Speaking of which, you evidently do not need to be a professional musician with theory training, or knowledge of vocal ranges and anatomy to write hymns these days. From what I have seen, anyone can do it.
First, use only half a dozen different notes in the melody. In fact, it is quite acceptable to use only four different notes in the first sixteen measures. Make sure the soprano never has to sing more than a major sixth range--often a perfect fifth will do. The melody should hang around F4 and G4, where the soprano voice is [wo]manfully trying to switch from chest to head register so that the only way to get any power in the voice is to push that chest voice beyond its natural niche, which will soon damage the vocal cords. And remember, it is perfectly acceptable to have the soprano sing a minor third below middle C. Surely everyone should be able to experience nodules on their vocal cords, shouldn’t they?
Similarly, ignore the fact that most men who sing bass in the church are baritones, and write the bass line so they can grovel at F2 and G2 for measure after measure.
As for rhythm, syncopate whenever possible. Make it as complicated as you can imagine so that the average untrained congregation will never truly sing together, but will instead sound like they have one massive case of hiccups.
Harmony? The three primary triads will do nicely. Oh, you might use a ii-V instead of the standard IV-V, throw in a vi chord to delay the cadence, or add a secondary dominant about halfway through in such obvious ways that they all sound like freshman theory assignments.
As for the words, you needn’t be a deep thinker. Just choose five or six words and repeat them over and over. One verse will do. If you want to improve on that, just change one or two words of the first verse and sing it again!
Your topic? Praise, of course, and nothing else. No teaching and admonishing about daily life. No songs about hope and faith and grace. And absolutely nothing at all about humility and unworthiness. None of the modern lyricists would ever write, “Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” We would not want to damage anyone’s self-esteem. However, if you do try to use a Biblical narrative, make sure you get at least one Bible fact wrong.
If you are really good, you can combine many of these tactics. Just the other morning we sang a praise song with less than half a dozen words, using only four different notes in the entire melody, and with the soprano—the soprano, mind you—traveling no higher than the center line of the treble clef.
Seriously, I have looked through the only inspired hymnal we have, the book of Psalms, and it amazes me that in only 150 songs, we are given, by some counts, as many as eight different types of songs. When I was a child, we seriously lacked praise hymns. I can probably count the ones we sang regularly on one hand, so I am glad to have a few more in our repertoire, but even in the book of Psalms, praise songs are not the most numerous. In fact, according to the examples we have in the Old Testament, and the directions we have in the New Testament, there is much more we should also be singing about.
Some people think the old hymns are “boring.” (Reread the second paragraph up from this one and then tell me about “boring.”) Try this: find an old hymn you think is boring and read the words like a poem—no singing allowed. I doubt there is one in fifty that is not profound, edifying and moving.
For the record—I do like some of our newer hymns. My son says—and he is probably right about this—we just need another hundred years to weed out the new ones that are nothing more than trendy kitsch, leaving us with only the best of the bunch. We have already had that time with the older hymns, and that is probably why they seem so much more profound as a group.
Regardless of which group of songs any of us like the best, if the beat is all we care about, I wonder how much good our singing really does. God is not listening to the music our mouths make or the rhythm our toes tap; he is listening to the music our hearts make. If you must like the beat to sing the song, you have forgotten who it is we should be trying to please. And yes, that goes for me too. It doesn’t matter if I like the song; it doesn’t matter if you do. What matters is whether we sing with all our hearts to the Lord and to one another. That is what singing hymns is all about.
And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ, Eph 5:18-21.
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