The Importance of Style in Songwriting

Featuring Paul Baloche Posted on January 20, 2010

In this rhythm-driven age, it’s a good idea to pay a lot of attention to the musical style of your song. Even with great melody and lyrics, your song will have a much better chance of succeeding if it’s in a recognizable, authentic, contemporary style with a good rhythm pattern and groove. This has to do partly with the fact that a song is a vehicle for emotional expression. A good popular style is comfortable, familiar and conducive to the expression of feelings. Many a good song has been written starting with a good rhythm pattern. Lots of today’s music, including many modern worship songs, incorporates the use of drum machines in its creation. These modern tools inspire the songwriter with subtle rhythmic influences he might not have thought of. Even if the melody flows smoothly in long tones, a bouyant underlying beat can help keep the song alive. 

Know the Styles 

“Worship Song” is not a style. Worship songs come in many styles. Some churches still worship with pipe organs and hymns. Others use a contemporary guitar-driven style. In yet other churches they may have flavors of country, Southern gospel, Black gospel, blues, jazz, salsa, reggae or other ethnic or “world music” styles.  Some mix them all up together. 

Each of these styles has characteristics that make it what it is and distinguish it from others.  Learn what these characteristics are, and although hybrid styles do evolve through cross-pollenation, don't mix them without understanding what you're doing.  If you put one of these characteristics into a style where it doesn’t belong, it may produce a jarring effect that damages the song’s authenticity and your credibility. For instance, if you put a major 7th chord, beautiful as it is, in a traditional country song, you may get some winces from the purists. But this chord, at home in jazz (but never in the blues,) has become acceptable in pop-country, now almost synonymous with what was once simply called “pop.” 

As a writer, and especially if you’re an arranger or rhythm player, make it your business to become versatile in many styles. You don’t have to go to school to do this. just study recordings. Each player should know what his instrument is expected to do in a particular style. In a rehearsal or recording session, if you just hand out chord charts without identifying the style you want, much time can be lost by muddling around trying to figure out what each player is supposed to do.  And, you may never hit on an authentic style. If you can identify the style by name, the head arrangement will begin to mesh quickly. 


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