Three False Reasons To Label Your Song A Hymn

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop

All Glory, Laud and Honor hymn text and sheet music from hymnalInversion

Inversion happens when you invert the natural grammatical order of a phrase or sentence (subject-verb-object). The Stars Wars character Yoda does this, as do many poets and hymn writers. It’s an accepted poetic construct, and when used in moderation it can give your lyrics a timeless, classic, beautiful feel. But it’s ridiculous when overused.

Don’t use inversion merely to serve a rhyme. You’ve probably seen or heard lots of amateur lyrics like:

Oh God, I love you so
To you, my all I owe

The writer of lines like these often doesn’t think in terms of the total structure of a song or verse. He writes one line, then thinks of little else but “How do I make the next line rhyme with this one?”

Lots Of Words

Sorry, but a hymn isn’t just a wordier praise song. Hymns are metrically precise, which means that no matter how many words are in a hymn, congregations don’t run out of breath at the end of each line (unless the tunesmith did a poor job of writing a melody for the hymn, or the hymn text is badly written).

Many singer-songwriters cram so many words into each line that it takes skill and practice to wrap their vocals around all those lines. And even so, people in their audience are likely to keep asking each other, “Do you understand what she’s singing? Did you catch all of that?” It might be fine for coffee house listening or an American Idol performance, but it isn’t ideal for congregational singing.

Archaic Language

Have you ever listened to a new song with contemporary language and imagery, until you come to a lyric like:

You’re my savior, rescue me
This is all I ask of Thee

Again, the only apparent reason for “Thee” is that “You” wouldn’t have rhymed with “me.” But mixing archaic words with modern words is little better than mixing verb tenses. It makes the song seem precocious or like it has a case of Multiple Personality Syndrome.

If you have a reason for writing new lyrics using archaic phrases, at least remain consistent with your word choices throughout the song.

Photo by Paulo Ordoveza, used via Creative Commons license

{ 1 comment }

Caleb White October 30, 2013 at 9:07 am

Recently we sung ‘Forever Reign’ by Hillsong and I noticed this:

You are God You are God
Of all else I’m letting go

Ugh. Then I remembered a song I wrote maybe fifteen years ago had the line, “Lord, place in me your heart”. Yoda should have received a co-credit. 😉

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