How NOT to Write a Song

Earlier I talked about word choice and how it affects the flow of your song. Just because it rhymes doesn't mean it will work. Ultimately, you want the lyrics and the melody to flow together as smoothly as possible--and that goes for the lyrics all the way through the song. Just so you can see how NOT to do it, this post I'm going to give you a couple of examples from modern pop music. Please keep in mind as you read that I have nothing against these artists--I am simply using their songs as examples.

"Breathe Into Me"
Artist: Red

Album: End of Silence

And this is how it feels when I ignore the words You spoke to me
And this is where I lose myself when I keep running away from You
And this is who I am when, when I don't know myself anymore
And this is what I choose when it's all left up to me

Breathe Your life into me
I can feel You, I'm falling
Falling faster
Breathe Your life into me
I still need You; I'm falling, falling
Breathe into me
Breathe into me

In case you haven't picked up on it yet, songs like this are one of my pet peeves. It breaks nearly every rule that I have talked about so far--not to mention the fact that it is unscriptural for a Christian to sing such a song. First, although there is somewhat of a syllable pattern in the verse (16-17-16-13), the melody makes it very choppy and uneven. There is very little rhythm to it partially because of the way it is sung, and partly because of how the emphasis falls on the syllables. The chorus is better, since the repetition of the first three lines forms sort of a rhyme and the melody is more sung that chanted/yelled, as is the case in the verses. I understand that style is an issue here and that personal preference also weighs in, but this isn't what I would call a good example of what a well-written song should be.

Another pitfall that you'll have to watch out for is changes in who is speaking within a song. If you start out using "I," that is, the speaker is the one singing the song, stick with "I" all the way through. If you are writing a church song that is speaking directly to God, avoid switching around and singing to the congregation. Here's an example of speaker-switching in a song:

"Take Me"
Artist: Hawk Nelson
Album: Letters to the President

Take me under Your wing tonight
Make me so perfect in Your eyes
Hold on cause it will be alright
You’re not alone

This song has a beautiful melody and the lyrics for the most part are well written, but they don't make sense considering the speaker in the verses is the one singing. First, the singer desires to be taken under the wings of God in lines 1 and 2, then the speaker changes (notice the change from "me" to "you") in lines 3 and 4. There is some room for doubt as to who is speaking in the last two lines. Is it God talking back to the singer in response to his plea for help, or is the singer exhorting the audience to hold on because he knows from experience that God will come through for them? Don't confuse your audience. If the speaker changes, make sure the listener knows that it is changing.

"Carry On"
Words and Music by
Tim Heider
(c) 2005

Why would you enter to run for the prize
And let another man claim it?
Jesus is watching you and I
Can you hear him say
"Won't you carry on for Me
Won't you carry on for Me"

I know, it doesn't rhyme, and the syllable count is off, but you can see what I mean about changing speakers in the middle of the song--make sure it is clear that it is changing.

Until next time,

Tim Heider

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Blogger Christa Heider said...

Amen! I've noticed that syllables are really key when it comes to the melody. They might flow on paper as far as the final line count goes, but won't fit in the melody because of the syllable count for a single word. I was working on "I'll Find Him" in the car last night on the way to Dumas, and that was a frustration!

10:02 AM  
Blogger Christa Heider said...

Driving does wonders! I was having trouble getting the phrasing right for "I'll Find Him" (now "I'll Find Him With You")using 4/4 time. But then I changed it to 6/8 while on my way to work, and now it flows beautifully! I was terribly excited! (= I'll have a rough copy by this weekend for you to look at.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Tim Heider said...

It takes both, sister. Just make it flow. I haven't finished "Hide and Seek." Haven't worked on it in a while, actually.

7:04 PM  

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