Arrangements for Worship Songs
Sometimes we can get so familiar with how a worship song is done that when it's played on a Sunday morning we go into autopilot and don't really take in the truth that's being sung and we don't appreciate the melody or tune to the song anymore.
I'm a big believer of trying out new arrangements for familiar songs, particularly the hymns. I think a fresh take on a classic song can really breathe fresh life into what we are singing. We don't have to change the melody of the hymn necessarily but we can play around with the chords and motifs.
With my team in Canterbury it got to a stage where we were doing great with learning our parts for new songs coming out. We'd listen to the YouTube videos and nail the set arrangement but there wasn't much creativity happening. There wan't much room for ideas and re-makes of old songs.
At a practice recently we took the hymn "Here is Love". I purposefully left an hour of the practice free for us to have a long time to try and nail a new arrangement for the song. Here were some of the things that worked well for us as a team:
- We had an open time where everyone in the team would pitch in ideas.
- We spoke about the pace of the song- whether we wanted it to be celebratory or an intimate re-make. One of our singers was keen for it to be upbeat.
- We spoke about the time signature. I was keen on 6/8 so we went for that.
- We played around with different chords for the intro. Our bassist came up with a sequence of G/Em/Em/C which worked well upbeat.
- We spent time thinking about the "hook". This is a memorable riff or motif that will be repeated in the song and will become a familiar association with the song in people's minds. As we were playing through the chord sequence the drums and bass started locking into a good groove and I had a riff idea in my mind. I sung this down the microphone and we got the electric guitarist to play it. We then got the synth player to harmonise with this riff.
- We used this riff as an intro, in between verses and even in the Middle 8 section.
- We wanted to bring the song down in one place so I could read out some scripture about the love of God. We tried to fit in elements of the riff we'd created so it would be familiar for people to hear but not dominate what was being spoken over the top. We then went into a larger section after the scripture was read.
- We then planned when vocals would come in and out.
- We then wanted to give the 3rd verse a bit of a different feel. In the end we decided it should just be drums playing for the first half of the verse with us singing over the top then bring in the other instruments. I think it's good with hymns to give some musical difference for the different verses. As there are often 4 or 5 verses to a hymn there is the danger every part of the song can sound the same and have the same dynamics.
- After putting together the different parts of the song we played it through once, made a couple of changes and then a few of us got out the dictaphones (our iPhones!!) and recorded a full version of it. This is so useful as people can forget what we played last week let alone last month! We shared this on FaceBook with the rest of the band and can refer to it before we play it again.
I hope these practical tips have been useful for how to bring a new arrangement to an old song. Here are some other songs I've tried to re-arrange and some obvious things I went for in those songs
- Before the Throne (a new riff and chord pattern in the intro and connecting sections. Downbeat verse 1 and 2, really big verse 3)
- Be Thou My Vision (an oscillating synth pattern with the electric guitarist playing dotted 16ths. Our reference point was "Sweet Disposition" by The Temper Trap)
- I Stand Amazed (a new chord sequence for the intro and link sections)
- How Deep The Father's Love (two electric guitars playing high arpeggiated riffs, one ascending, one descending- think ambient Bloc Party. Then an instrumental section at the end based on a Sigur Ros piece).
- Oh To See The Dawn (changed some of the chords to relative minor chords in the first few verses with just piano and acoustic playing then a big build up once we sing about the resurrection going to major chords)
- When I survey (took the Tim Hughes version then added another verse talking about our unity in Christ).
Sorry there aren't recordings up, maybe one day!! Hope this helps with some ideas for new arrangements for familiar songs. Let me know what songs you've rearranged and what you've found that works well.
Written on 22/10/13 by Olly Knight