This article once existed on BBC’s servers, in their Religion & Ethics section. I found it through a Wikipedia link. It has since disappeared, but the Google Cache was still intact (thankfully). I’m saving it from eternal damnation, so enjoy this lost Internet gem!
Tips for writing a successful hymn
There are probably more hymns and worship songs being written today than in any period of church history. But relatively few will stand the test of time. And that has always been the case: for every “Amazing grace” or “And can it be”, you can bet there are several hundred trite, interminably dull ditties that did the rounds at the time, but have now thankfully faded into blissful obscurity.
So how can we make sure what we write is worth singing for years to come? Here are a few ideas that I try to put into practice myself:
- Study the Scriptures. The best hymns demonstrate insight and understanding of the Bible, and consequently bring the truths of the Christian faith to life. If you don’t know the message of the gospel, you can’t write something that will enable others to worship in spirit and truth.
- Be poetic, not pompous. Sometimes when people set out to write a hymn, they use phrases which might sound ‘hymny’, but actually mean very little. Make your phrases mean something!
- Combine objective truth and subjective response. When a hymn is just a statement of theological truth, it may be accurate, but it can be dry. Equally, when a hymn is just about how we feel, it’s wishy washy. The best hymns powerfully express the emotions of the worshipper, but as an emotional response to the objective truth of the gospel.
- Look for musical dynamics. A hymn should have musical peaks and troughs, and there should be a sense of building to a climax where the melody soars while expressing the main theme of the hymn.
- Make every line count. I see hymns that contain a few good ideas, but some of the lines are clearly there as just ‘filler’, and let the whole thing down. Don’t just stick in a line because it rhymes, or because you couldn’t think of anything else to say.
- Prune it mercilessly. Once you think you’ve finished, go through it carefully, and get rid of anything that distracts from the main theme you’re expressing. Better to have two compact, punchy verses than four rambling, unfocused ones.
So get writing!
Copyright © 2004 Stuart Townend.
Disclaimer from Philip: I don’t have official permission to repost this article. I’m relying on my legal understanding of Fair Use, the Internet and mirrors/caches. I don’t claim to have written this article, nor will I make any money from it by hosting it on my server. Don’t sue me!