Thanks to Bobby Giles of My Song In The Night, for sharing these great insights about writing hymns. You can view another great article titled, What Makes A Worship Song A Hymn, for more detailed information on what actually indeed makes a hymn a hymn.
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?”
2) 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.
3) 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