Three Essential Tools For Your Songwriter's Tool-Kit!

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by John Chisum,Nashville Christian Songwriters

Do you ever wonder how the "pros" write great songs time after time, hit after hit, year after year? Do you wish you knew the tips and tricks they use when they sit down to write and how they know when they've got a winner?

Truth be told, every successful writer has a short list of go-to tips and tricks they use to write those awesome songs. I want to share a few I've used through the years to get you started building your own Pro Songwriting Toolkit:

1) Always start with the strongest hook and title you can find. There's no doubt that a great song always has a great hook. This hook is almost always the title, though there are some notable exceptions, including Matt Redman's now classic 10,000 Reasons written with Jonas Myrin. In that song, a phrase from the verses became the title, even though the primary lyric hook is "Bless the Lord, oh, my soul" taken from Psalm 103.

Almost without fail, though, the hook of a song is also the title. In countries outside of the U.S., interestingly, songs are almost always known by their first lines, so this song would be better known by the hook instead of its given title. But for your writing, always start with the strongest hook and build the song from there.

Sometimes hooks develop as you write and come upon a great phrase, but you'll get further faster by starting with a strong hook and building the song from there.

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2) Begin with the end user in mind. Who will sing this song? An artist? A congregation? Children? Youth? Or will you use it in your own ministry? Beginning with the end user in mind will shape and inform your song development. If an artist is the end user, you will have more flexibility in things like range, key, and artistic nuances.

If a congregation is to use it, the range becomes smaller and the key critical. If children or youth are to sing it, the subject matter, memorability, and range are also critical to make it useful. If you're writing for your own purposes, the limits are much more pliable, though you still want to be careful to keep your primary audience in mind and not write so far ahead of their tastes that you lose them.

Beginning with the end user in mind is a great way to make sure your songs are on target. Think about your audience and end user now – what communicates best with them?

3) Make every word count. One of the most common mistakes developing writers make is extraneous words in their lyrics. How concise can you make that line? Is that descriptor worth the real estate it takes in that line? Is every line pointing to the hook? Have you crammed more than one primary thought into the song and distracted from the hook and impact it can have?

Bill Gaither used to say to me, "There's only room for one idea in a song," but many of us want to put everything we know into it, including the kitchen sink. Resist that urge to prove you know a lot of things and make every word work towards the payoff you want to have in the primary hook/title.

Stick to one idea. If the song is about the "cross of Jesus," don't throw in phrases about communion or heaven or America or whatever else doesn't belong. Stay focused. Laser focused. Look through the song you're working on now and ask yourself if EACH WORD really relates to the hook and how.

Mark the ideas and phrases that don't lead you to the big payoff and find ways to rewrite them to make it all add up to that delicious hook. Making every word count is critical to great songwriting.

This short excerpt is from John Chisum’s practical new e-book, Seven Proven Strategies to Write Better Songs, which is available FREE for a limited time at

Download 5 of Our Best Songs FREE:  Includes demos, piano and vocal charts, and much more!

This short excerpt is from John Chisum’s practical e-book, Seven Proven Strategies to Write Better Songs, which is available online at along with Five Keys to Engaging Worship. Check out for more information and special offers.

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Posted in: Practice, Creativity/Songwriting

John Chisum

John Chisum

John Chisum is the former Vice-President of Publishing for Star Song Media (Nashville) and the former Director of Song Development and Copyright for Integrity Media (Colorado Springs, CO), and is now Managing Partner for Nashville Christian Songwriters

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