Songwriting Tip: The Holy Spirit Doesn’t Write Bad Songs

Occasionally in a songwriting workshop, when I’ve pointed out a weak lyric or poor melody, someone has replied, “But that’s the way the Holy Spirit gave it to me.”  My first thought is usually, “Then the Holy Spirit isn’t a very good songwriter.”

Our songs are not “inspired” in the same way Scripture is INSPIRED.  Every word of Scripture is God-breathed; we can’t make the same claim for our song lyrics.  That D minor 7 chord in the chorus is not the one and only chord the angels are using in heaven.

I’ve recently been trying to write a funeral song for Sovereign Grace Music’s “Resurrection” project.  So far I’ve sent in at least 6 different versions.  Finally last night I started from scratch and completely changed the lyrics and music.  After I sent it in, my friends Bob Kauflin and Sal Oliveri each got back to me suggesting alternative melodies to mine (and they were both better than mine).

Songwriting is primarily about rewriting.

If a song doesn’t immediately grab someone – if they say they think they’ll have to “get used to it,” it’s probably not that good.  Don’t defend your song like you defend the inerrancy of Scripture.  Go ahead, you can change it.  You can actually scribble out the words and write new ones.

So write, rewrite, then rewrite again.  Play it for someone.  Then rewrite some more.

photo by Olivander

Comments

  1. Elaine says

    Your advice is encouraging – it's the same advice I give my writing students but as it relates to essays: 1) Write, rewrite, read it out loud, then rewrite – repeat the previous instructions as necessary. After reading your post, I think I will add a new rule: Your thesis statement is not Scripture. It can be changed.

    Thanks for the encouragement! I appreciate it!

    • MarkAltrogge says

      You're right, Elaine,

      Writing anything involves rewriting. And I like what you said about reading aloud too. One writer suggested that everyone who wants to improve at writing should read "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White aloud – to learn from his writing style and expertise.

  2. Petra Hefner says

    Writing is like being a servant, but whom we serve determines whether there is room for improvement. Sadly, many writers write to serve 'self', expecting the outcome to please others.

    • MarkAltrogge says

      That's true Petra! Our motives matter – if we write to serve God and others, then I think we'll be more open to input, rewriting and reworking our songs, sermons, or other writing.

  3. says

    What happens when you try to rewrite, but you can't get the original way you had it out of your head? For example, sometimes I'll write a lyric that has a melody already sort of attached to it in my head. Then, in searching for a better melody or lyric, I have a hard time breaking away from what I originally came up with. Any thoughts?

    • MarkAltrogge says

      Hey Ben,

      Welcome to the club! It's tough to get something out of our heads at times. Sometimes switching to a different key works. Try a different beat, or start with a minor chord. Start the melody high if you originally started low. If all else fails, work on a different song, and maybe a few days or weeks later, look at your lyrics and you might have forgotten the melody. These are things I do sometimes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>