Using Themes in Songs
I don't know if you've been in a time of worship and the song you're singing is a bit random? The song goes all over the place and you're not sure who you're singing to, how one line connects with another and what the song is really trying to say?
There's a well known that's used quite a lot over the last few years but it's always puzzled me as it talks about intimacy with the Father throughout most of the chorus but then suddenly switches to talk about Jesus' reign. It's just always felt a bit clunky to me. I've probably made worse mistakes in my songwriting or there may well be good reason for why the song in question was written as it was. However I really think that if us as songwriters have the opportunity of taking the congregation on a journey through a song I'd prefer the journey to be one that makes sense in where it goes.
I had the pleasure of hearing Matt Redman speak on worship leading and songwriting a year ago. He says that when he writes songs he wants to take people to two places; the Chapel and The Classroom. What he means by this is that he wants there to be an element of devotion and wonder (Chapel) and also educating people through what they sing (Classroom).
So we want this journey in a song to have content that teaches and informs but also space and simplicity for people to connect with God through the song. Here are some ways to get writing using a set theme:
- Search through Scripture and pull out a key passage that ties into the theme you want to write on. e.g. "Servant King" by Graham Kendrick was based a lot on Philippians 2.
- Get inspiration from writers that are strong on writing on a certain theme ie Matt Redman and Graham Kendrick.
- Martin Loyd Jones said to Preachers to "kill your darlings". He wasn't advocating murder... He was saying that sometimes we hold onto things because we think they are immense ideas but they don't actually work within the talk we are delivering. Same for song writers. Sometimes we are obsessed with a line we've thought up- don't put it in the wrong song just for the sake of it. Keep it for another one that'll fit thematically much better!
- Listen to preaches/ read books on a particular subject. For Mobilise 2013 I wanted to write a song that spoke of the Church being the dwelling place for God here on earth. I knew the preachers were basing their talks on this theme from a book called "Vertical Church" by James McDonald so I read this book and it informed my understanding of the theme much more than if I hadn't.
- Don't rush a song and cram in cliches to fill lines. There's a couple of songs that I've never finished just because I couldn't think of good second verses or great choruses that fitted in with the theme I was writing on. There's some phrases that are used in just about every worship song you hear and I want to avoid those. I really don't want to settle for what's gone before.
So there we have it! Themes in songwriting. If you have any suggestions and tips or observations please comment below :)
Written on 20/04/13 by Olly Knight