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Songwriting In a Nutshell

How do you write a song? Where do you start? What are some of the elements of a song? Discover answers and insights in this inspiring video with Brooke Lingertwood as she shares some of her knowledge of songwriting along with some practical tips for your songwriting process.

Opening Prayer  Time: 1:11-1:40 

“Jesus I thank You so much that You are with us. I thank you, Lord, for every single person in this room. I pray Lord that You would lead our conversation today, Holy Spirit. I pray that You would help give these beautiful people some really practical tools that can help them facilitate what You’ve placed in their heart to bring into the world. So we love You, Jesus. We welcome You here. Have Your way with us in this next hour. In Jesus’ name amen.”


Creativity -The Administration of Mystery  Time: 2:25-14:17


  • “Creativity is a vehicle for mystery.”

  • “And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches, and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along.” Ephesians 3:8-10 (The Message) In the NIV the word “task” is translated into “administration of this mystery”. “And to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery which for ages past was kept hidden in God who created all things.” Ephesians 3:9 (NIV) “The definition of administration is to bring order or form or structure to something. ... "mystery" is something that’s difficult or impossible to explain or understand. So our task, scripturally, is to administrate, using the tools of our creative craft to put form or structure around "mystery", something that is impossible to explain.”

  • Pope John Paul II wrote a letter that was almost like a "commissioning" of artists to artists in the church. It says, “In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must, therefore, translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colors, shapes, and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.” 

  • “I think it is our privilege and our thrill to sink our creative teeth into bringing an expression to what the Scripture says is way over our heads, remember that Message translation? Bring administration to a mystery. Administration to the ineffable. Ineffable means to great or extreme to be expressed or described in words. To be used by the Creator. To give glimpses of what He’s doing behind the scenes of our senses with our senses.”

  • “But as a songwriter, there’s a reprocess to writing a song and there are principles for songwriting, form, and structure, that we can employ with music, melody, lyric to come together to form something that is identifiable as a song rather than a string of consciousness or randomness.” A biblical principle for this: “If even inanimate musical instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone [listening] know or understand what is played? And if the war bugle gives an uncertain (indistinct) call, who will prepare for battle?” 1 Corinthians 14:7-8

  • “Creativity is a bridge to Epiphany.”

  • The letter from Pope John Paul II also says, “Even beyond its typically religious expressions, true art has a close affinity with the world of faith, so that, even in situations where culture and the Church are far apart, art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience.” and, “It is clear, therefore, why the Church is especially concerned for the dialogue with art and is keen that in our own time there be a new alliance with artists… From such cooperation, the Church hopes for a renewed “epiphany” of beautifying in our time.”

  • Many of us have had an experience where a picture or a song has served as a bridge to a revelation. “So that’s what we have the opportunity to do with songs. Is to create those bridges for people. We can’t, we can’t create the revelation, but we can create the bridge that people might step across to step into revelation.”

  • “Creativity is a holy task.”

  • Pope John Paul II also wrote this, “In Christ God has reconciled the world to Himself. And all believers are called to be a witness to this, but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed, the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation, which according to Saint Paul awaits impatiently the revelation of God, is redeemed. The creation awaits the revelation of the children of God also through art and to art. This is your task.” “Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men,” Colossians 3:23 “Creativity is a holy task. It is work.” “And just because God graces you for something it doesn’t mean He does the work for you. It means He graces you for the work…” Brooke gave an example of how Hillsong has been working on a new album, but God didn’t write or record the album for them. But He gave them the gift and the grace to do it. “So God provides us with the gift and the grace, but we got to do the work, we got to be willing to put the work in.”

  • “Creativity is a stewarding of grace; it’s a service.”

  • “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others. Faithfully administrating God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10. The Amplified version says it this way, “...good stewards of God’s multi-faceted grace [faithfully using the diverse, varied gifts and abilities granted to Christians by God’s unmerited favor].” “Creativity is a stewarding of grace. It’s a way in which we bring our gifts to the table as a vessel through which God’s grace can flow. It’s a service.” 

  • Brooke shared several stories of how creativity feeds the soul. The first story she shared was of a Japanese artist who both he and his wife were poor. In this story, the artist was sitting at home waiting for his wife to return and was worrying overpaying for rent and the necessities needed over the weekend. The fridge was empty and he had no more cash. His wife came home with a bouquet of flowers and he asked why she had gotten flowers when they could not afford food. Her reply has been stuck with him for over thirty years; “We need to feed our souls too.” In a book, this artist wrote he says, “Our role as artists is to care for our culture soul and to bring to our cultural home a bouquet of flowers so that reminders of beauty both ephemeral and enduring are present even in the harshest environments where survival is at stake.” Another story she told was of a man from their church that was really gifted in calligraphy. This man went to some refugee camps in the Middle East and drew the outlines of the calligraphy on the sides of laboratory building so that the people from the refugee camps could feel them in; giving them the opportunity to see the beauty in life once more. The third story Brooke told was when she went to visit one of her sponsor children in Africa. Brooke and this little girl had been visiting with each other when the girl’s brother came home from the mines. They sat down and knowing Brooke was a musician asked if she would sing them a song. Brooke felt ill-equipped and incapable for the situation after watching on her trip other people who had medical skills and more practical skills, but since this was something she could do she thought she should do it. She sang a song and at the end felt awkward, but one of the brothers said, “But please keep singing. Because when you sing it is very soothing to our souls and it makes us forget all our troubles.” Brooke thought, “You know what Lord, I won’t discount what You have given me to bring again.”

  • To end this section on creativity Brook read a quote by C.S. Lewis from his book “The Weight of Glory.” It reads, “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things-the beauty, the memory of our own past- are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” 

  • “Creativity is a vehicle for mystery, a bridge to epiphany, a holy task, and a stewarding of grace.” 


Songwriting Part 1 -Songwriting Climate and Elements of Song  Time: 14:21-18:42


  • When we are aware of both our inner and external environments and that they affect our writing and we are intentional in that it creates a great foundation for entering into the process.

  • “The atmosphere that influences your songs: internal, external, spiritual, practical, your world view, your motives, your issues, indelibly mat on everything you create in your life whether that’s a conversation, or a song, or a tweet. They come through the filter of who you are. So understanding the filter of who you are and the atmosphere and the environment of your inner self and your outward environment is really important, an important place to start.”

  • A metaphor that Brooke only uses because you will remember it is songs are like poop. “You get out what you put in. You will reap what you sow.” “You have to be aware of what you’re feeding yourself.”

  • The answer to getting more scripture in your songs is to put scripture in you. 

  • “If something affects your soul it affects your art.”

  • “[Be] aware of the time and space that you’re most creative in. . . . One of the keys to developing songwriting is to push beyond what’s comfortable for you and to exercise the things that are weak.” Also, be aware of what helps you, maybe that is a new notebook or a special pen. “Be aware of the rest of your environment, your church, your spiritual community, your inner life, the conversations that you are having with people. All of that contributes.”

  • Identify your tools and use those tools. 


Songwriting Part 2 -Process, Inspiration, Beginning, Craft, etc. Time: 18:42-50:25


  • “The elements of the song: melody, lyric, harmony, and rhythm.”

  • “. . . melody and lyric are like the XY chromosomes of a song.”

  • Jenn was asking Brook who her favorite songwriter was and Brook responded with Ellen Meekan who she had discovered when she was somewhere around ten or eleven. When Brook was taking piano lessons as a little girl her piano teacher would give her songs by Motzart to play and so Ellen Meekan and Motzart were the foundations of Brook’s writing environment.

  • “A melody has a journey. A great melody takes you on a journey.” A chorus melody can be a lift in a song or the verse can be more lifting and the chorus can be more spacious. The melody of the verse sets up a journey for the chorus and the bridge sets you up for a level part of the journey through the song. “Play with intervals.” Try to recognize the intervals that you move towards. “Play to that strength and also again try and exercise your weakness, try to play with other intervals.” “The elements of melody: journey, cohesion to lyric, . . . rhythm; meter in melody.”

  • For lyrics, you could think of the journey that a novel takes the reader on and apply that to your writing. “There are a bunch of ways you can approach lyrics and none of them are wrong and none of them are right. . . .Your own journey as a lyricist will be individual to you. . .” Try to do things that feel unnatural to you. “... .one of the most important things that any of us can do in creativity or in life is to always be a beginner. Always be a beginner at something.” TD Jack said at a conference once that “if you are getting to a ten in one level of life make sure you’re always a one somewhere else.” “Think of the journey that the lyric is taking you on. . . .with lyric it’s cohesion with the melody or a deliberate juxtaposition.” “Listen to your lyric, listen to your melody, and see if their matching or if their dissonant and if that’s what you are trying to achieve and sew onto and build on to that .” Some rhyme schemes are: AABB, ABAB, ABCB, ABBC, AABBAA (Limerick). When you feel stuck on a lyric, try a different rhyme scheme. Placing the words in the right place helps the hearer hear how you mean it. “Internal rhyme means rhyming two words within the same rhyme.” Putting a double rhyme in one line strengthens it and then it is possible to put a larger, more complex word at the end. A line from Brooks C.S. Lewis song is an example of that. It goes, “If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary” There is also perfect and imperfect rhymes. “Perfect rhyme is a great way to make something feel very resolute and resolved.” Perfect rhyme rhymes exactly. Imperfect rhyme has the same sounding vowels, but different consonants. Perfect rhyme is useful when writing narratively or declaratively because it feels solid and sound. Imperfect rhyme is useful when writing something intimate or vulnerable because it feels honest and vulnerable. The three elements of rhyme are rhyme scheme, perfect rhyme, and imperfect rhyme. 

  • Imagery and metaphor. A song that Brooke wrote many years ago called “Seeds” has a line that says, “Night, field of stars above us/ You pick one, and we frame it with our fingers intertwined” “So, “field of stars” paints a picture, and then the phrase “You pick one” kinda suddenly solidifies the metaphor. So when you’re using metaphor, don’t try to line up a bunch of metaphors at once, but try and play with what it would look like to choose one metaphor and then pick different aspects of it and figure out different ways or different angles that you can come at it.” Try to find different ways of using metaphors that are used a lot. A metaphor is powerful because it establishes a common ground and helps to bring into a graspable form the infinite concepts. 

  • Harmony, rhythm, and tempo. “My style of songwriting is influenced by cinema. I am a frustrated filmmaker. A fan once said to me, “Girl, you make me see pictures in my head” and I took that as a great compliment. That’s exactly my intention.”  - Joni Mitchell. If a song were to be thought of like a movie then your lyric and melody would be the characters in dialog and harmony, rhythm, and tempo would be the landscape surrounding them or the car they are driving in that dialog. Lyric and melody are the x and y chromosomes of the song or the dialog between characters and what makes that dialog so powerful is the harmony, rhythm, and tempo. 

  • Changing the time signature is like changing countries with the time signature representing the time difference between the countries. If you have been righting in one country for a while then go to a different country. Changing tempo by just a few BPM’s can make a difference. If you have not received a breakthrough in your song that you’ve been writing then try speeding up the tempo, it could help you find what the song is supposed to be; a fast song instead of a slow song or vise versa. 

  • “The right chord choices, voicings, and even key changes can paint the right landscape for your song.” So just be aware of your chords and the story that they’re telling…” “Rhythmic elements: strumming patterns, the timing of chord changes. Maybe instead of changing the chord on the one and the three you change it on the one and the two-and. Play with where you change chords and see what it does. Again, all of this stuff, none of these are rules, their all invitations to have fun, basically, invitations to experiment.” 

  • Process. “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free.” -Michel Angelo In relation to songwriting the seeing of the angel is the spark of inspiration and then there is the chirping and carving until it is set free. 

  • Inspiration. Brook has learned since becoming a Mom that she has to schedule more things in then she did before. In her earlier life, she started writing when she was twelve and her earliest two songs were inspired by some interesting things: a sandfly and the color of the sky at Princess Diana’s funeral. In her earlier songwriting life Brook feel and idea and then she took it as her responsibility to create a channel for that to come out by playing an instrument. Nowadays its as if Brook is “trying to smoke a song out of hiding.” “If we speak of kinda inspiration as the spark that lights the fire a lot of what we do as songwriters or artists is like banging stones together. Like preparing, being aware of our internal climate, reading, writing, scribbling, sitting in an instrument, and hoping furiously that if we bang our stones together for long enough a spark will eventually come.” These days for Brook it looks like banging stones together. Last year Brook had taken several months to write but none of the songs she had written in about three months were special. She shared a story from 2 Kings about when the king of Israel and some other kings had joined forces. These armies ran out of water and called for Elisha. Elisha called for a musician and then Elisha heard the word of the Lord and said that the valley they were in was to be dug into ditches and that overnight God was going to fill them with water. The armies did so and when the enemy saw the valley in the morning the ditches were full of water, but to them, it looked like blood and they fled. The Israelites then perused and defeated the enemy. “I feel like a lot of songwriting is digging ditches. And if you dig those ditches faithfully then God will fill them with water. . .” Brook felt like that was what her time of songwriting was like. She was digging ditches and then one day while she was picking her children up from school God filled a ditch and gave her a song. Now that song is going to be the first song on the new album. “I think, I hope that because I was faithful in digging those ditches, I mean God doesn’t owe me anything, He doesn’t owe any of us anything, but I think He’s pleased when we engage our gift and our craft with faith and I think He’s pleased when we’re not afraid to do the work and diligently labor and yield it to Him for Him to fill things with water and to become something supernaturally that we could never have done on our own.” 

  • The beginnings. “Finishing a song can sometimes feel like an unsuitable task, but the beginning can often be just as daunting.” Harmony is chords. “Find a progression that feels good.” Play around with what keys you play on the piano and where you put a capo on the guitar. “If you get a melody that comes into your head, voice note that.” It is a lie that you will remember a melody if it’s good enough. “You won’t remember it…” Lyric. Write things down; whether in a journal or notebook or in your phone. Rhythm. One reason why Brook learned to play the guitar was because she wanted to write faster songs. Brook made an album a few years ago named “Brutal romantic” to try to shake things up. What she had done was taught herself to make beats. She was isn’t the kind of person who makes beats, but in doing that a whole nother part of her songwriting was unlocked to where she could start a song with rhythm. “Never be afraid to begin. If you’re not comfortable with something, try it, it’s great.” Story. “I think that within the church context we have an incredible opportunity to engage scriptural narrative. One of the songs that Brook has had the most fun writing was “Transfiguration”. When writing the song she and the other writers knew that it wouldn’t be a top song but it was super rewarding and a worthy pursuit to take a scriptural narrative and bring that into a worship song. “Take this rich text we have available to us and help us as believers see it in a new light. It’s a good thing.”

  • “Once you’ve begun, what do you do? Here’s where the chasing, sitting, and hard work kick in. There’s no way to get around it really. You’ve just gotta keep trying. Brook likes to try to figure out who the song is as a person and then how to dress and express them appropriately. What Brook does when she gets stuck is she moves to a different instrument, does something else for a while (which might be years), work on a different idea, “shoot the unicorn” (the magical part of the song, the part that you can’t change, “Shoot the thing that you think is the best thing about it and see what that unlocks), feed your soul and feed your spirit, and “perseverance. What’s true in life is true in art. You’ve got to persevere.” Bad songs are not wasted because you learned something. 


Q&A  Time: 50:25-59:46


  • “When you’re writing for a Hillsong album are you writing with a group of writers towards a particular theme or are you just coming “Hey, I have this song. Do they work together?” Brook’s answer every year they are asked what they should write about is the same, “Go to Jesus and bring back what He tells you. Go into the secret place and bring back what He tells you there.” 

  • “We can see that you like poetry a lot and craft, but what is the difference between writing a song for a worship setting and write[ing] one of your secular songs like for everybody?” “With all of my music I’m trying to employ those four things that I talked about at the beginning: creativity being the administration, a vehicle for mystery, a bridge to epiphany, a holy task, and a stewarding of grace as a disciple of Jesus. All the art that I make has that intention but with differently faceted purposes…” Worship songs should be a foundation for what people declare over themselves.

  • “In the question of inspiration, sometimes we tend to go to secular music and secular movements. How do you stay pure in the process of writing even chords for music, or even lyrics when you have these kinda inspiration?” “It is up to each believer to have discernment as to what effects their soul and what doesn’t.”

  • “How much do you feel the platform you have is affected the way you actually write songs now?” “There’s a sense of responsibility and kinda a sense of the holy task about that which can be quite heavy, but at the same time, I write songs first and foremost because I like it and I experience God when I do it and I learn more about Him.”

  • “How has the church responded to your quote and quote more secular music and are they part of that process or is it kinda a separate thing?” “I would say “the church” for a while I think there was definitely a misunderstanding because perhaps there wasn’t a benchmark or a principle for that having been done before. As far as it comes to “my church”, like my church are my people man. Like they’re my family and I, well, first of all, I had my secular career before I was ever a part of Hillsong so I came from that context before ever being a part of our church, but honestly, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me through all those years of going out on tours but knowing that I was sent and covered by my church. Do you know what I mean? That I was championed and that when I came back into church whether the road had been rough or whether it had been kind I was valued. I’ve never been valued for my gift more than I’ve been valued for who I am. So it’s been really really precious.”

  • “How do you schedule your songwriting and what is the layout of your songwriting?” “I have to book it far in advance just cause between our church, our Hillsong church has a crazy calendar as it is, and then our Hillsong worship schedule, and then just life I actually have to book it now.” 


Prayer  Time: 59:47-1:00:33

“Lord Jesus I just thank You so much for these precious people. I pray, Father, that there were some handles on the rock climbing wall that they could take away today. I pray that You would bless them in their creativity and all their endeavors for You Jesus. I pray that You would lead them, that You would guide them, that You would equip them, that You would empower them, that You would influence them, and that You would fill with the power of Your Holy Spirit the work of their hands for the glory of Your name and the extension of Your kingdom. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”