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Title: 20 Checklists for Songwriters
Date: 17-Aug-2007

By Wah Lok


It is not easy to write a hit song. But this article will help you evaluate whether your song has the characteristics to be a winner. Most hit songs have many of the characteristics below. Once you have written your song, evaluate it against the 20 checklists below. If you do not have many of the characteristics , the chances are that your song will not take off. So evaluate your song carefully.

  1. Christian songwriting is a partnership

    Many people expect God to give them every word of the song and the complete melody. If this were so, everyone can be a song writer. In reality, God inspires us with some thoughts, ideas and phrases. The song writer has to slowly craft out the entire song with perspiration. My guess is that for songwriting, inspiration is only 10% . 90% of the song depends on the perspiration of the song writer. He must work hard to develop his ideas and melodies. It is hard work writing songs.

  • Inspiration : God's part - 10%

  • Perspiration : Man' part - 90%

Here are ways to improve in song writing.

  1. Listen extensively to various types of music. Learn and practice the different styles

  2. Practice writing. Write and rewrite.

  3. Refine and edit the lyrics

  4. Get your friend's opinion

  1. Communication is the goal

    The message is the most important part of your song.

    Does you have a message you want to communicate ? If you do not have a message, you should not be writing your song.

  2. Form or structure – the foundation stone

    Analyze your song for form (AABA, ABAB, ABABC, AAAA)

    Make a framework for your song
    Define your verse, chorus and bridge.

    A= Verse B = Chorus C= bridge

    ABAB - Because He lives
    AAAA - Many hymns like Stand up for Jesus, All to Jesus I surrender
    ABABC - God is good all the time, The Happy Song

    Most modern songs have the structure ABABC. So try to stick to this modern structure if you want to write a modern song

  3. Make your point and stick to it

    A song should only have one clear message. Don't wander from this message. You cannot share about the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus all in one song (unless it is a story on the life of Jesus).

    Have a logical progression of lyrics. You should have a beginning, middle and end.
    Do not wander from your theme.

    I could sing of your love forever - God' love
    Awesome God - God's might
    Great is Thy faithfulness - God' faithfulness

  4. Don't dally

    Set the person, place, problem as soon as possible. Introduce your theme early

    Eg. Butterfly Kisses - "There are few things I know for sure, She was sent here from heaven, She's daddy's little girl" - Bob Carlisle tells us that the song is a story of his daughter in the first line

    Eg. Give Thanks - "Give thanks with a grateful heart, Give thanks to the Holy One" - the song is all about giving thanks to God.
  5. Set the hook

    A hook a something you repeat many times so that the audience will automatically remember your melody, lyric or rhythm.

    Melody hook
    Lyrical hook
    Rhythmic hook

    Eg. I just called to say I love you

    Melody hook - I just called ( first 3 lines)
    Lyrical hook - I just called (first 3 lines)
    Rhythmic hook - end of first line

    I did not sit down and read the lyrics of the song " I just called to say I love you". I just listened to it from the radio picked up the chorus. We remember a song with hooks very easily.

    Eg: This is how we overcome - Lyric and rhythmic hooks
  6. Repetition

    Repetition is one of the most important tools of song writing. By repeating a melody or lyric, you get people to remember your song easily.

    Repeat lyrics
    Repeat melody
    Repeat melodic patterns (rhythm)

    Eg 1
    You were my strength when I am weak
    You were my voice when I couldn't speak
    You were my eyes when I couldn't see
    You saw the best that was in me
    Lifted me up when I couldn't reach
    You gave me……cos you believed

    Eg 2 We want to see Jesus lifted high
    Eg 3 Trading my sorrows
    Eg.4 I could sing of your love forever
    Eg 5 Heart of worship
  7. Use phrase throws to get an emotional impact.

    God is good all the time
    Alpha and omega
    Every time I pray I move the hand of God
    Ticket to heaven
    Days of Elijah
    Blowing in the wind
    Sound of silence
    Tears in heaven
    Wind beneath my wings
    Butterfly kisses
  8. Do not use cliches

    A cliché is something a small group understands but the general public will have no understanding of eg.

    Choon - very good and accurate
    Alamak - Ooops'
    Kiasu - afraid of losing
    Kiasi - Afraid to die

    You can only use a cliché in a song if you are limiting the audience of the song to a particular group. You cannot expect any one in America or UK to understand the above clichés.
  9. Lyrics should be easy to hear.

    Rap songs - sometimes you cannot hear the lyrics until you read the lyric sheet

    Rhyme - if possible and it becomes very poetic

    Alliteration - 3 Rs or 3P's etc

    If you had a choice between emotional or intellectual lyrics, choose emotional lyrics because they are more powerful to impact the listener.

    Example of emotional lyrics.
    My heart will go on and on - From the movie Titanic - Celine Dion
    Tears in heaven - Eric Clapton - death of his child
  10. Lyrics should be easy to sing

    Eg. Tongue twisters - "She sells sea shells on the sea shore"

    Use a thesaurus to find alternative words for your lyrics to make it easier to sing.
  11. Make people think


    eg. Sound of Silence - Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel

    People talking without speaking,
    People hearing without listening
    People writing songs that voices never sang, No one did
    It is the sound of silence

    The Greatest Story - Ng Wah Lok

    CNN won't have the chance to cover this great event,
    His glory will be so bright, Their cameras can't handle the light
    TIME would want to write, all about this blinding light
    But I doubt they will succeed, Their reporters are at His feet

    Days of Elijah - Robin Mark

    These are the days of Elijah, Ezekiel, Moses, David …..
  12. Grammar must be correct.

    Grammar must be correct unless you are using it for effect…..O..very choon lah ??
    Get someone to check your grammar after you have completed the song. You may have some blind spots.
  13. Title must be attractive

    Title must be the main theme of your song. Usually the most repeated word or phrase

    Once again - Matt Redman
    My redeemer lives - Hill songs
    This is how we overcome - Reuben Morgan
    Revival fire fall - Paul Baloche
    Over and over - Paul Baloche
    God is good - Don Moen
    Butterfly kisses - Bob Carlisle
    Sound of silence - Paul Simon & Garfunkel
    Wind beneath my wings - Bette Midler
  14. Keep true to your idiom

    Write something people all over the world can identify with and not something only a small group can understand. Be careful of slang words.

    Eg American slang - "24-7" cannot be understood in many Asian countries

    Or Alamak or Choon or lah cannot be understood in America

  15. Keep current

    What is happening to your world today ?

    Write something people can relate to.

    Song "From a distance" - made relevant because of the Iraq war. Bette Midler made the song famous because it was released around the Iraq war period. Most Americans do not like wars. The song has a message of peace.

    Are your lyrics and music current ?

    Modernize your hymns - Change all the old King James English to modern NIV English
  16. Your music and lyrics must match

    A good song is a marriage of a good melody and matching lyrics.


    Prayer song/Deep worship songs on the Holy of Holies - slow and devotional

    Praise song - fast and strong rhythm

    You cannot do a battle song with slow devotional music. Neither can you do a worship song with a fast rock beat. It just does not match.
  17. Write a variety of songs of different themes and styles.

    Use various themes eg Cross, resurrection, Love of God, protection of God, worship , evangelistic, second coming etc.

    Styles eg. Rock, sentimental, jazz, pop, praise ?

  18. Check your melodic ranges

    Is it for congregational worship ?…Highest note should be the C or D above middle C.

    If you are writing for an Artist, make sure you know his/her range.


    Female alto ? - Most girls are in the alto range eg. Faith Hill or Sheila Majid

    Male tenor ?… G or A….Rich Mullins, Bryan Adams, Michael Bolton

    Soprano ? Sandi Patty

  19. If you are writing a story make sure your song has a beginning, middle and end

    Example : Butterfly Kisses

    Girl was baby, young girl , grows to sixteen and gets married. Her father tells the story.

About the author Wah Lok

Ng Wah Lok has written over 100 songs in 23 years. His song "Every Time I Pray" written in 1981 is widely used in Asia. He has released 2 albums, "Every Time I Pray" and "Shining Stars". He has also co-written 9 songs in the album "Favored Chick" by Barbara Tipper. He can be contacted at You can visit his website to read his other articles on music and songwriting.







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