The Song Stuck in My Head

I have difficulty turning an idea into an actual song. When an idea for a new song, melody in particular, comes to mind, what is the first thing you do? --Taro Kaji, serving in Japan

Rick Muchow, responds:

Songwriting is an organic process. It’s different for everyone. When I have an idea for a new song, the first thing I do is try to notate it in some way either by writing or recording it. Don’t rely on your memory to capture an idea. Be prepared to notate at any moment. You never know when something great is going to hit you. After that, I give it some space and come back to it later to see if it still seems like a good idea. I’ve found that not every “good” idea I have should be completed into a song.

Turning an idea into a song is called songcrafting: the art of writing and rewriting using technique; taking all the elements of a song and refining them. Think in terms of the chorus as the general statement or summary of the song. The chorus is the slogan or motto. The verse describes the chorus, tells the story. Identify if your idea is a chorus or a verse. Many times when I start writing, I identify a section as the chorus but later as I’m songcrafting, it becomes the verse. Don’t settle for a quick fix. Every word, every musical element matters.

Songcrafting is an art you can study for a lifetime. You can join a club or group or take a class to see how others do it, collaborate, or learn the process. Some writers find success in collaboration as well as through self-study. You might be great at melody and find someone who is great with lyrics. Many of the greatest songs ever written were collaborations.

Songcrafting is what happens when you take hours to work on one line so it fits and is not an additional thought. A common mistake made by beginning songwriters is to have too many songs in one song. Crafting purifies the thought, narrows it down to one idea that you define over and over again in the song. Try to summarize your entire song in one phrase or sentence and then write about that phrase.

Here are two very practical suggestions. If you have a 12-minute song, you probably have too many songs in that song. If you are writing for a congregation, try to keep the range of melody right around one octave. Congregations don’t like to sing above a “D” so choose your key wisely.

After you have worked on your song for a while, play it for someone you know, someone you trust who can be real with you to give you his or her honest feedback. Listen to their feedback! Don’t try to explain your song to them. The song should communicate itself. A great sign for a rewrite is if you have to explain what your song is about after it has been heard.

God wants us to play skillfully. I think that means he wants us to give it our best and also give Him the best. He wants our best efforts and he wants great songs. God is more interested in your heart than your art. However, He desires that both keep growing.

Music for Beginning and Ending

What type of music and instrumentation does your church use for funeral services and weddings? I have never heard a contemporary church say anything about these services. --Allen Case, serving in Elizabethtown, Kentucky

Rick Muchow, responds:

A lot of contemporary churches are start-ups; younger churches that aren’t doing many funerals or weddings simply based on the size of the membership. The church may also lack a facility with the right atmosphere so the funeral or wedding takes place offsite but is officiated by the local clergyman. Saddleback hosts many funerals now, but like most new churches, we didn’t have a facility until relatively recently.

On a very practical note, funerals and weddings are often the first exposure to the church’s ministry for many people. It’s ironic that these services are somewhat of a stepchild in ministry. These types of services deserve the best preparation we can offer, musically and in prayer. If you agree to serve here, go all out!

My experience is that we as the church leadership often leave much of the style and order of service to the family members. Depending on the family’s needs/desires, the pastor should minister in an appropriate manner, both in speaking and in music. Those of us who officiate need to remember our first priority is to serve the Lord, then serve the family and their guests. The speaker has the responsibility to present the Truth of God’s Word clearly through these services which present opportunities for people’s hearts to be wide open to the Gospel.

Not every song the family suggests should be used in the service. However, when at all possible, it is my preference to honor the family’s song suggestions. There is a bit of a difference here between funerals and weddings. Not all songs are appropriate for a Christian funeral service, however many “generic” love songs that say anything about love and/or God are probably not inappropriate for a wedding. God obviously enjoys the love-marriage relationship idea because it was His. Wedding songs don’t need to be solely Jesus, Jesus, Jesus songs.

When I agree to serve at a funeral or wedding, I have a consultation with the family and ask if there are songs they have in mind. I get a general sense of their musical style preferences and where the family is spiritually, and then suggest songs that will minister to the family at their level.

You'll find a complete archive of Ask Rick Muchow columns and all of Rick’s worship resources including the Purpose-Driven© Life resources at www.encouragingmusic.com. To submit your question, visit http://www.encouragingmusic.com/askrick