Should We Use “Oh Oh Oh” in Worship Songs?

While the trend has been growing for years now, I’ve been noticing that more and more songs (particularly fast songs) have entire sections where the singer just sings “oh, oh, oh” (and to a lesser extent “la, la, la”). I’ve been thinking as a leader whether this is beneficial for our congregation to sing and whether it is good for the global church as a whole. I’ve had leaders and friends in my life who have argued for them and against them. Let me lay out the argument the way I see it.

Why this is an issue

Before we look at the pros and cons of it, some may wonder why we even need to talk about it. There should be no part of a worship song that isn’t looked at. None. When we look at worship songs, we are looking at the tools that enable a congregation to corporately worship God in unity. Worship is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) purpose of the church and we should take the songs we sing very seriously. Every song teaches us something, even if it’s subconsciously. We need to look and ask “what are songs with lots of “oh, oh, ohs” teaching us and our congregation?” and “Is it helpful or harmful?”

Examples

Not every song with an “oh” in it am I dealing with. I think singing it here or there is fine. I am particularly dealing with songs that make entire second choruses of them. Here are some of the songs I’m talking about:

All of these songs feature (if not start out with) long “oh, oh, oh” choruses. Let’s look at the pros and cons of such songs. We’ll start off looking at the cons so that I can better argue both sides.

Cons

  1. Laziness in songwriting.
    I find (for the most part) that entire choruses built on “oh oh ohs” to be extremely lazy songwriting. As a popular satire video said, “all you have to do is sing ‘oh, oh, oh’ and you have a hit song.” Since songwriters put words in the mouths of worshippers, they should be carefully pondering every word of their song. Many times, what results from lazy songwriting is the congregation engaging in spiritual gibberish.
  2. Polarizing.
    The younger generation loves songs with “oh, oh, ohs”. Turn on any radio station (Christian or not) and you’ll be hard-pressed not to hear a song that doesn’t contain any of them. Many songs written by younger artists includes ohs. At the same time, many older artists do not. It was a rare thing to have a song that had a long extended “oh, oh, oh” section in it fifty-or-more years ago (Hey Jude from The Beatles were one of those songs). Many older worshippers don’t understand singing “oh, oh, ohs” to God. This is important. Since corporate worship is about everyone joining together and worshiping God, anything that would hinder an entire section of people from worshiping must be looked into. It is better not to do any “oh, oh, oh” songs than to hinder people from worshiping God.
  3. Untheological.
    I’m not saying that “oh, oh, ohs” are bad theology, but rather that they carry no theology. They are neither true or false. They are sugar. They are just a condiment in a meal. Depending on the “meal” (worship song/set), they may add to it, or they may take away from it. Relish is great on a hot dog, but not so great in chicken pot pie.
  4. Redundant
    I’m not sure is this is a terrible thing, but if “oh, oh, ohs” aren’t done well musically and melodically, they can be quite redundant. This only adds to the polarizing effect.

Pros

  1. Unity
    The greatest strength I see with “oh, oh, ohs” in songs is, if the entire congregation is engaged together, the incredible unity that happens due to the utter simplicity of the words. Sometimes, either due to a song being newer or too wordy, many in the congregation can’t sing along well enough to “sing in one voice” with the rest of the people. If sung with a deeply worshipful heart, I feel the ohs can add to the unity of a song.
  2. Heartfelt and heart-engaging
    Someone once argued to me that “oh, oh, ohs” in worship songs were pointless. I was quick to point out to them that if the heart is truly the thing worshipping, then it can worship by singing random syllables. In fact, I see it (possibly) in the same way as “singing in the Spirit” (also called “singing in tongues”). I’ve mentioned elsewhere:

    “I have yet to be able to sing in tongues and not engage my heart. Since speaking (and therefore singing) in tongues is a muscle of the will, usually my hardest fight is to start singing in tongues, but once I do, my heart immediately becomes engaged. It’s just another reason why I believe the gift of tongues are still active today.”

    While singing “oh, oh, ohs” is not the same thing as singing in tongues, due to the simplicity bypassing the stumbling part of our brain, I believe singing ohs can produce close to the same effects.

  3. Rejoiceful
    I was going to say that singing “oh, oh, ohs” can be fun (and they are when done right), but that didn’t seem like a good justification to use them. However, since we are commanded to rejoice, I see them helping us engage with that command. Laughter and joy are a part of worship, yet they have no distinct words, just sounds. If you are singing a celebration song, it may be good to allow the congregation to “take it up a notch” with some ohs.

Conclusion

So, now that we have looked at the pros and cons of songs with extended refrains of “oh, oh, ohs”, we can now ask: should churches sing songs with lots of ohs in them?

My personal opinion? It depends on your church and the song.

If the majority of a church is mostly older believers (let’s say >50 years old), I would advise against it. However, if the church has a good blend of ages (like mine does) then singing some songs like mentioned above are fine when used sparingly.

If the greatest part of the song is the “oh, oh, ohs” (meaning its the main purpose the band is wanting to do the song), I would advise against doing it, even if the church’s demographics are fine with ohs. We want to make sure that we don’t cause people to yearn and seek the sugary things or “condiments” instead of the main meal. Train them to yearn for songs with theology, songs that are built on the gospel.

If you sing deep, “full-meal” type of songs, a little sugar or “condiments” are fine to use here and there.

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Why I Rewrote “Seek”

I love songwriting. For the past 13 years, it’s been one of my greatest joys. I remember some of the first songs I wrote back in the day and I’m glad no ever heard them. They were trite and horrible, but I learned from them. I am now writing songs that I’m happy with and others think are good.

The first song I wrote that my church started singing was called Seek. Most of the song was written during a spontaneous worship time, but the verses were written quickly afterwards without much thought in a rush just to finish the song. Overall, I never took the time to craft the song to make sure its focus, grammar, and theology was right. Yet our church loved it! (Note: there’s a sermon there. Just because people like it doesn’t mean it’s good or theologically correct.)

It’s been 10 years since I’ve written the song. Since then it’s been played in multiple churches, recorded on my EP project, and memorized and loved by hundreds of people. In the last 3 years, I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the lack of focus I’ve given this song, particularly theologically. I finally decided to re-write the verses to the song.

Here were the old words to the song. You can listen to the song here.

Verse 1
How lovely is Your temple
Majesty You bestow
Your name is holy alone
You are my loving Savior
Righteous in all Your ways
I bow before you Lord and say

Pre-chorus
That the one thing I always have desired
And the one thing I always have sought (is)

Chorus
To dwell in the house of the Lord
To worship Him, praise and adore
To stay in the presence of the King
This is what I want, this is what I seek
You are what I want, You are what I seek

Verse 2
I stand in awe and wonder
How You could love me so
How could you call me Your own
Your grace, it overwhelms me
It causes me to draw near
Knowing that You will hear my prayer

Pre-chorus
Chorus

Bridge
You’re all I want
You’re all I need
You’re all I’m asking for
You’re all I seek

Here are a few reasons why I decided to change the above verses.

Unfocused cliches

In the recent years, I’ve never liked how unfocused the verses are. They are basically random worship cliches  thrown together with no focus and nothing they truly link to. The verses don’t paint a story or declare a message. I wrote them in 2 minutes and that’s exactly how it reads. There is little weight or theology behind these words. While the pre-chorus and chorus are pulled from scripture (Psalm 27), the verses are lacking in any grandness of theology or greatness of God.

Self-centered vs God-centered

The biggest problem I’ve had with the old verses is how they are self-centered. In the last few years, I’ve been acutely aware how most worship songs (including mine) are more about us than about God. I’ve refocused my songwriting to make God the center of the song instead of me. Even singing us is better than singing I or me. While I still write lyrics that are personal, I am striving to write more and more about God and what’s He’s like and why He is deserving of worship.

Emotion vs a response

In reading the verses, they are quite emotional. While I like and believe in emotion, I wanted a higher vision for the song than our passion for God. In reading Psalm 27, where the song is taken from, the psalmist desires to dwell with God, not from his own personal passion but in response to what he has seen. I don’t think this point can be overstated: we worship God, seek Him, love Him, desire to stay by Him…all in response to God revealing Himself. When we see God, we love Him and want more of Him. I found this to be a much better source and foundation for the song than my own passion.

This even changes the implication of the song. The old words made it a lie if you weren’t passionate for God when you were singing it. I wanted the verses to declare that worship was about who He is and how He moves my heart to love Him, not how my performance sometimes moves me to self-centered worship.

Teaching by example

In our church, we have several people who are starting to write songs. They ask for my advice and help and I’ve been teaching them and giving them a few tips. I realized that while I can tell them that theology is important and crafting a song well is needed, it’s all meaningless if I don’t follow what I say. It’s just words unless I am willing to teach and lead by example. The song’s popularity can help drive this point home: there is no song too sacred or popular that negates the need to fix poor theology.

Seek, Revised

Here are the new words to Seek. The changes are in red.

Verse 1
How lovely is Your temple
Majesty You bestow
Your name is holy alone
You are the Lord of glory
Over all things You reign
You are now and always the same

Pre-chorus
And the one thing I always have desired
And the one thing I always have sought (is)

Chorus
To dwell in the house of the Lord
To worship Him, praise and adore
To stay in the presence of the King
This is what I want, this is what I seek
You are what I want, You are what I seek

Verse 2
You stand alone in wonder
Matchless in strength and awe
Who can compare to You o God
Your love burns like a fire
Your grace compels my soul
To draw near and approach the throne

Pre-chorus
For the one thing I always have desired
And the one thing I always have sought (is)

Chorus
To dwell in the house of the Lord
To worship Him, praise and adore
To stay in the presence of the King
This is what I want, this is what I seek
You are what I want, You are what I seek

Bridge
You’re all I want
You’re all I need
You’re all I’m asking for
You’re all I seek

I am praying that these new lyrics accomplish what I set out to do. While they make not be uber-artistic, my main concern was making the song focus more on God. In that, I feel more comfortable with this.

“Pretty Women” On Valentine’s Day

today is valentine’s day (or as my friends and i call it…”sucky singles day”…lol). normally i hate this day. why? cause i’ve been forever single and this “holiday” is the world’s way of reminding me of that. normally it would be just another day in my life (although i love the day after…cheap candy!!!). but this year is different. not because i have somebody (i’m not even close to having a relationship) but because of a song, thought and memories i’ve had over the last few days.

i’ve been listening to the song “pretty women” from the sweeny todd soundtrack (yes! i loved the movie!). here is the part that gripped me:

pretty women, at their mirrors, in their gardens,
letter-writing, flower-picking, weather-watching…
how they make a man sing!
proof of heaven as you’re living, pretty women

listen to the full song here

that (emphasized) line started me thinking. i am so blessed to have so many pretty women around me. you see, i’m a songwriter. not a great one, but i write things that people have and do use including worship songs and love songs for weddings/anniversaries/etc. several people have asked me where i get inspiration for many of the songs i have written and the truth is most of them have been inspired by “pretty women”…even the worship songs.

when i use the word “pretty”, i’m NOT just talking about a stunning physical appearance. i’m talking about a matter of the heart. its beautiful things that make women “pretty” or truly beautiful in God’s sight and mine. things like devotion, humility, love, joy, truth and many other character qualities and foundations. many times i have admired a trait in someone and have written a song about it. i remembered that every love song i have written i have had my “own person” i was writing it to (instead of “just writing it” for the person who asked me to, or to make “another good song”). it means more and “feels” more when it comes from truth deep in your heart. i wrote a song called “always” six years ago and thought i had forgotten it. in the last week the song has come back to me (out of the blue) and i realize i still have the same passions when i sing that song then when i wrote it.

it is the beauty of a woman (among other things) that has kept me singing. of course God (and HIS beauty) is the biggest reason i sing, write and worship…but i’m glad that He designed women for beauty so i could see beauty with my naked eye. so i agree with my friend when she says:

So whether you are single or married, remember Valentines isn’t about the card or the chocolate or the flowers. It’s really just another day. Have fun, spend the day with people you genuinely like. Love is all those perfect memories with the people who have made your life better. Cherish the people you love, whether they are “just friends” or something more.

i am looking forward to spending time today with my friends (men and women) who’s lives have inspired me to sing all these years. i am so grateful to God for giving me an eye (and a fake holiday…lol) to admire beauty…even if i don’t have anyone yet. who knows? maybe i’ll write another song. lol

UPDATE: seems like others think godliness is attractive.

what are you planning on doing for valentine’s day? does this day hold more meaning to you than what our culture says it is? can you find no redeemable purpose in this day? (to guys…) what makes women “pretty”? (to girls) do you have a similar reaction to how you see men?

Songwriting: Part 2 (Structures)

click here to read all posts from the songwriting series… 

so you feel persuaded enough to write a song? good. as we talked about it the last post, the world doesn’t need “another song”, they need something that causes impact in their lives…both memorable and powerful. so you have decided to write a song that will impact people…now what? well, you need to decide what kind of structure your song is going to have. there are many different kinds but i’ll simplify them into a few. (note: i am going to talk about christian structures in music and church, but it is all still relevant for writing a secular song)

1. the anthem
this kind of song was really popular during the 80s and 90s. the jist of this structure is that it only has a verse (if it’s lucky) and a chorus. it’s something really repetitive yet worshipful. examples include “in the presence of Jehovah”, “shout to the Lord” (yes, i put it here), “give thanks”, etc.   what is interesting about the anthem structure is that any song has the possibility to become an anthem. the song “awesome God” is a great example. the song has several verses (and i think a bridge?) but all that people know and sing is the short chorus. is that what rich mullins wanted when he wrote it? probably not, but ultimately, it is up to the listener to determine how much of the song impacts them. if you want more examples of this, just think of any song (done by anyone anywhere) that only the chorus (or bridge) is sung. (sometimes it’s the only “memorable” part of the song)

2. the hymn
believe it or not, you would be surprised how many songs (especially nowadays) fit into this structure. hymns can come in a couple different ways. either they have all verses (and that’s it), or they have many verses with the same chorus (and nothing else). many times the chorus will be the “so” factor of the song. (like the verses are the “causes” and the chorus is the “effect”) one of the most popular hymn-structured songs out right now is “you raise me up”. others include “any hymn in the hymn books” (lol), “in Christ alone” (the new one…the old one became an anthem), etc. when it comes to the hymn structure…words are very important. in fact, that’s why this structure is used…to communicate a lot of deep things in a musical way. it is any wonder why theology and patriotism use this structure as the cornerstone of their songs?

3. the contemporate
this one i had to find a name for. this is the most used and most popular form of songwriting. in fact, most people who just write with no purpose in mind will write in this structure. the basic form of the contemporate structure is a couple verses, a chorus and a really awesome bridge that ties the song together. they can also include: pre-choruses, endings, secondary choruses, intros, etc. (and those are all singing parts…when it comes to the instrumentation…anything goes…lol) the problem with this one is, because of people writing with no purpose in mind, the market is flooded with cheap worthless piles of these kind of songs. so it’s harder to make these kind of songs stand out and impact people cause people naturally tune them out (or at least some do).

so although most people will still write in the contemporate style, i challenge you to think about it a little before you write. what is the purpose of your song? singablitity and memorable? then start writing a chorus…that could be an anthem. then write the rest after you have an awesome chorus. is it to share deep thought or theology in life? then think about setting it up as a hymn which allows people to focus on a cause and effect.

and if you still want to write in the contemporate style, then in the next few posts, i (and a friend) will be talking about how to better write in that structure. i had to take these last two posts and give some foundation and insight into songwriting, even if it may not apply to everyone.

what did you think of these structures? do you have any examples of each where they are used? have you written anything in an “anthem” or “hymn” structure? please feel free to respond.

Songwriting: Part 1 (Revelation)

welcome to part one of my new songwriting series. some people have asked me to write a few blogs detailing the spiritual and technical/practical aspects of good songwriting. so here is my feeble attempt to do so.

“man, that song just spoke to me”
“everytime i hear that song i just weep”
“that song is literally where i’m at right now”

what do all of these quotes have in common?

the first thing to understand when writing a song is to remember…the world and/or church does not need another song. this world is overflowing and stuffed with people’s two cents sung to music. creativity is good and all…but in the end, it’s all forgotten and non-impactful (new word!).

what the world and church needs right now is a revelation from God. i mean what is the point of writing a song out of my soul? am i really that smart? do i really have something to say that will help people in whatever situation (theft, divorce, abuse, calamity, worry, etc) they find themselves in? what are my words worth anyway? what the earth (both world and church) needs is a word from God! they need to hear who God says He is, what God says He is like and what God says we are to do with that knowledge. the earth needs answer…not opinions. the earth needs truth, not just stories.

i’m sorry Lord for the thing i’ve made it…

that’s a line from the song “heart of worship”, a church song written by matt redman. out of a personal place of revelation, he wrote a corporate song bringing the church face to face with the truth that, compared to who God is, WE DO NOT WORSHIP CORRECTLY. wow! and that song has changed the face of the modern worship movement.

so i encourage all songwriters to get alone with God and let Him teach you a truth of His kingdom (it may not feel good…lol) and then pick up your guitar (or whatever you have) and start writing. we will cover other spiritual and practical issues in coming blogs…but i believe that if you write ANYTHING out of the place of revelation…it will always impact someone…which is something more than what any of the 10,000 songs last year, that were forgotten, did.