We used to hear criticism of the “7-11” songs. You know, seven words, eleven times? Then, when we acknowledged how repetitive hymns are, not so much anymore. The more recent critique of modern songs is that they all sound the same — same chords, same melodies, same rhythms, underneath only a handful of ideas about God.
Once, I heard a massive medley of modern worship songs – 10 in all – that had the same chord progression, tempo, and groove. It was scary how easily all of them could fit over the same accompaniment… and telling. Many of them actually shared the same ideas as well.
In my opinion, our musical palettes have become so small and narrow in modern worship that it was inevitable our songs would start to sound the same. Songs used to be written by musicians. Now, many of them are written by songwriters – and those two are not necessarily the same person. Perhaps this stems from the reality that the musical range of many songwriters is limited to a single approach on a single instrument — guitar. My fear of that happening to me is why I loved writing with Luke Garrett – his versatility on the piano stretched his songs in every conceivable direction, and I was the beneficiary of that as his co-writer.
Would you agree that our modern songs have a sameness about them? Is it a problem? So what if all of our songs are sounding the same? What difference does it make?
Here are three reasons why I think it matters.
We are losing the interest of our congregation.
They may love what our songs are saying. But, the sameness of our songs is making congregational singing pretty predictable. We have bemoaned often why our congregations don’t sing as enthusiastically as before. Maybe one reason we have overlooked is that they just don’t want to – the songs aren’t that interesting.
We won’t remember this song a year from now.
It is staggering to me how quickly churches move on from songs they love. It may be because the new songs sound just like the ones they loved and they all run together. It makes me wonder what this generation will sing on their death beds – they won’t remember any of these songs.
We are prone to reach for extreme lyrics (and other things) to compensate.
This is the scariest one to me. The musical same-ness of today is driving songwriters to reach for more extreme ways to say things lyrically in an effort to create interest. I’ll refrain from giving my own examples of this, but one of the reasons we see lyrical “reaches” is because the music doesn’t create interest, so the lyric has to for the song to catch attention. The effects we use in worship and as singers are also trying to compensate for this.
I’m concerned about this. Are you?
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book (checkout his latest book: Worship Essentials). In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family (and his two new grand-babies). Visit MikeHarland.com to keep up with all that Mike has going on.