Learning how to write gospel music is different from learning how to write in most other genres. With Christian music, the focus is on God and the spiritual message of the song. Because of this, prayer is a big part of writing music for Him. If He didn’t give the ability, we couldn’t write our own names, so praying for guidance before and during the songwriting process is a necessary step.
One songwriter really can’t tell another songwriter what to write or how to write it, but, below, you will find a few tips that will hopefully encourage beginners. There aren’t enough true gospel music writers, so my prayer is that God will use this article in helping you to develop your skill and to find your own songwriting voice.
Write Your Song’s Working Title
Before you start writing, think about what you want to write. Some people believe you shouldn’t have a title in mind, but a working title (temporary title) is a great way to stay on track with your writing. Without a topic of some sort, your song could end up going off in several different directions, which is bad for the songwriter, but even worse for the listener.
So, grab a piece of paper or open a blank WordPad file. At the top of the page, write or type your title. This can be changed later if a better title comes to you, but for now, it’s just to keep you focused on the subject or angle of your song.
If you don’t know what you want to write about, try free writing for 10-15 titles. Time yourself for 2 or 3 minutes if you need a push. When you’re done, pick the one that stands out the most to you and use that as your new working title.
Still stumped? Pray about it again and don’t give up. If you can’t think of a title, simply type a subject like God’s Grace or What He’s Done for Me, then write about that.
How to Write Gospel Music Lyrics
Ask any Christian songwriter you know, “Do you think of yourself as more of a lyricist or a composer?” Most would no doubt choose lyricist. The reason for this is that without the lyrics, it’s hardly a gospel song at all. A country song sounds like a country song with or without the words, so does a rock song. But because a gospel song is about the message, it needs lyrics to come alive.
Whatever words you use, the lyrics of each verse should follow a similar pattern. You don’t have to rhyme, for instance, but you should do the same on each verse – i.e., if you don’t rhyme on the first verse, don’t rhyme on the second. And when you rhyme one verse, rhyme all of the verses.
In gospel music, especially songs written in hymnal style, most use the standard 2-4 verses leading up to a chorus. You can add a bridge or coda, but it’s optional, based on your sole preference for the song.
Keep your working title in mind and make sure that your lyrics are centered on this one subject. Trying to cover too much in a song is confusing for those listening, so try to stay on topic and try not to over explain everything mentioned in the song. You don’t have to give every detail of the crucifixion for people to know what you’re talking about, so keep your lyrics as minimal as possible and trust that others have read their Bibles, too.
One tip to remember when writing gospel music lyrics is that, while writing a song can be very personal, once the writing is done, it becomes more about the hearers. Write with the hope (and prayer) that God will receive the glory and that others will relate and benefit in some way from hearing these words you’ve written.
How to Compose Gospel Music
This section isn’t really going to be about learning how to compose gospel music. It will be more general. When you are wanting to decide on a chord or tempo, a lot of times the lyrics tend to make that choice for you. My uncle / former pastor and music teacher once said, if you’re singing a song such as “Oh I Want To See Him,” then you should sing it like you mean it. If you want to see Christ and you’re excited about it, it wouldn’t be very convincing if you dragged it out.
Choosing a tempo for a song you’ve written is similar to that. If the lyrics are more heartfelt, slow it down. If they are happy, pick up the beat. This isn’t to say you couldn’t write an upbeat heartfelt song, but the overall mood of the lyrics (and maybe even your own mood while writing) will tell you how fast or how slow the song should go.
Many people don’t realize you can write a song without playing an instrument, which means composing the song on sheet music is a separate skill altogether. Some believe you have to know how to read and write the notes in order to write a song, but this isn’t true. There are many musicians who play instruments by ear, so songwriters can write by ear as well. You could sing it into a tape recorder, then find someone else to arrange your lyrics and melody into sheet music form. The song would still be yours.
If you’d like to do the composing yourself, timing is everything, especially when you are putting it down on paper. Read more about how to determine the time signature of a song.
Finishing Your New Song
Like learning to play an instrument, it takes time and practice to learn how to write music. In that way, writing gospel music is no different from the rest. If you want to be good at it, you have to keep writing.
When your song is completed, remember to thank God for it and ask Him to use it as He’s pleased to do so. Even if it’s meant to touch only one person, as long as it is by the Holy Spirit’s leading, it’s a good thing.