Round Table Session: Writing Lyrics for Worship Songs

Our April 5th meeting featured six different round tables. This post is the fourth of six describing the different sessions. This round table featured Lynn DeShazo, songwriter and worship leader (“More Precious than Silver”, and more).

 


Lynn DeShazo is the author of some of the Church’s most loved worship songs of today, many of which have been featured on the live praise and worship recordings produced by Integrity Media. Lynn travels frequently as a guest worship leader, instructor, and minister to a wide variety of churches, retreats, and conferences within the USA and abroad. Her book “More Precious than Silver: The God-Stories Behind the Songs of Lynn DeShazo” will soon be released by WinePress Publishing. Visit Lynn at www.lynndeshazo.com.

“Lord, You are more precious than silver…”

I listened as the guitarist introduced a new worship chorus to a small group of college students seated in a circle.

“Lord, You are more costly than gold…”

The simple song immediately drew me in.

“Lord, You are more beautiful than diamonds and nothing I desire compares with You.”

As a young college student seeking to know God intimately, my heart resonated with the lyrics of this new song.

It’s been almost three decades since I sat in that Bible study and heard Lynn DeShazo’s now classic worship chorus for the first time. “More Precious Than Silver” was merely the first of many powerful songs that worshipers worldwide have come to love and appreciate from the pen of veteran songwriter, Lynn DeShazo. 

Lynn, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, was in the Northwest recently and presided over a round table at the NCWA meeting on April 5th. Her topic was writing song lyrics for congregational praise and worship. She divided her presentation into two subtopics: The Heart of Writing Lyrics and the Art of Writing Lyrics.

In the “heart” segment of her comments, Lynn encouraged lyricists to give people appropriate language to express their love to God. She reminded writers of the power of singing scriptural truths to both “form” and “inform” the worshipper. Though music trends will change with each generation, biblical truths regarding worship will remain the same. Lynn stressed the importance of connecting with people on a heart level.

In the “art” half of the meeting Lynn suggested guidelines to craft effective and memorable lyrics:
 
1. Strike a common chord: Find a theme that rings true to every believer regardless of age, denomination, or cultural background. The sentiment should be fairly universal. Don’t write lyrics that are too specific or overly personal for a congregational song.

2. Stay with one theme: All sections of the song should support one main idea. Don’t try to present all the doctrines of the faith in one chorus!

3. Find the best song form: Study and understand the standard song forms used in songwriting. Your creative ideas must be packaged in a form that is recognizable and pleasing to the lay person.

4. Make your lyrics conversational: Write in a style that is current, believable, and honest. Don’t invert lyric phrases. This can cause lyrics to sound stilted and dated.

5. Use plenty of open vowels: Certain vowel sounds sing better than consonants and closed vowels. This is especially important for high or sustained notes in the melody.

6. Find the perfect marriage of music and lyrics: Be sure the two are expressing the same sentiment. Something very powerful happens when the right words and melody are brought together. Try playing the music without the words. Does it incite the emotion the lyrics articulate?

7. Mind your rhymes: Most great songs contain some element of rhyme. A fresh rhyme can make a song more memorable and enhance its structure. Find rhymes that have not been overused or become clichéd.

8. Use images: A well-crafted lyric will paint a picture in the mind’s eye. Some examples from current songs include: “You stepped down into darkness” and “Like a rose trampled on the ground.” Writers can tap into the abundance of effective metaphors included in scripture.

Marty Nystrom is a songwriter with over 100 recorded songs, including the worship classic “As the Deer.” He has taught and led worship at conferences throughout North America and around the world. His children’s books, “Don’t Mess With Moses!” and “Zack, You’re Acting Zany!” are distributed by Standard Publishing.

Marty is a regular contributor to children’s magazine Clubhouse Jr, a publication of Focus on the Family. He and his wife live in Kenmore, Washington and have two grown sons. He has been a member of NCWA since 2006. Reach him at mjnwa@aol.com.

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