Songwriting Part 1

A note about lyric:

Words lose potency with overuse.

My rule of thumb is if you’ve heard a term or phrase before, then don’t use it. Never use clichés, “dead” words, or tired metaphors.

A line doesn’t have to be especially clever or extreme to deliver an impact. It just has to be “heard”.

Here is a line from the chorus of my song “Skeleton Bones”:

“Oh let us adore the son of glory dressed in love”

There is nothing innovative or revolutionary about this line whatsoever. The idea isn’t new. I didn’t use any big words, and it isn’t difficult to understand. But as far as I can tell, it’s not been said before exactly like this.

I don’t think the specific term “Son of Glory” is used in the Bible at all and that’s exactly why I used it/possibly invented it. At the same time it isn’t at all unbiblical either. Christ in you is the “hope of Glory” and Jesus is known as the “son of man”, “the son of God” , the “son of David “ etc… so Jesus could easily and biblically be described as “the Son of Glory”.

I know this particular line obviously won’t “make” or “break” a song, but if you apply the idea to a whole song, then you could end up with something that sounds more original and authentic.

Just think of how boring it would have been if I had written:

“Come praise God, He’s so Holy, His name is lifted up”

The line is true. Just nobody will ever know how true it is because they won’t ever hear it. It will slip right by them. It will be true and silent.

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22 comments
  1. Thanks JMM, This helps me quite a bit. I tend to try and complicate my songs. Excellent information.

  2. Love love LOVE this. We are really working towards the "indigenous" music you talked about in an old songwriting teaching you did years ago. It's so easy to want to use Christianese in worship songs, and it really does just totally water the song down. We will never change your "sloppy wet kiss" words…because that's what makes that song RAW and real. Great insight. Keep posting!

  3. Sierra said:

    "Come praise God, He's so Holy, His name is lifted up."Sounds like every song that ever gets played at my school's chapel. One of my friends made up a fake worship song to pitch to the leaders at our school. The only line is "God, you are God, I am not God, but you are God" over and over. I'm hoping they do it one day. It won't be too out of the ordinary.

  4. Awesome! Completely agree. My favorite songs that I write are the ones that have the most original phrasing.

  5. benward said:

    Right on…along these same lines often you can take a cliche and change it slightly so you get the meaning of the original and the new insight. Example: Cliche — "labor of love" Change — "labor of trust." Everybody thinks of the cliche and the new meaning the word trust brought. Thanks for the great topic!

  6. Justice said:

    Hi John,That is a good insight. I wrote a song titled, "A billion things on my mind," but i over used the word "A billion" and by this the rest of the lyrics lost there power. Good food for meditation!A fellow Son,JT

  7. Nanette said:

    ..and so, when your songs are sung with altered lyrics, it takes so much of what I love about the song – out. That disappoints me. But, it is what it is.

  8. Exactly. This is part of the reason why I don't listen to christian radio anymore – I get sick of hearing the same song with slightly different music over and over again. One of my greatest disappointments is when I find a new christian musician and the first song I listen to starts out with awesome music… and then they start singing and it all goes down the tube because it's something I've heard before. There's nothing worse than boring, overprocessed lyrics. If we know the Creator of the Universe, what we have to say should grab people.- Danya

  9. benward said:

    Question, though…there are only so many words (as there are only so many notes) so how can anyhting be truly original? I think we build on what others have created going all the way back to God. Now I totally agree that you don't want to rely on the cliche, but there will be thoughts/lyrics that are not completely original but bring a new dimension. What are everyone's thoughts?

  10. now that's some good crap right there, JMM. Solid thoughts and great advice. Thanks

  11. In one way I feel you, and in another I totally disagree. God chose certain words to write the Scriptures, and he repeats certain words for EMPHASIS. The fact that songs get boring has nothing to do with the words being deficient, but rather has everyhting to do with people getting calloused hearts in the face of the marvelous truth that they are singing. Who are we to declare God's words "tired" or "overdone?" It is we who need to repent spending so much time singing ABOUT God without truly taking the time to meditate and worship GOD HIMSELF, realizing that we sing to and for him, and he never tires of hearing the angels sing HOLY, HOLY, HOLY!!!

  12. purchasedforaprice,God didn't choose these words. Men did. The Bible wasn't even written in English. So someone else chose the words. There is nothing "holy" about the letters "h" "o" "l" "y". Words are just letters and sounds that represent meaning. And when we use the same phrases they lose their association with the powerful meanings behind them. The truth has not lost power, just the words we use to tell it. That’s why we need new words. If we never changed the way we say things we would only be able to worship in Hebrew and Greek, which would mean nothing to us. These words must mean something to us otherwise worship is little more than a base ritual, not unlike any other religion, sect, or cult. As far as singing “about” God as apposed to singing “to” him (of which I like to do both), one way to show affection to someone is to speak or sing about them in their presence. It’s the same thing as speaking or singing to them, only sometimes it’s even more meaningful. Besides this, they do it in the Psalms, and even the angels in revelation of which you make reference to sang “about” him, not to him. “Holy is” not “holy you are”. Final thoughts:I think we need to repent for making the beautiful expression of this divinely mysterious romance, that we so crudely have interpreted “worship”, into some dead ritualistic obligation. God is a real person, not some brain in the sky, not letters on a page, not a fairy tale.

  13. Your two teachings on this have been really great…Promenade and the most recent "Song Writing"…I have shared this with a few musicians on our parts…Way to go…you did it without any religious lingo…that's what makes it so great! Victor enjoyed it as well.

  14. I totally agree. It's a challenging but necessary task to say things in a fresh way.I also like what you said in one of your response comments about words simply being letters and sounds that convey meaning.I bring that up because I want to add that I think that the melodies that are coupled with the words can also help to bring freshness to dead words. The way a melody ebbs and flows can revive old words by accenting or highlighting the phrases so that they strike us in a new way. I think melodies themselves should also speak and convey meaning, even apart from the lyrics they partner with. I love to hear melodic lines from which I can understand what emotion it's conveying. What's better is when the melodic line enhances the lyrics it encompasses to make an even stronger statement. Anyway, I don't know if I'm explaining myself very well, but if you get what I'm saying I'd love to read a post on your thoughts about this someday. 🙂

  15. i've been reading and considering this same issue recently…i've written a few worship songs and have run up against this struggle within myself…trying to explore language to express love differently than what i've heard in the past…at the risk of sounding like a camp counselor…i think that both of you(john mark and purchasedforaprice)have valid points …by no means do we throw out songs that don't have new ways of expression but for sure we should open ourselves to thinking outside the status quo (did i spell that right???) in communicating our love to/about the Lord…like a sloppy wet kiss or something like that…here's a line from a song i wrote trying to be creative"with 6 strings and broken heart, i'll let these tears fall from my face…and this will be my song to You…"in the same song i pull out some Deut.6 (Matt.22:37) action "i'll love You with all my heart, i'll love You with all my mind, i'll love You with all my soul and all my strength" fresh and aged…oh yea 🙂 🙂 🙂

  16. Chris said:

    I love the anointing from the Lord on the songs that you write. The words are great, too, but definitely not the bread and butter (for me, at least).

  17. Chris said:

    ….that and I think we have to be careful in our pursuit of creativity. I would offer that the reason we don't have new creative ways to express truth is not because we lack creativity or effort but, rather, because we have not sought the Lord enough to receive a "new song." When we immerse ourselves in the King we receive not only creative words to express His truth but power behind that creativity. When we immerse ourselves in creativity we come up with lyrics that someone might pass by and say, "That's cool," and that'll be about it. But, that's not the ultimate goal. Creativity is a natural result of becoming more like Him. After studying scripture, especially the Old Testament, I truly believe that at the depths of God's heart is artistry. This from a reluctant artist. So, by no means am I saying that trying to be creative is wrong. But I am saying that in pursuit of creativity we could very easily loose focus and miss the boat entirely. In which our ultimate end would be to become cynical Christian artists that criticize others without making a difference. God have mercy.

  18. @ChrisYou have some very good points Chris but while I pretty much agree with you in theory, I still find this line of thinking to be slightly problematic.First is that I think we often use this as an excuse to be lazy. Instead of developing our God given ability with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we expect for God to supernaturally endow us with something that we often already posses. Only God can make a plant grow, but we still have to plant the seed, water it, and cultivate it. And, depending on how we would define “spending time”, I don’t believe true creativity only comes from spending time with the creator. The Bible says that God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45). The Psalms also say “the whole earth is [already] full of his glory”. Our relationship with God should certainly yield the fruit of creativity, but very often it simply opens our eyes to that which already exists. Finally, why does it have to be an either/or scenario? Can’t you be both in pursuit of the presence of God and in pursuit of creativity? Besides isn’t the pursuit of creativity sometimes also the pursuit of the creator? I think so. I’ve never bought the “seek the giver and not the gifts” concept. I think its a copout. Seeking the gifts is seeking the giver. Certainly we could loose sight of our ultimate goal in the pursuit of creativity just as we could loose sight of it in the pursuit of prayer, fasting, righteous living, good works, feeding the poor, study of scripture, etc. Still, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue these things.

  19. Chris said:

    @ JohnI think you're right. If you lean to much toward what I've stated it can turn into a type of dualism which can be dangerous if unfiltered.But, I'm not sure that God isn't dualistic. I'm not sure that He is, but I'm not sure that He isn't. When Martha questioned Jesus as to why He wasn't upset with Mary for not helping her work He said that Mary had chosen the better thing, the only thing that is needed, in fact.Contrast that with verses like "whatever you do whether in word or deed" and you have a conundrum. My point is simply that "from the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." I believe we as a church struggle with overflow and thus struggle to find a "new song."However, I love the fact that popular thought is now leaning towards ideas that bring us back to an understanding that holiness is not necessarily becoming a monk and taking a vow of silence. But, I think if we aren't careful we will back lash too far.

  20. Danielle said:

    Thanks John Mark! This post is amazing, and I also felt that your replys were enlightening too. I love “a ha” moments!

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