A Worship Song Should Be Easy to Learn

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 18, 2010

A worship song should be easily and quickly learnable, or the worship service becomes an exercise not of worship but of learning. If we’re asked to try and remember a lot of complicated and unpredictable changes of direction, our minds are working hard on the exercise, but our spirits are not freed up to soar into heavenly places. 

This is simple human nature: we all like the feeling of success. When we find ourselves singing, almost with certainty, a new song the second time around, we feel gratified—and comfortable. If, on the other hand, we are singing a song for the fourth time and are still not sure where the next line of melody goes, we feel frustrated.  And if, at the end of the song we still haven’t learned it, we feel a vague sense of failure and probably don’t want to try that song again. 

• A worship song must be not only original and inspiring, but simple, repetitive and predictable.  Predictable to a point, but not so predictable that it’s boring. This is where a worship song differs from other songs. Too much predictability in an “artist” song might indicate a lack of creativity.  In a worship song, it shows craftsmanship because a good worship song should be quickly learnable. When we hear the first two lines, we can usually predict almost with certainty where the next line of melody will go, and the next, because it sets a pattern. A bridge or chorus may start us in a new direction, but we can feel almost immediately where it’s going because one line leads us logically to the next. This is called sequential writing, and it is simply the most successful way of writing for worship songs. By the second time through, we can forget the learning process and focus on the Lord. Examine the current CCLI Top 25 list with this concept in mind, and you’ll see that the songs, almost without exception, share this quality. 

• Some songs have more lyric repetition than others: “Let Everything that Has Breath,” “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” and “Better is One Day” all hammer their lyrics over and over into the memory. Not all worship songs do this, but all have plenty of melodic and rhythmic repetition, repetition of words, phrases and other hooks. 

In some ways it can be harder to write a worship song than other kinds of songs, because you have to get a strong nugget of an idea condensed into a few words. This takes discipline and the art of distillation. 

Matt Redman: 

Worship songwriting is not about being absolutely ‘precise’ or ‘clever.’ Often  a simple little overflow of the heart is all that is called for. Simple does not have to mean shallow, and it is possible to pack some deep truth into a shorter song. Every song—whether full of words, or simple, must first and foremost be the overflow of a heart amazed by God. 

Chris Tomlin:

A song for a congregation is a unique type.  I always try to keep it simple with a very singable melody.  don't leave them frustrated because they couldn't catch the song.


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