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Title: 12 Practical Points for Songwriters
Date: 17-Aug-2007

By Wah Lok

There are some general rules for song writing but a huge part of it depend on personal choice. The points below are my personal preferences which I have used over the last 20 years to write songs. Others may have their personal preferences but I have found the 12 points below very helpful in songwriting.

    • Start with the melody first followed by the lyrics
      People often ask, "Do you write the music or the lyrics first" ? Personally for me, the music should come first. But the initial melody should come with an interesting phrase and a theme for the song. You know what the song is about when you compose the melody. Once you have got the tunes, you can take your time to write the lyrics. If your tunes are no good, throw it away. Don't bother writing lyrics for them. It your tunes are good, work hard on them to get good lyrics.

    • Record your inspirational melodies
      I have found that some of my best melodies come by inspiration when I play spontaneously on the piano or guitar or when driving in a car. However, once you leave your instrument, you forget the tune almost immediately. When you get a good melody, record it immediately. It is helpful to keep a tape recorder around to record your melodies immediately. A keyboard with recording facilities is also very helpful.

      It is good to keep all these melodies. When you are free, you can listen to them again and perhaps find some inspiration to write some lyrics. Some of my lyrics are written months or years after the initial melodies were developed.

      I usually find that I have more melodies than I can write lyrics to. So write the lyrics only for the best tunes you have.

    • Keep your chorus simple.
      If you are writing a song which you want people to sing along, keep the chorus simple. Some of the best songs written have very simple chorus . The reason why people like the song is because they can sing along during the choruses.

      You can put more content in the verses and the bridge. Most people can't sing along during the verses unless they deliberately learn the song or follow the lyric sheet. Tell your stories in the verses but keep the chorus simple.

      Examples of songs with simple choruses

      I just called to say I love you, 
      God is good, 
      I could sing of your love forever, 
      Every thing that has breath, 
      Blessed be the Rock, 
      Awesome God
      Every time I pray

      Having a simple chorus is not an absolute requirement. Some philosophical songs do not have simple choruses. They are good songs but are difficult to sing. The writer wants to communicate his philosophy and usually his song is not written for public singing.

    • Edit your lyrics over a period of time
      Once your song is ready, you have reached the editing stage. You have got only the raw song. 

      Search the thesaurus for better words. Keep thinking. New ideas or words may come to replace the old ones.

      Or you may like the chorus very much but not the verse. So you may want to rewrite the whole verse.

      Or you may not like the song very much , so throw it away and start a completely new song.

      Over the years, I have thrown many songs away as I found them be average and not worth teaching or presenting.

      Example of editing: Let your rain fall by Ng Wah Lok ( not recorded yet)

      Original version

      Edited version

      Let refreshing rain pour now
      Let the mighty winds blow now
      Let consuming fire burn within my heart

      Let refreshing rain pour down
      Let revival winds blow now
      Let refining fire burn within my heart

      I managed to get 3"R" for the song with rain, wind and fire.

      Don't be an early settler. Keep editing your song. The song improves as you edit the lyrics.

    • Write a song which you can link to an event or experience.
      If you capture an emotion of an experience, it would be the best. Emotional songs are the most powerful songs. People are touched by emotional songs.


      Tears in heaven - Eric Clapton wrote this song after his son's death.

      Every time I pray - Written in 1981 atFull Gospel Tabernacle's first year which was the most difficult period of the church history

      Flow Holy Spirit - Written after I personally experienced a touch of the Spirit after taking a break from song writing for almost 6 years

      We're here by grace - FGT's 19th anniversary.

      Approved in every way - FGT's pioneers who gave up every thing to serve God.

      It is even better when the Holy Spirit speaks to you on a certain area. 


      When God spoke to me on the need to raise funds for the poor at the World Evangelical Fellowship conference in May 2001, I thought of the phrase "Unheard voices" and said to myself, "I will write a song about the people whose voices will never be heard.

      Unheard voices (a song of social concern in the album Shining Stars)


      Unheard voice, crying to the heaven
      While those on earth refuse to hear
      Unheard voices rising to the heavens
      While those on earth refuse to hear,
      God hears the unheard voices.

      Verse 1

      The little children, sold to prostitution
      Who will hear their voice
      A billion people, living in poverty
      Who will hear their voice
      The voice of the suffering, cries out to the heavens
      While those on earth refuse to hear……….These are the…(repeat chorus)

      Verse 2

      Millions die in abortion, While the world sits in silence
      Who will hear their voice
      Babies die of sickness, AIDS malnutrition
      Who will hear their voice
      The voice of the suffering, cries out to the heavens
      While those on earth refuse to hear…………..These are the …(repeat chorus)

    • Listen extensively to different styles of music
      As we listen and appreciate melodies, they get into our sub conscious mind. We usually write the styles of music we like and listen to the most.

      Often a phrase in your song could sound like a tune in another song. This is common in most songs. I have often found that some of Kenny G's melodies sounding exactly like some Christian choruses. Not the entire song but probably just a phrase. I wonder who wrote the songs first ?

      When a writer writes a hit song, you will usually find that he will write another song which will be very similar. It will almost certainly appear in his next album

    • Share your song with a friend and ask his frank opinion.
      Usually, you can tell whether a song is good when you listen to it the first time. Get a friend who is good in music and will tell you the truth. If it is no good, he will say so.

      Get some ideas from your friend on how you can improve the song. If it is really bad, don't bother to improve it. Rewrite a completely new song. You can use the same ideas for lyrics.

    • Teach the good songs to your church.
      All of us need encouragement. If you write song after song and no one sings your songs and you do not record them, you will end up very discouraged. Eventually you will give up writing because of discouragement. You must teach or present your songs as items.

      Get your church to sing those songs written for congregation worship. Give priority to home grown song.

    • Co-write your songs with a friend
      Two minds are better than one. Some have the gift with melodies and others with lyrics. Rarely does a person have both although some can master both lyrics and melodies. So if you are weak with lyrics, then co-write with someone who is good with lyrics. If you are good with lyrics but weak with melodies, find someone who is good with melodies.

      Co writing brings out the best of each person's skills.

    • Invest in resources – Thesaurus, Hymn books, Poems.
      You can get a lot of lyrical ideas for hymns and poems. Read them and appreciate them. You may find some interesting words from these books for your lyrics.

      A thesaurus is a great tool. If you are stuck with a word, scan the thesaurus for an alternative word. There are also available books for rhyming words.

    • Write on a variety of themes.
      Don't be stereotype in your writing. Some people only write worship songs. What about other songs ?

      There are many types of songs.

  1. Praise
  2. Worship
  3. Communion - cross
  4. Second coming
  5. Evangelistic
  6. Holy Spirit
  7. Social concerns
  8. Secular
  9. Wedding
  10. Human love/relationship
  11. Unity etc.

Start with worship songs and progress further to other types of songs. Out of the 100 songs I have written, most are for worship but I have also made it a point to write songs in the other categories I have mentioned above eg. Ticket to Heaven, The Greatest Story, Unheard Voices etc.

  1. Keep your ears, eyes and mind open to what God is saying. Let the things you see provoke your thoughts
    Often times, my song comes from a single thought which eventually develops into a song.

    Eg. "Ticket to heaven" was just a phrase that I thought of after thinking about the Carpenter's recording of the song Ticket to Ride. My thoughts were that if the Carpenters could sing about an earthly ticket for a bus ride, why can't I write about an eternal ticket to heaven which Jesus can give us for free. My song was developed around the phrase "Ticket to Heaven".

    When you see something interesting that touches your heart, you can develop the idea and write a song.

    Keep thinking, keep seeing and keep listening. You may get a fresh idea. That is what makes a good songwriter.

About the author Ng 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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