One of the best feedback tools is learning the art of the critique: how to examine a song and how to accept critique from other writers.
This art is invaluable to rewriting our best. It’s not that you have to listen to everyone and make all the changes suggested, it’s that you need to listen to the point of view of the critique without getting defensive – and only making any changes because it makes sense to you … as you realize the suggestions make your song better.
One of the best articles I’ve seen on the subject: Ten Things Your Mother Won’t Tell You About Your Songwriting.
No doubt about it. Our songs are our “babies”, and we think: “You’re gonna attack my baby!?” But rarely has there been a critic that does so to take personal jabs at another.
When I give a critique I say, “This is just my 2 cents. Take whatever suggestions that ring true to your heart and leave the rest.” I want them to know my evaluation of the song is clinical. I’ll be sure to include praise for what the song does best, in my opinion.
Learn to take suggestions and ask for clarifications. You’ll need a ‘thicker skin’ in this department.
I’ll specifically address the art of critiquing worship songs.
The old saying is that you have to learn to crawl before you can learn to walk.
It’s good to get feedback about our songs so we can eventually learn to walk. But, there’s the whole gamut of getting pats on the back from your mother/friends/family to receiving suggestions that tear you down. Neither of these provide the information necessary for you to become a better writer …
You need feedback that’s designed to help take your song to the finish line AND show you how to be a better writer.
If you want to become a dedicated congregational songwriter, you have to ‘cut to the chase’ and take on serious critique and learn to be a better writer so you can cross that finish line.
But where do you find this information? You’ll find it right here in the paragraphs to follow.
It’s so amazing to me. There are massive opinions out there, as you might expect. With so many points of view, it’s tough to know which methods are effective. There are so many writers who know their hearts and what seems to work for them. And there are many writers who have good intentions and experience.
Some writers have figured out how to receive critique, but not give it. They pass on encouragement, but not necessarily specifics. Not every writer has the know-how to give good feedback.
The main problem with seeking feedback from so many different sources when wanting to learn how to write for congregations is the plethora of opinion on exactly what writing for congregations is.
You need constant professional songwriting feedback in order to grow. It’s not that the professional viewpoint should be the only feedback, it’s that the professional viewpoint is the only type that allows you to grow as a writer.
This type of top-level critique and feedback speeds up the learning curve drastically.
Is there a single source of information designed to critique and build congregational worship songs? Yes.
I’ve spent a large amount of time and gathered tons of material and opinions toward the goal of creating a critique form tailored especially for the worship songwriter.
I’ve distilled many facets of song creation criteria down to the specifics we need to know. All, I humbly believe, we need to know. And nothing more.
The definition of congregational songwriting is found in this form. Many of the evaluation questions in the form come from this book. But the ideas in the form are expanded, with questions not found in this book.
My experience with critiquing comes from multiple online writer forums, songwriting contests, live and internet songwriting review panels, local and national worship leaders, and personal feedback from songwriting veterans and professional artist management.
I’ve created an approach, taken from my own insights and experience to create a direct way to build a good congregational song. Rather than tear a person’s baby down and make them feel like crap, it’s a method where the songwriter can see the satisfying conclusion of making their song work.
It’s a way to assess your songs and to learn crafting from the process of purposeful critiquing.
It’s based on the model of Proverbs 27:17:
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another
This form is highly focused the type of lyric and music writing needed for congregations. You’ll quickly sharpen your core skills:
- Lyric writing,
- melody creation and evaluation,
- the prosody of music, and
- the viability for songs in the church environment
All elements of great songs. You’ll evaluate your own as well as the creations of other dedicated worship songwriters.
I base this song evaluation and critique form on 5 critical song areas:
The following are only a few of the questions and evaluations inside the 5 critical areas:
- intended use
- the power of one idea
- the story aspect
- the central emotion
- scriptural accuracy
- strong start criteria
- song form
- poetic devices
- sound repetition
- memorable title
- building to a payoff
- word economy
- the range
- the repetition
- the rhythm with the spoken cadence
- the shape (visual structure)
- the “cry”
- First, do the lyric and melody belong together?
- Is it conversational?
- Is the intended emotion conveyed?
- Is it singable?
- Can the chorus stand alone?
- Which ideas or images need expansion?
- Is the song easy to sing by the untrained masses?
- Would you characterize the song as congregational? What are your comments?
- Are the lyrics from the heart?
- Does the song have commercial value?
You’ll find the full and updated form on this page. Thanks for reading and please enjoy.
About Steve Cass
Steve Cass is a veteran songwriter and worship leader. He founded the label Solid Walnut Music and distributed their albums to Christian radio stations in over 15 countries. He is the Founder of the Arizona Worship Songwriters Association, and is married to Lisa with grown children David and Christy.