Matching Words to Melodies

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 20, 2010

No matter how wonderful a melody may be, if it doesn’t match the feeling of the words consistently, it fails to support the message. The ideal we’re striving for is to make every melody line, every voicing and chord progression, every rhythm pattern, every choice of words appropriate to the feeling of the message, to create the “Perfect Wedding” of words and music.  That makes the message come alive. When all the elements are working together, each doing what it’s supposed to do, the song has life and warmth and emotion. We don’t just hear it, we experience it. 

Bob says that in a time of discouragement he picked up his guitar and wrote, “Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty” in five or ten minutes. Worship teams from his Youth With a Mission School of Worship in Hawaii took it all over the world.  While he was in the stands at the Olympics in Seoul, Korea, he was stunned when thousands began singing his song in Korean. He recalls, “It was too much for me. I just started crying!” 

Bob says, “Sing something brand new out of your passion for Jesus. When Jesus is our life, our everything, our songs are believable and authentic. The greatest challenge: getting the song out of your mouth.  My wife, Kathy, taught me a lesson about praise while groaning for joy over a piece of warm, boysenberry pie. I finally had to ask her to keep quiet or share. She opted for ‘keep quiet,’ (go figure.)  Later she said,‘Wow Bob, you know, after I kept quiet, it just didn’t taste as good.’  It’s like worship and praise if it just sits in our hearts, it doesn’t taste as good. We need to get it out of our souls and bring a new song to birth. Once you’ve done that, leave the results to God.  Keith Green said it so well, ‘You just do your best, pray that it’s blessed, and He’ll take care of the rest.’ You and I need to be faithful to sing our songs out, and trust then that God will appoint, anoint and grant favor where it’s needed.” 

Now let’s look at a great masterpiece of melody, this one over four hundred years older. 

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God- Martin Luther 

A might-y for -tress is 

our God, A bul-wark nev -er fail -ing 

This hymn starts with a descending line, with great grandeur to match its grand subject. Ringing prime notes on the octave, like great bells, lift our eyes to the imagery of God as a towering fortress. The notes on “a bulwark never failing” march downhill, treading their message of triumph into bedrock certainty on the root of the key. Line two is an exact copy of line one, repeating the triumphal process, after which the melody develops in other directions but ends exactly as lines one and two end; it returns to familiar ground, offering a sense of finality. 

The most obvious thing these two worship songs, so different from each other, have in common is their adherence to the Cardinal Rule: all the elements work together to make the message come to life. 

If the visual imagery of a lyric has a sense of vertical dimension, it’s a good idea, though not a hard and fast rule, for the melody to go in the same direction. Look again at Paul’s “Revival Fire Fall.”  Do you see the principle, right there in the first falling melody line? 

Look also at, “Like a rose trampled on the ground, You took the fall.” What if he had decided to write an ascending melody on those words? There’s no law against it, but doesn’t the descending line match the thought better? 

However, don’t drive yourself crazy with this. Trying to match every up and down and punch and accent between a lyric and its music is called, “Mickey Mousing,” a term derived from the work of early cartoon scorers. But do be aware of the principle. 




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