Building Your Craft

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 20, 2010

Listen to many different kinds of music from classical to contemporary. It’s wonderful that you want to write worship songs, but if you listen only to worship songs you won’t have anything new to bring to the genre. Writers who say, “I never listen to other music because I want to be original,” soon become boring. Without fresh influences, their minds reprocess only the old, and all their songs begin to sound alike. Eventually they’ll be going round and round in their own little eddy while the rest of the creative river flows past. But as you let your sphere of music appreciation become more elastic, you’ll stretch as a writer. Listening supplies your subconscious music machine with new fodder to digest and synthesize.

• Analyze great music from many other writers. They teach us and prime our pumps. Don’t pattern yourself after any one writer, no matter how great he or she is, or the best you can hope to be is a clone.  Let yourself be influenced by all the best, so your own genius can grow out of the same roots as theirs.

When you find a song that stands head and shoulders above others, study it and find out why it works. In March, 2001, the National Endowment for the Arts and the RIAA (the Recording Industry Association of America) jointly named “Over the Rainbow,” by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg “the top song of the Twentieth Century.” A group of legendary songwriters, including Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson, polled by the British magazine, Mojo, named it “one of the three greatest songs ever written.” And in June, 2004, the American Movie Institute named it “the number one movie song of all time.”What can you learn from it?
What is it about certain songs that makes people square their shoulders and lift their heads? What makes this music different from tunes that make people want to get down and boogie? Or get down and worship? Not, what do you feel that’s different about them, but what musical devices make you feel what you feel? How do feel-good songs make us feel good, for instance? How do their melodies, chords and rhythms achieve the effects you want your song to have?
You can find out only by listening, analyzing and experimenting. We could go on pointing out different qualities of memorable music, but our purpose is to help launch you on some investigative journeying of your own.

With all our emphasis on analysis, don’t worry if you seem to be getting too analytical for a while. We heard a preacher describing a golfing buddy who would get so tied up in placing his feet, his fingers, his wrists and his back in the correct position that he couldn’t hit the ball in the right direction. Golfers call it “the paralysis of analysis.” But this is only a transitional stage. If the golfer doesn’t learn these things and practice them well, he will probably never be a good golfer. If he hangs in there, the techniques will become second nature to him and his golf game will be better than ever.

This can happen with songwriting as well. That’s why we stress: Study the principles of songwriting. Become aware of them in every song you hear. Absorb them into your subconcious so that they become a part of you.

•  Write, and keep writing. Keep your mental and spiritual songwriting muscles in shape. Don’t just talk about writing, or imagine yourself writing, but write, write, write. When you write, just write. Let the ideas flow freely. If you have the principles built into you, they will come out naturally in your writing. They will serve as safeguards, to keep you from writing poor quality stuff.

• Rewrite. This is where the hard-est work comes in, but it’s at this level that we fashion a work worthy of of-
fering to the Lord, and to the people. Ask yourself, how can I improve these lines that have flowed out of me? This is when you get analytical. Pick your work apart mercilessly and make it better.
If music is important to you, learn all you can about it. Serious painters may spend a year in Paris, hanging out at the Louvre, copying the masters.

If you want to get better, find someone better than you and learn from him or her. Become a lifelong student of great songs. Pay attention to the songs that move you. Drag them back to your woodshed and take them apart and analyze them. Ask yourself—what’s going on here? As you take time to discover these lyrical, melodic or harmonic jewels, they will become part of your own ever expanding musical palette. The more you know, the better you’ll be.

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