Tuesday, December 26, 2017

What Music to Write (Pt. II)

         Answering the same question as our last post with a different take, I am going to give you some ideas of how we can use our music-writing passion.


No words, no music. Many of us will start from scratch. We have no words to set to music and no music to put words to, but we have a desire to write a song. Maybe we were reading something that seemed to scream, “Write a song about me!!” Or maybe we were listening to someone who said something poignant. Maybe we just have a free afternoon waiting to be used and we want to try our hand at writing music. Whatever the reason behind it, it is quite doable to put together some good words and matching music.

Words, but no music. Sometimes, we come across a poem on a greeting card that is really good. Or a chapter in the Bible seems to flow musically today. Now we have a text that we want to sing, so next we work out a rhythm and notes. Soon we’re singing Job 28 to my own tune! It’s exhilarating!

Music, but no words. It can work the other way around, too. We’re humming a tune that our mind decided to invent or we’re whistling some folk song while washing dishes. It occurs to us that this tune needs to be used for God’s glory! We go to work squeezing words together and throwing some out, and in the end, we have a lovely tune with worthwhile lyrics.


Rewrite the tune. Sometimes, there is a good hymn whose tune doesn’t match or is just terrible. That can be fixed, although the revised tune *may* not make it into any hymnals. But whenever we sing it on our own, or if we introduce it to our small group or congregation, the words can minister to our hearts afresh through a new tune.

Rewrite the words. Other times, we think about the words that we’re singing in a beloved old hymn or catchy new song, and we begin to cringe at poor doctrine, pointless words, or bizarre word-pictures. It’s not a sin to tweak the words, make completely new words, or add a verse or two! We tend to elevate “sacred music” to the level of God’s Word and forget that, for the most part, these songs were words put together by a fallible human. It doesn’t matter if the author’s story about the song says that he “felt the Spirit helping him” pen the words; if it’s not Scripture itself, it’s man’s words and therefore subject to mistakes. I think we would be surprised by how different many hymns are that we sing today from how the author wrote them, simply through the editing of others.

[*Note: Please do take notice of copyrights and such, since you don’t want to get tangled up in any legal issues. If you are worried about a copyright on a song that you want to rewrite, keep your rewritten version to yourself for your own devotional time if you can do so in good conscience. Otherwise, forget it and stick to writing your own originals.]

          At Bible school, we were often asked to play or sing something for a conference, church, or a special chapel service. We would always have a tough time picking something unique, yet fitting to the occasion. That’s when one of us would say, “I think it would sound good if we put a little of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ in between the two verses!” And we would begin trying to arrange the notes to fit this new addition into the song. There are almost no limits on the ways you can arrange and rearrange songs for performance’s sake:

ü  Merge: Merging two or more songs with similar message and similar sound can be a beautiful teaching tool. Once I was in a group that merged “For the Beauty of the Earth” with a calmed “Come, Christians, Join to Sing” to express a theme of thankfulness. Things to beware: merging too many songs together; putting together songs with messages or rhythms that don’t match (“Away in a Manger” with “Onward, Christian Soldiers”? No); not having a good transition between the songs.

There are varieties in ways that you can merge! You can merge the two songs side-by-side without much mashing. You can cut one song in half and insert another in the middle, like a cream-filled doughnut. You can alternate verses in each song (verse one of “Take My Life and Let it Be”, then verse one of “I Surrender All”, then both second verses, etc.). You can even mash up all sorts of lines from songs and piece them together (in a logical sequence, please) to make something totally different! It can be a lot of fun, but try not to get too carried away with it. J

ü  Add: You can add your own words or music to a familiar song to give it something fresh to grab the attentions and encourage thinking. Use the original tune and at least some of the words, then add other parts at the beginning, middle, end, between every verse, or all the way through the song!

ü  Reinvent: Related to our previous “rewrite” section is the reinventing of a song. The desire is the same: to put something familiar into a new surrounding to draw attention to it again. The difference is that, there, we were talking about a simple song for regular people to sing, and here, we are arranging an interesting and unique piece for performance. Reinventing can be done by lifting the words out of a familiar hymn and arranging a whole new piece around it, or by borrowing the tune of a song that is well-known and putting new words to it. Let’s use “Amazing Grace”, for example; I’ve sung and heard many songs that used these famous words with a new tune that gave them a new and interesting life. On the other hand, the equally-popular tune could be used effectively with different words that portray a similar message. Again, there are no limits in the use of this tool.

Your first shot at making or remaking a song may not be too stellar, but it’s a start. Any start is a start in the right direction! Time, experience, and continued learning were all necessary components in the birth of the great hymns and compositions that we love to sing, so we should never try to skip over those key components in our music-making activities.

So, what are you waiting for? Go try it!

Or, if you’re still a little anxious or skeptical about writing your own music, stick around for my next post, and I’ll give you a comprehensive lesson on the “how?” question that is heavy on your mind. Even so, I encourage you to put some work into it so that you understand what I will refer to in the post. May God fill our hearts so that they cannot but break out in song!

Soli Deo Gloria!


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