11 songwriting mistakes 

by Andy Piercy

Here are some classic mistakes to watch out for when you are writing a worship song.

1. "Help, help, I'm stuck in a worship song..."
Try and give your song an ending or at least a way that people can escape. Some churches have been singing "Light of the World" non-stop for two years now because they can't find a way to resolve it.

2. Beware of the "Fyllables"!
"Fyllables" are sounds that fill up the space of a syllable but contribute nothing (e.g. just, really, that or even Lord). They can suddenly appear as if from nowhere. "Stretchers" are bad, too. They sneak in and add extra syllables to words that shou-ouldn't be ther-ere (e.g ev-er-y instead of ev-ry). Writers often just don't really notice that it really is just happening. Make each word count!

3. Dead-end Streets
These are lines with words at the end that force you into using an obvious rhyme (e.g. love and above, life and strife). Reverse out slowly and move the offending word somewhere else.

4. Back to Front Writing
A weird technique involving "the order around of the words changing" to try and make things sound more hymn- like. Try speaking your lyrics, would you actually ever say it like that to somebody?

5. Christian-ese
Shhh...this is a secret language where although-it-doesn't-actually-say-what-it-means-we-know-it-probably- means-what-it-says-so-we'll-sing-it-anyway-even-though-if-we're-honest-it-doesn't-actually-make-sense. Avoid.

6. Wobbly Stepping-stones
Singing a song can be like crossing a stream using stepping-stones. If the stepping-stones are wobbly because they are balanced on weak lyrics, or in odd places because the phrasing is strange, then it makes it more difficult to do.

7. Watch the Step
Tripping up into a song is never a dignified way of entering. This can happen to congregations when the first line starts at some seemingly obscure place after the first beat of the bar, usually known only to the songwriter (or not).

8. Don't em-PHA-sise the wrong BITS
Sounds ob-VI-ous, BUT make sure the emph-A-sis IS on the ‘important' words IN the LYRICS.

9. Sorry, but It's the Law
Believe it or not there are musical rules for what makes songs written in a rock/pop style work, and the chance of you accidentally stumbling across some brilliant new and undiscovered way of writing a great song without taking any notice of them is not very likely. Listen to what makes good songs work and learn from them.

10. Stay Out of the bars!
Don't add extra bars at random places simply to try and create some sort of added tension. It may feel great when you are writing in your room, but it can cause absolute chaos for a congregation. Have pity on that poor soul who will come in by themselves-at the top of their voice-at what they think is the start of the chorus.

11. It's a Community Not an Audience
Finally, don't forget that when you are writing songs for worship you are writing songs for other people to sing.

...oh, and by the way, I only know these things because I have been guilty of all these mistakes!


Corporate songwriting

by Marty Reardon

From time to time I get requests from people asking for my advice on writing corporate worship music. Although I have written music for a while I do not by any means consider myself the best source. But I do try to help out as best as I can. These are a few of my thoughts on the subject.


The first thing we have to start with is content. The biggest thing I would recommend is to treat each song like a sermon. What I mean by that is spend as much time as possible researching scripture and texts and concordances for each song's theme/subject. I know when I prepare a sermon I will spend several hours the week before preparing and meditating and chewing on the text. And the odd thing is the shorter the sermon the more prep time is required because when we try to pack theology into a small suitcase (a song is a very small suitcase) we have to pack deliberately, intentionally and thoughtfully. So, instead of grabbing a text like Psalm 34 and attempting to immediately comprehend the 'fear of the Lord' and throwing that idea into a song, spend some time asking the Lord what that actually means.

Read books on the subject and search scripture for the meaning of things and how they apply to us so that when we pen a lyric it will not only express the emotion we feel as artists, but it will fulfill the greater mission of forming the worshipper via theological truth. 


I have two main thoughts when it comes to adding composition to lyric: "Who is the audience"? and "Does the composition compliment the lyric"?

“Who Is The Audience”

The first key to composing worship music is knowing your "audience" or congregation. What is palatable? What is not? What is the median style and preferred taste of the worshippers? What is the median style and preferred taste of the leaders and musicians?

If you are unsure of the answers to these questions then you need to go on a fact finding mission. Or you can write songs and try them out repeatedly and see what the results are. But bear in mind that a fact finding mission can save you time, credibility, and cultural equity. Once you know your audience and you have the idea for your song follow these steps:

1 - Forget about the congregation's style preferences. After all, you are the worship star...I mean, you are the songwriter. Seriously though, take a minute and forget about what everyone else likes and make sure that before you serve a dish to someone that it is something you would eat. Write a song you would listen to.

2 - Now compare your new song to what you know to be true about your congregation's style preference. Is there a big difference? Is there no difference at all?

3 - Fix it. Fix the song so that it will be palatable. BUT please do not dumb it down to the lowest common denominator. We need to find ways to remain in the tension of being both accessible and challenging at the same time.When we dumb a song down we lose this tension.

4 - Get honest feedback from people you respect, and listen to it.

5 - Be willing to kill a song or completely re-write it. If you love it and your peers love it, but its just not working in your congregation...kill it and start over.


I am showing my age here, but Andy Park's, composition to "In The Secret" does not match up lyrically. He actually pointed that out himself to a friend of mine. Finding the proper tension is kind of like a good balsamic vinaigrette; it tastes good, but only when we work to keep the “parts” together.

I saw an interview with Winton Marsalis (I think it was him) who said his father would tell him to stand in the corner and play one note until he could play it through every emotion. I really like that idea and try to incorporate it into my writing and playing. Too often we try to make up for lack of emotion in music with more pedals or clever progressions and while those tools can be helpful they can never replace the simplicity of a note played with passion.

Listen to B.B King for example. He never plays anything delay, no reverb, no overdriven amp...just simple notes played with feeling. Its as if his notes cost $1,000 each and he is spending them as wisely as possible. Take the same approach to your writing and playing. Strum a G chord until you can strum it and pick it and pluck it through every human emotion. Let the listener feel what the music and lyrics are saying.


how then 

shall we write

an article by John Mortensen