Monday, December 17, 2007

Creating a Worship Song: The Music - Tommy Walker

In his continuing series on Songwriting, Tommy Walker examines how to musically create great sounding worship songs.

Getting Started-Modeling

For those of you who are just beginning your venture into songwriting, you might want to start with a process I'll refer to as modeling. Spend some time listening to what other songwriters have written-the songs that work, the songs that touch you. Find a simple song that you really like, then write a song of your own that uses the same elements. I'm not suggesting that you plagiarize someone else's material and present it as your own. I'm suggesting that you model your song on the song of an established writer as a method of developing your own songwriting skills.

Use modeling for all components of a song while you're learning to be a better writer. If you play an instrument, figure out the chords of the other song. You might concentrate on the chord progression of the chorus, or the chords in the verse and chorus. While you're working on your lyrics, you might use the same number of syllables found in each line of the phrases from the song being modeled. Again, you wouldn't present that song as being yours, but it's a great way to learn the craft. You're building your new song on the foundation of someone who wrote a really effective song.

Modeling works well for learning rhythms as well. Write songs over rhythm patterns of other recordings to acquire a feel for a variety of rhythms.

Once you begin to develop a sense of how songs are constructed you can take the process a little further. You've already figured out the chords of the song that you're modeling so begin to alter them. Then try singing a different melody along with the new chords.

Now find a favorite psalm or poem and choose a couple of verses that work for you. The song might not be a great one and it may sound too much like the original song but that's all right at this stage. You're simply trying to get the ball rolling. And I think you'll be surprised at how well you do if you don't put any pressure on yourself to write something awesome the first few times out of the gate.

Matching Melodies And Words

Mourning Into Dancing was first born when I heard the text of Psalm 30 sung to a rather sad melody. For me, the tone of the music-the feeling it projected-didn't seem to match the message the words were conveying.

I told myself that someday I'd compose music for the same passage that would be a better match. I thought the text called for music that is bright, cheerful and would make people want to dance. It was years later when I saw the car commercial that inspired the music that would accompany my version of the psalm. I knew that this music was what the lyrics from Psalm 30 were begging for. Always ask yourself if your music is relaying the same message as your lyrics.

Forward, Always Forward

Once you begin working on a new worship song it's very important that you keep moving forward. You need to keep making progress. You want to keep your momentum up. You don't want to get bogged down in the muddy water of details.

For instance, you might be making great progress with a melody but a section of lyrics is giving you trouble. The temptation for many writers is to stop and think about it. Well, if you do you just may lose that forward momentum. In this regard, a seemingly strange yet helpful technique that many songwriters use is to sing melodies with lyrics that makes no sense. I have been mumbling nonsense to help me find the melodies for my songs from my earliest days of songwriting. Over the years I've discovered that this is a very common practice.

"Yesterday," by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, is one of the most covered songs (recorded by various artists) in pop music history. Sir Paul has made it known through many interviews over the years that the title and main lyric of this monster hit was originally "scrambled eggs," and remained "scrambled eggs" for several days while he developed the song.

The main idea is to avoid letting any little snag in the creative process stop you in your tracks. If you have a good melody idea, you want and need to move forward with it. If you allow yourself to believe that you must have exactly the right lyric before you can proceed, you risk not finishing your song at all. Choosing to insert a nonsense lyric into your song enables you to move forward with what you have, and reduces the possibility of not completing the song because of what you don't have. I've actually ended up with complete melodies without realizing I was saying something that actually made sense.

In his continuing series on Songwriting, Tommy Walker examines how to musically create great sounding worship songs.

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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