The Cardinal Rule of Songwriting

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 16, 2010

This brings us to what we call the Cardinal Rule of Songwriting. Well— it’s not really a rule. Nothing we say here is a rule.  But frankly, any song that doesn’t follow it, doesn’t do a very good job of communicating its message and probably won’t get far. It ‘s so important that it needs a billboard, or at least a panel of its own: 

Make all the elements work together to enhance the feeling of the message. 

Songwriting is an emotional medium, a vehicle for the expression of feelings. Think about it. If your message consists only of a series of facts and makes no emotional impact, you would do better to present it not as a song but as a list or paragraph. Try to match the mood of the music to the meaning of the message, so the listener can feel it. This way, the song becomes more than the mere transfer of data—it becomes an experience. Emotion is the soul of a song. That’s why computers can’t write songs. Even if they can be programmed to think, they still can’t feel. 

The Very Idea! 

When you get an idea for a song, the first thing you should ask yourself is: Is this idea worth writing a song about? 

 First, is it biblical? Because of the power of the music, the words are going deep into the hearts and minds of people who listen and sing. Nice, cozy thoughts and warm fuzzies about God are not enough.  The Word of God, empowered by the Spirit, ministers life. That doesn’t mean that every song has to be based literally on the words of scripture. Many fine worship songs express heartfelt devotion to the Lord without directly quoting scripture, but their concepts come out of the writer’s knowledge and love of the Word.  Even being biblical alone is not enough. “An omer is the tenth part of an ephah,”( Exodus 16:36) is biblical, but it probably isn’t worth writing a song about. 

 Second, is it touching, moving enough? Is it something other people will care about? Will they think, ‘I’ve experienced that, and this song says what I feel’? Not every idea can bear the weight of being set to music. 

Matt Redman: God Centered Songs

There is a call for every worship songwriter to be a ‘proclaimer’— wrapping our lyrics around the deep and wonderful revelation of God in scripture. It’s essential that we bring everything we write in line with the bible. That is a challenge to be even more creative! To work even harder and search even deeper to write lyrics that stand up poetically, serve the church pastorally, and are immersed in the revelation of God in the bible. For those who have a heart to see the people of God pour out worship in spirit and in truth, and see how big a role fresh new songs have to play in that area, it is a challenge we will rise to. 
Part of being a proclaimer in songwriting is to create songs which center in on God, and not on us. It’s easy to fall into the trap of songs which end up being all about us. ‘Meet me,’ ‘heal me,’ ‘free me’ songs can be an important part of the congregational worship diet.  After all, the Psalms have aspects of these cries, but if they’re all that’s on the menu, then we’re in for some serious spiritual malnutrition. There’s a totally different dynamic that kicks in when we honour God by writing songs that ooze with the revelation of Him, and give space to respond to that revelation. 


Tags: ,