Tuesday, 25 May 2010

What Can Worship Songwriters Learn From The Beatles? (pt 2)

Welcome back to the second part of my interview with praise & worship songwriter Mark Altrogge.

Rhymin' an' Chimin'

Matt: How have the Beatles influenced your songwriting?

Mark: One strength of the Beatles was their rhyming and chiming of words.  For example:

He's a real nowhere man,
Sitting in his nowhere land, 
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.

The Beatles used the word "NOwhere" 3 times then chimed it at the end with "NObody."

They rhymed (false rhymed or chimed) "man," "land," and "plans."

Later they rhymed "Nowhere man, please LISTEN, you don't know what you're MISSIN'" and chiming the "No" in "Nowhere" with "know."

All I Really Need

I work hard to rhyme and chime.  For example, in All I Really Need [free download here] from the CD In A Little While the verse is

In the darkest hour I must face
I'm counting on your grace
To give me all I need 
Sunless days and cheerless nights will pass 
And work their work at last 
To form your joy in me

I rhymed "face" and "grace" in lines 1 and 2,
"pass" and "last" in lines 4 and 5,
but also "need" and "me" in lines 3 and 6.

"Sunless" and "Cheerless" have a subtle echo in line 4, and "Work their work" in line 5 has a chiming effect.

Many contemporary Christian songwriters don't rhyme much.  Rhyming can make a song stronger and more memorable. It takes more work, but it makes for stronger and longer-lasting songs.


The Beatles' melodies are probably their greatest strength.  They are easily remembered (called a melodic "hook") - you hear them a couple times and next thing you know you're walking down the street humming them.

Their melodies are creative yet singable.  Sometimes you can develop creative musical hooks by employing "repetition and variation," in other words, repeating a musical phrase, then repeating it again with slight variation.

The Beatles did this a lot.  In the verse of Nowhere Man, the 3 phrases, "nowhere man," "nowhere land," and "nowhere plans" all repeat a similar descending 3-note pattern (repetition) yet each phrase is lower melodically than the preceding one - (variation). Genius.

In the chorus of my song Forever Grateful I repeat the phrase "I'm forever grateful" 3 times - each time melodically the same, but the melody of the words that follow each phrase ("to you," "for the cross", "to you") are slightly varied.  I think about repetition and variation a lot when I'm working on melodies.

We who write worship songs should work hard at coming up with creative, fresh melodies that are both memorable and - this is challenging - congregational.

Matt: In what ways (both positive and negative) has contemporary Christian music been influenced by the Beatles?

Mark: Positively the Beatles and others have deepened contemporary worship musically.  Our worship songs today are much more interesting musically than This Is The Day.

Negatively (and I don't know if this is the Beatles' influence), much contemporary worship has feel-good music, yet lacks lyrically.  For the Beatles, the lyrical content was usually secondary to the music.  The lyrics in She Came in Through the Bathroom Window, Octopus's Garden and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da are fun, but meaningless (at least to me).

For Christians, the lyrics are the most critical part of a song - we want to sing truth, for we are singing about eternal realities.  God commands us to worship him in spirit and truth, not just sing feel good songs.

You can hear Mark's songs on the album In A Little While. His most recent songs appear on the album Sons And Daughters. Mark blogs regularly at The Blazing Center

 If you've enjoyed this interview why not subscribe by email or RSS and join me as I ransack Lennon & McCartney's back catalogue for songwriting ideas and Be-atletudes on a regular basis?



  1. Hi. Just discovered your blog. Excellent!! Thought you might want to know that Mark Townsend (formerly of Bash-N-the code, DC Talk's band, Zilch, Steve Taylor's Some Band and producer of Relient K and others) has his own Beatles tribute band called Sixtyfour. I haven't heard a lot from them but found a video or two from them on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=71181924890

    Thanks and God bless!

  2. Thanks Ski

    If you like the blog make sure you subscribe - more good stuff to come!

    The link didn't work for me, but I managed to track them down on MySpace - they're pretty good aren't they?

    Did you see Fab Faux video I posted?

    You might like that too...