Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tough Questions #3: Why do we sing some songs that repeat the lyrics so much?

For the background on why I'm posting these tough questions, you can read the introduction to the first post in this series.

Question - Why do we sing some songs that repeat the lyrics so much?

You've heard all the jokes.
Their called 7/11 songs. Seven words repeated eleven times. Or maybe you've heard the joke about the farmer and city guys who talked about hymns and praise songs. If you haven't heard it, you can read about the funny stories here.

Nobody likes to be in a worship gathering and then get a sense that something is going too long. Sometimes it happens, with both 6 verses of a hymn as well as 6 choruses of a song that repeats the phrase over and over.

Here is what you need to understand about songs that repeat lyrics at TBC.

1. Compared to the professional recordings and radio, we cut out repeated sections. If you think we repeat a lot at TBC, then you haven't been listening to the pros do it on the radio or at concerts. They repeat much more often.

2. Repeated lyrics help first timers general pick up the song quickly. Imagine going to a concert where everyone else knew every words to the songs, but you. It can help aid in boosting familiarity in the same initial visit - a big plus for those who feel pretty unfamiliar with most of the music.

3. The songs with their repetition help us memorize great words and scripture - something the Bible encourages us to do (Psalm 119:14-16). How many times do you find yourself singing the "hook" or chorus of a song but have no clue what the verses are? That's because the chorus not only repeats itself, within the chorus the words are repeated. This is great when the lyrics are scripture.

4. Compared to the rich lyrics of hymns - songs with repeated lyrics allow us to come up for air. In fact, these songs make hymns stand out even more. Listen, hymns have so many benefits that today's songs will rarely replace them. They don't hold a candle to the theology, depth in meaning, and the incredible stories behind them. But the songs written today offer what the Bible calls a "new song" to sing (Psalm 96).

Yes, repeating lyrics can be abused - like anything can be abused. Someone should never drink too much water - or they can die. Repeating lyrics over and over can produce a hypnotic droning effect that can cause a worshiper to "zone out" and become mindless. Once a worship disengages his cognitive ability - you only have emotion to go on. Emotion without cognitive doesn't include the mind in the act of worship. The reverse is true - cognitive without emotion doesn't include the heart in the act of worship.

It's not always the lyrics that repeat too much, sometimes instrumental solo sections can be repeated too much. At TBC, we cut almost every instrumental solo section in half and try to display scripture on the video screen to keep the mind of the worshiper engaged cognitively. So if the music called for 16 bars of an electric guitar - we size it down to 8 bars of guitar.

By the way - have you heard the Hallelujah Chorus lately? Classic piece of music that has survived hundreds of years and will be around forever, and ever, and ever, and ever...

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