Monday, December 17, 2007

Creating a Worship Song: The Lyrics - Tommy Walker

Tommy Walker looks at one of the biggest challenges facing songwriters - writing lyrics

Lyrics From Scripture

Writing lyrics is often the biggest challenge to a songwriter. So, most of us need all the help we can get.

One of the easiest and most effective types of worship songs are those written directly from scripture. I would say that approximately half of my songs fall into this category. I highly recommend this approach. First, because it's hard to go wrong using the Word of God. Second, using scripture as inspiration can be especially helpful to those who struggle with the lyrical side of songwriting.

It's important to know that you don't have to draw scripture into your song word for word. However, if I'm not going to use a scripture word for word, I must be absolutely certain that I understand exactly what the passage is saying. I want to be certain I'm communicating God's truth in the way He originally intended. Usually I will read the verse I'm working with in several different Bible translations. Bible commentaries on the verse can be very helpful, as well. This process frequently gives me new ideas so it's worth doing the work. Once I'm confident that I fully comprehend the text, I feel total freedom to be creative with it.

The song "Everyone Arise" serves as a good example. This song is taken from Isaiah 60 which reads [NIV], "Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you."

I also used a portion of Psalm 34, which says, "Those who look to Him are radiant." I love these passages because they communicate the vision of worship evangelism. They tell us that the world will see God's glory through us as we look to the Lord and give our lives in worship to Him.

So, here is how these verses of scriptures were finally translated into "Everyone Arise:"

Everyone arise and let it shine,
Children of our God your light has come,
For the glory of the Lord
And the beauty of His grace
Is rising on you now.
Though the darkness covers all the earth
They will see your light, they will hear the sound
For the glory of the Lord
And the beauty of His grace
Is rising on you now.
The song's chorus is simply a response to the text:
Praise Him, praise Him, praise Him.
Arise and shine and celebrate Him.
Let His glory rise on you, let it rise.

The presence of scripture is strong in this song. I was able to harness the power of God's Word but without quoting scripture word for word. For centuries Christians have recited God's Word together. There is a supernatural power that comes from it. We can keep the tradition alive in song. Give it a try.


One of the elements that make lyrics such a challenge to the songwriter is the necessity for rhyme. Our ears are so accustomed to hearing rhymes in songs that I'm afraid there is no way around it. The only time I don't worry too much about rhyme, at least true rhyme, is when I'm writing a worship song that heavily draws from scripture. This is true especially when I'm taking a more word for word approach.
Contemporary lyrics tend to more closely imitate the sound of real, everyday conversation than the lyrics of forty or fifty years ago. That is an important reason to write honestly and avoid rhyming just for the sake of rhyming. Every rhyme you make should be natural, sound natural and be motivated by the message in the song's phrase. The best rhymes are those that rhyme perfectly but still have the natural sound of human speech.

Lyrics that rhyme make phrases feel smooth and sound beautiful. Rhymes also make lines memorable, literally. People tend to remember phrases of a song because of the rhyme schemes. Remembering the words that rhyme tends to act as a key for recalling the rest of the phrases.

Coming up with rhymes can be very time consuming for me. It's like putting together a puzzle (not my favorite pastime), but the process is necessary and frequently rewarding when all the pieces are finally in place. I try to never let rhymes determine what I'm trying to say. Yet, there have been instances when the search for a rhyme lead me to writing a lyric that was more profound then what I originally had in mind.

There are two styles of rhyme: true rhyme and false rhyme. Here are a few examples of true rhyme:

Hand - Land
Hurt - Dessert
Make - Shake
Descend - Amend

The chorus of "That's Why We Praise Him" employs a true rhyme.
That's why we praise Him, that's why we sing.
That's why we offer Him our everything.
Another song verse that incorporates true rhyme is found in "Let's Think About Our God."

Let's think about our God, our Savior and our King.
The One who gave it all, He gave up everything.
Let's think about the Man who shed His precious blood,
So we could be His friend, His friends until the end.
The end of the first and second lines derive their rhyme on the "ing" of King and everything. The fourth line utilizes an internal rhyme with the two rhyming words located within the same line-in this case they are friend and end.

Now a few examples of false rhyme:

Sighed - Cry
Hands - Man
Mind - Time
Lie - Fight

You can see that false rhyme relies on the strength of the vowel sounds to link two words together while consonants take something of a "back seat" in importance.
The verse of "Only A God Like You" is a good example of false rhyme.
For the praises of man
I will never, ever stand
For the kingdoms of this world
I'll never give my heart away or shout my praise

The first line ends with the word man, and the word stand completes the false rhyme at the end of the second line. Since man ends with the letter "n" and stand ends in "nd," the rhyme is dependent on the sound of the vowel, "a" which is common to both words.

You might want to note that contemporary music often mixes true and false rhymes within the same song-as long as it sounds "right" and "natural." The chorus of "Lord I Believe In You" uses a combination of true and false rhyme.

Lord I believe in You. I'll always believe in You
Though I can't see You with my eyes
Deep in my heart Your presence I find
Lord I believe in You and I'll keep my trust in You
Let the whole world say what they may
No one can take this joy away.
Lord I believe.

The second and third lines false rhyme the "i" sound of eyes and find. The fifth and sixth lines use a true rhyme with may and away.

Here are a few more suggestions for using rhyme:

• Don't hesitate to use a good rhyming dictionary to help you find the right rhyme. I have a software version installed on my computer.
• If you're just starting out, you might begin by using true rhymes before you move on to the use of false rhymes.
• Be consistent and use the same rhyme scheme from verse to verse whenever you can. This will give cohesiveness to your song.
• Try testing your lyrics as though you're an actor reading dialogue. When you read your lyrics, do they "talk"? Do they sound like normal, human speech?

Let It Flow

As I discussed earlier in regard to melody, it is important that you keep your ideas flowing. This applies to lyrics, as well. When lyric ideas begin to come I want to let them flow, both the good and the bad. I just get it all down on paper or recorded. Making note of all the ideas, both good and bad, gives me more to work with. I try not to start over-analyzing too early. It interrupts the flow and draws me away from the ideas that are coming.

Don't Say Too Much

While reading the Bible I will often get excited by it's many truths. But I have learned that the inherent beauty of a worship song lies in its ability to communicate something simple in a very deep and meaningful way. If I have several different thoughts I will put them each into different songs. This is a very important point. A songwriter wants the people who hear his or her worship song to walk away knowing what the one central theme is, what the song is really all about.

Write From The Heart

The more true feeling and emotion you can get into a song the less contrived and insincere it will sound. I have found that I have to search deep into my heart and have extended times of quiet before the Lord, to reach a place of real honesty.
As writers it is our job to help other people express authentic worship to God. To do this we have to have experienced authentic worship ourselves. Once I've reached that point, I try to focus on the feelings that are in my heart. It's more important for me to get those feelings down on paper than it is to come up with a clever, religious cliché. Great songs are always songs from the heart. Learn how to listen, and to tap into the passions and emotions that are inside you.

Tommy Walker has written over forty worship songs that are currently being tracked by CCLI. These include: Mourning Into Dancing, He Knows My Name, That's Why We Praise Him and No Greater Love. Tommy has been the worship Leader at Christian Assembly Church in Los Angeles since 1990. He has produced worship recordings for Integrity Music, Maranatha Music as well as for his church label, Get Down Ministries.


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