Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Songwriter's Toolbox - Tommy Walker

Tommy Walker offers handy advice for writing worship songs.

Here are some suggested tools that can help you as you make songwriting a lifestyle.

Portable Recorder
I already mentioned the role my portable, digital recorder plays in my songwriting process. Ideas can materialize at any time so I urge you to use a similar device.
I keep mine with me at all times. I can talk, sing or play into it. When a song gets close to being done I can record the whole form, plug my recorder into the larger speakers in my studio [the studio is not a necessity] and play it all back.

Computers & Software
A computer is a tremendously powerful tool for any songwriter. Only a few years ago you would have to go to a professional recording studio and pay a hefty hourly rate to get a high quality recording. Today, digital audio and MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface-an internationally accepted protocol that allows musical-related data to be conveyed from one device to another) recording software has made it possible to produce professional quality recordings from your living room. Of course, you can use recording software for more than just creating a polished CD. I use my software simply to try out different ideas. For instance, I might want to see how a drum groove sounds on a particular chorus. It might influence how I end up writing a melody line or a lyrical phrase. I might want to drop in a string part to see if it changes the emotional impact of the song. The experimental possibilities are virtually endless.

Computers have also given the songwriter notation software. Allegro®, Finale®, and Overture® are just a few popular applications. I use one called Encore®. I always make lead sheets (a notated melody line, chord symbols and lyrics) of my finished songs. Lead sheets are extremely helpful for teaching new songs to my worship team. I have also found that it helps to chart out the notes to the melody because it forces me to be more rhythmically consistent. Rhythmical consistency is very helpful when leading a congregation in singing. It also enables the worship team to be more precise when we're teaching it to each other as well as to the congregation.
My computer also houses lengthy files of lyric ideas. I divide them into different categories: Scripture songs, missions, discipleship, revival, repentance, etc. If I begin working on an idea but for some reason can't finish it, I file it. Later, when I have a new melody but no lyrics I'll refer to my files. Quite often I'll also get a new lyric idea, then take ideas from one of those filed, unfinished lyrics. The combination gets me to a new, completed song.

Recording Hardware
Today's technology makes it possible to buy a four-track cassette recorder for about $150.00, and you don't have to be a trained engineer to operate it. If you feel more comfortable working with an actual piece of hardware, as opposed to computer software, this can be a good, economical way to record your songs.

Another helpful piece of gear is the drum machine. Drum machines can help you discover new rhythms and inspire you to try new approaches to your songs. They are also a necessity when it comes to producing demo recordings.

Reference Books
Reference books are a great way to trigger new ideas or inspire alternate approaches to a song you're working on. Here are just a few I use and recommend:
• Bible (take the time to reference different versions)
• Bible Commentaries
• Concordances and other Bible study materials
• Thesaurus
• Dictionary
• Rhyming Dictionary

You can find all of this reference material in any well-stocked bookstore or library. Of course, if you want a better selection of Bibles or Bible commentaries, a Christian bookstore is the place to go.

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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