Just a few quick tips gleaned from working with the church band the last few weeks that will help you when writing Contemporary Christian rock songs. There are several elements that are common to them you might keep in mind as you write:
1. They tend to follow the intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus format.
2. They frequently present a twist on that format: A chorus upfront. Or perhaps an instrumental interlude appears very early in the song and again just prior to the bridge or final chorus. Or a chorus or a bridge repeats many times more than you might in a secular tune aimed at getting radio airplay, this is usually in a worship song at a medium or slow tempo.
3. There are Christian songs and there are worship songs. The lyric in a worship song focuses on worship God in a personal way, i.e., “You are The King, the savior, you are the glorified one.”
4. The chords tend toward simple four chord progressions but an amazing number use the tonic, a.k.a. the 1 chord, followed by the 5 chord with the bass playing the third of that chord instead of the root, then on to the relative minor (E, B/D#, C#m) or (G, D/F#/ Em) to give two examples. In the Nashville Number System it’s the 1, 5/7, 6- progression.
The “Glorify You Alone” video above utilizes that very progression as well as several other tips presented in this post.
5. The lyrics tend to be simple, there aren’t many CC rock tunes that feature wordy lyrics or complex concepts. One exception to that is the lyrical masterpiece “He Loves Us” (Jesus Culture, David Crowder Band and others) with it’s lines like this in the Jesus Culture version: “And Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest.”
6. The bass line and drum chart often create the dynamics of the arrangement, which typically builds as the song progresses. In some songs, the build reaches an apex then quiets up at the end, some songs plow right on through at full tilt, apex to end.
7. The bass guitar lays out a lot. It might stay out until the chorus appears or even until the second chorus. Sometimes, even in a chorus or verse where you’d normally expect it to continue, the bass and drums drop out, then drums play alone, then the bass comes in to provide power, maybe thumping quarter notes then going to eighths and the bass/drums really drive the song hard at that point.
7. Thumping out eighth notes on bass is very common, especially at tempos around 80 beats per minute, but it can occur at any tempo anywhere the lyric gets intense and emotional. Sometimes it’s “pound out 8ths” beginning to end with just a few runs tossed in here and there.
“Glorious” by B.J. Putnam is 145 BPM and most of the choruses are driven by 8ths while verse 1 is whole notes and V2 does a cool little delayed scale walk starting on the “&” of beat 2.
Although you can write your song on acoustic guitar and let the musicians on the demo provide some of the elements discussed here, as well as decide where they should happen, I believe envisioning, or “hearing” how it will sound in regards to dynamics- where does the supporting music stay quiet and where does it get huge- can positively affect the lyric writing process- B.E. Watson