What a Beautiful Name, This is Amazing Grace, Waymaker, Build My Life, Great Are You, Lord… only a few of the many songs our churches have completely exhausted! I’m sure you identify with this: 1) A new AMAZING worship song comes out and you decide to start leading it at church. 2) You sing it at almost every service for 3 months straight, & 3) You start involuntary eye-rolling every time someone asks for it to be sung.
Exhausting songs by overplaying them is such an easy thing to do!
The tension is, these songs carry something powerful and we don’t want overplaying it to be the reason we no longer receive from what they carry.
What I’ve found over the years is changing up the arrangement is an easy way to revive a dead song. Here are 5 ways to change the arrangement that will spark creativity and bring a dying song back to life.
One quick thing to note, it’s important to ensure that whatever you decide to do actually makes sense for the song. Nothing’s worse than a bad re-mix. But a great one puts new life into a song! Shoutout to Young & Free’s Relentless Remix
Change the Tempo & the Overall Dynamic of a Song
I shouted out the Relentless Remix because it’s a great example! The original song was at 110bpm, then the Young & Free producers sped it up by 20bpm, and 🎉 VOILA! 🎉
Now I don’t know for a fact that it all started with a tempo change, but simply changing the tempo of a song opens up a whole other world of creativity for a song that otherwise wasn’t there before. New lead lines, beat types, and sounds that compliment the song’s newfound life.
On the Reverse Side…
Take a song like Pursue by Young & Free. The 2014 This is Living – EP version was just below a mid-tempo driver, but the acoustic version of Pursue on OPEN HEAVEN / River Wild brought an intimate feel that made so much sense for the song. I would even go so far as to say it to the song to an even greater level!
Stripping songs and turning them into an acoustic-driven ballad is not a new thing at all, but it’s a great way to bring something new to a song.
Changing the tempo is not the only dynamic change you can make to give a song new life.
A year ago, my church started doing My Soul Sings by Maverick City but instead of doing it as a slower intimate song increased the tempo a bit, we threw in a driving beat, added a building instrumental before the bridge playing bridge chords, continued to build all the way through the bridge, & grooved the final chorus. This turned a song that’s so beautiful when slow and intimate into a great song 1 or 2 in the set.
Try driving it more if the song is naturally chill or chill it out if the song is naturally aggressive.
Focus the Arrangement Around a Different Instrument
A few years ago while at a rehearsal our piano player said that he had an idea for a new way we could do a song that we and the rest of the world had completely exhausted: Reckless Love. He started playing this really pretty higher octave piano part & then someone said, “What if we have a violinist play the lead line over that piano part?”
It took the typically dark and subtly driving intro of Reckless Love and made it a light, tearfully beautiful, and almost somber piece. We had done that song a zillion times and we were all so so tired of it, but the new arrangement breathed fresh new life into it. So much that we almost recorded it on the album.
Adding a new instrument or changing what instrument is playing the lead line can inspire a completely different feel to the song.
Repurpose Elements from Other Songs & Ideas
Amanda Cook has a really cool version of “Closer” on her album. Basically, just a synth with the cutoff dialed up just a little bit and the sustain cranked (and a few other things, but you get the gist of it). So we built that sound, added some additional delays and arps that ended on beat 4, had a drummer, on an SPD-SX, play a mellow kick on beat 1 and a verbed out rim-click/snap thing on beat 4 & did a stripped version of Great Are You, Lord.
The age-old phrase, “there’s nothing new under the sun” is so true.
The majority of things are just adaptations of ideas inspired by other ideas and previous sounds you’ve discovered along the way.
We once did a song where I routed a verbed-out vocal-synth through a looper. I then slowed down the loop to make some crazy sounds, played the vocal synth over it, and used that as a glorified synth/pad. That idea was inspired by something I used to do when I was a teenager in my bedroom & 715 – CRΣΣKS by Bon Iver.
Listen to a bunch of different songs, play around with some gear, & think of some crazy ways you could apply it to some songs that you love!
Alter the Chord Progressions
This one is pretty simple but definitely can add a completely different feel to the song. Prime example: Do it Again by Elevation Worship. The version Travis Greene did with Elevation Collective added some really cool chords, changed a couple of others, and took the contemporary driving song to stank-face causing beaute.
Now you don’t have to incorporate maj7, m7, maj9, & 9, although they are super buttery and I think add so much.
Honestly, you could just change up the chord progression and keep it simple.
For example, one thing that I’ve done throughout the years on Great Are You, Lord in the final bridge before the chorus instead of hanging the same 1-1-1-1-4-4-1-1 progression, sometimes I would have our team play 6-6-4-4-2-2-1-1 & build on the final 4 measures. It adds some dynamic tension so when that massive chorus comes the song powerfully releases into the massive choruses groove.
Now, I know that’s just one small section of the song that I mentioned, but it shows how changing the chord progression has an impact on the feel of the song.
Explore changing the progression of an entire section of the song.
One of my favorites is the instrumental progression Kari Jobe’s team does on Revelation Song on the Holy Spirit record. Normally that song hangs on the 2maj-6-1-5 the entire time (Lydian Mode). For the instrumental, they threw in a 6-4-1-5, instead of hanging on that same progression.
That progression sounds so so cool in the song because it’s changing the natural resolve from 2maj to the 1. So it messes with your head a bit because if you were playing in Bb, that 2maj-6-1-5 phrase would have you used to resolving to the Cmaj. Then because the Bb, Gm, & F are all in the key of Bb, it obviously makes sense and also feels good to play Gm, Eb, Bb, F (6-4-1-5). Why it all works so well on that song is because the Fmaj naturally resolves to both the C & Bb. Anyways, that’s what’s going on with that song that has had so many debates over the years. Major 2 – aka the Lydian Mode.
Changing up the progression for an entire section of a song takes you out of the anticipated format & refreshes your ear.
This is a pretty simple one that doesn’t require changing the dynamics, chords, or really anything about the actual song. It’s just simply saying instead of playing the entire song, how about taking a section of it and adding it into another song.
Take a look at “Pursue/All I Need is You” that I mentioned earlier. Instead of them going back into the Bridge or Chorus after the big instrumental they go into the chorus of the song “All I Need is You” & then back into the rest of “Pursue”. That chorus is an amazing addition to the journey the song is leading the congregation on.
This is an incredible way to still draw from a powerful song without having to do the entire thing.
Another way that we would incorporate medleys is at the end of a song throwing in a chorus of a familiar hymn or older powerful song. The age range of our congregation was from 17 to 70+. So we tried to find unique ways to incorporate choruses from multiple eras in the songs we’d lead to help keep it from always being a new/old song split to the sets.
We also really love what so many of those songs carry and wanted to incorporate them as much as we could!
Whatever you do, please ensure your medleys connect thematically. I was once at a conference that did a 3 song medley starting with I Surrender, then went into the chorus of No Longer Slaves, and ended with the bridge of With Everything. Yes, it was an electrifying arrangement, but not entirely sure what it was trying to communicate…
Don’t Force It
Sometimes there are songs that we try to make adjustments to and they just don’t work – shoutout to Oceans Drummer. If the change to the arrangement you thought would work just doesn’t feel right, don’t force it.
It’s honestly better to not do a song than try to force an arrangement on it that just doesn’t work.
I’m sure you can think of a few remixes that you’ve heard over the years and thought “yeah…that does not work with that song.” That’s totally a real thing!
So if changing the tempo, the dynamics, the focal instrument, chord progression, or adding a different element doesn’t feel right with the song just leave it be.
Exodus 23:11 – Let the Land Rest
Final thought, if there’s a song that is truly overplayed, give it a rest! For a while! The age ole philosophy in biblical farming was on the 7th year to give the land an entire year of rest. In the same way here, I try to give overworked songs at least 1.5-3 years without touching it.
Sometimes the thing a song that is completely overplayed needs is a season of rest. A sabbatical of sorts.
Let the song rest & when it has fully come back to life, bring it back for another run.
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