melody. Today’s post is going to focus on five things you need to remember when it comes to melody as part of writing worship songs.
- Know the rules then break them
A classic sign of a beginning songwriter is the rulebreaker attitude: “Rules? I don’t need rules! I’m an artist!” Of course you’re an artist – that’s why you need rules! There’s all kinds of time in your life to be creative, play outside the box, colour outside the lines but the ones who are truly successful at this are the ones who know the rules of songwriting and push the boundaries within the boundaries.
- From C to shining C
Remember that you are writing melody for your congregation not for you. How many minutes of actual singing do you think the typical Sunday morning attender does outside of the songs you are singing together? In an average week? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Zip. Not one. You are not writing songs for singers, you are writing songs for talkers who are being asked to sing.As a general rule, the majority of your melody should remain in a one octave range “from C to shining C.” For women, this is middle C up one octave. For men, this is middle C down one octave. There are definitely exceptions and there’s nothing wrong with a low Bb or a high D but your melody shouldn’t live up there.
- Keep It Simple!
Stop for a second and hum the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Seriously. Do it. I’ll wait….
How many notes in that melody? Six. Six notes in that melody. What about “Mary Had A Little Lamb”? Four. Four notes in the melody of that song. Complexity is not memorable. Simplicity is memorable.
This applies to worship songs as well. Think of the chorus of “Mighty to Save” – five notes. Chorus of “Blessed be Your Name” – four notes. Chorus of “How Great is Our God” – five notes. When is the last time you wrote a melody which includes only four or five notes? Up for the challenge? You might create the most memorable melody you’ve ever written.
- Melody serves the lyric
Earlier in this blog series I mentioned this idea that “lyric is king, melody is queen” – the lyric of our worship songs is what makes them distinctive. The object and subject of our worship is Jesus and this is what makes our worship songs what they are.
As you write, remember that the melody needs to serve the lyric. If the words of your song are focused on celebration, rejoicing, exalting God for His attributes and His activity but the melody of your song is a slow, droning, mournful line, you may not get the response you’re looking for. Doesn’t mean it’s a bad melody, it just doesn’t serve the lyric. If it IS a good melody, there is another, better lyric which it can serve in another song.
- Capture Ideas
I mentioned this same thing when it comes to lyrics but from time to time you will have a melody just drop in to your brain and if you are like me you may think to yourself, “No problem, that melody is so great I will remember it!” No, you will not! Get yourself a way to remember your melody ideas in a way that makes sense to you.
I love the Evernote app for iPhone and us it to record audio notes all the time. You could also use a standard voice recorder like the Roland R-05 or any other kind of voice recording app for your phone. You could even call yourself on the phone and leave a voicemail with the melody idea to retrieve later.
Five things to remember about melody when you write worship songs: Know the rules then break them, from C to shining C, keep it simple, melody serves the lyric and capture ideas. Share & Re-Write & Share – Great Songs Are Re-Written[This post is part of my Write Worship Songs blog series.]