5 Secular Songs You Should Hear: And How They Can Inspire Your Playing

  • Written By 
  • Jordan Holt
  • Aug 27th, 2018

The church’s understanding of “worldly influence” has always been a controversial and interesting topic. Christians tend to err on the side of separating themselves from the “secular world” as much as possible than to let it influence us in any way. To me, extremes are rarely a good thing. To completely isolate ourselves is to pull us from the greatest call we have – to share the good news to the entire world – but it also removes us from seeing beauty inspired by the Creator.

For this post, I want to share with you some of the songs I have been listening to lately and dig into the beauty I find in them and how they can influence our musicianship. The more sources of inspiration we pull from, the more we will look like who we are created to be. The less sources – the more inauthentic and imitative we will look like, which does not represent the Kingdom well. Let’s take a look:

Filous – Can’t Wait

I am convinced that a lot of what makes parts, and music in general, interesting is timing. A seemingly boring melody can be transformed simply by shifting when the notes are played.

The guitar parts in this song are very basic, but he makes them more interesting by pushing the chords. If you took the same basic 1 6 5 4 chord progression and played every chord on the beat it would feel incredibly sterile. Give it a shot next time you practice.

Another element to appreciate is that this is a rather raw song, but at the same time feels very produced and intentional. There is thought put into the details.

Lay Down – Alice Gray

When I first heard this song something inside of me exclaimed “What if worship sounded like this?” This song felt so fresh and emotional. With new sounds we tap into new emotions and ways to connect to God. This song did that for me and keeps motivating me to explore.

A couple elements that stuck out were the guitar part in the chorus, the constant simple percussion tracks, and that every sound has its own space. It is no secret that as musicians we tend to feel like we have to play constantly to fill things in. The guitar, and every other track, has its own pocket which gives it greater emotional impact when it plays after the vocal. Also notice the lack of delay and use of filtering. Try playing with your tone control on your guitar more to find fresh sounds.

Note that the percussion tracks show that slamming your snare and cymbals are not necessary to help the song get bigger (same goes for overdrive). Other elements changing, such as the vocals jumping an octave, can help lift the song.

I Like Me Better – Lauv

Hooks, hooks, and more hooks.

The vocal sample recording, which is just the artist singing into his iPhone and effected a bit, is incredibly memorable. I like to think of guitar parts in the same way as that vocal sample. Most things that I write that I have been proud of  are usually something I can get looping in my head first.

Note that the palm muted guitar part in the verse is rhythmically interesting. It is simple, but not just a straight 1 the whole time. Everything makes about the song makes you want to move and the guitar supports that.

This is also a very minimalistic song, just like the previous two, which again goes to show that you do not need a lot for a song to feel full. Learning how to be reserved in your playing when you tend to play more is the sign of a mature musician.

Beautiful Creatures – Illenium

This one shares a lot of similarities as our modern depiction of worship music. It has positive singable vocals, a simple chord progression and a prominent guitar line.

The reason why I chose this song is because of its contrast with worship through its sonics, rhythms and dynamics. The guitar you hear, is very simple, but is not very common to worship today. It is clean, but rather dry, and rhythmic instead of straight. While the song is ambient in many ways, the guitar plays an opposite role. It helps move the song forward along with the pushed drums and intentional removal of tracks in various sections.

worthy – San Holo

This is easily one of my favorite songs all year. The whole song is dynamic, emotional and almost creates its own genre with a very fresh guitar-driven drop.

Notice his use of cuts and removing instrumentation to make the song larger. He does not add a million tracks to make a wall of sound and step on every overdrive pedal imaginable to get his guitar to stand out. The song is rather minimalistic and extremely clean until the end. Worship leaders, musicians and producers tend to feel like drums have to crash hard and guitars need to have beefy rock tones in order to get emotional energy to rise, but this song proves all of those assumptions wrong.

My last word of advice is this – always be looking for new music, new sounds, new beauty God has placed in the world. It can be found everywhere – even outside of the church. God is a God who appreciates the details in what he has created. He loves the details about who you are and what you create. Slowing down and thinking critically about what you specifically like in a song is a good practice in the Kingdom.

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