How do you keep from composing music that sounds just like every other song you’ve composed, especially given all the strictures of congregational song?
First, if you always write in the same key, try writing in a different one. Try different tempos and rhythms, too. Most contemporary worship songs are in 4/4 time—try 3/4, 6/8 or 7/8. And broaden your range of listening experience by searching for music outside of your immediate preference. In an interview here at My Song In The Night, Stephen Altrogge of Sovereign Grace said,
“I listen to a lot of different music—Coldplay, the Beatles, Matt Redman, Mumford and Sons, the Police, Mutemath. I’d say that the main thing I’ve learned is that a good song is good no matter what the production, and a bad song can’t be saved by good production. When I listen to The Police, they have a distinctly ′80s sound. But their songs are just incredible. So if you’re going to write songs, make sure that they’re good songs. Don’t count on the music or the production to save you.”
In another interview here, Bruce Benedict of Cardiphonia added,
“It truly is amazing how many different tunes have been written to the major hymn meters such as Common Meter (220.127.116.11) and variations on 18.104.22.168. The two main things I do to keep things fresh is to write music to as many different kinds of meter as possible and to research and explore the various ‘countries’ of folk music that have fed into church music. Each of these worlds has a different body of melodies that feed off of major or minor keys and various time signatures (3/4, 6/8, 4/4), which all produce very different sounding melodies.
“Like in most art, you tend to produce the richness of what you take in. If you are serious about writing great congregational songs then you have to familiarize yourself with all of the various musical traditions that have produced great congregational music.”
Explore the world of hymnody, as well as popular music and the folk music of the past. Don’t get too crazy with obscure time signatures and difficult intervals or your song will not be singable, but feel free to experiment.
This article originally appeared here.