Songs

I’ve been writing melodies to go with the verses of Psalm 119 in Spanish, to help those in my church (and in other Spanish-speaking churches) who are trying to memorize the Psalm. I’m pretty sure it has helped them–but not nearly as much as it has helped me! It’s hard not to memorize the verses when you’re writing a song using them, and playing it over and over and over to find the best melody and rhythms.

Singing verses is a great way to help memorize them, but I think it would be a mistake to make it your principal method of memorization. Have you ever noticed that it’s possible to sing a hymn for decades, without ever thinking about the words you’re singing? To avoid this trap, I try to recite the verses at least as often as I sing them.

It’s a rare and happy occasion when you find a good memory song that works as a worship song as well. Memory songs have some qualities that worship songs do not, and vice versa. Here are my thoughts on what makes a good memory song, followed by the memory songs I’ve written–good or not.

The memory song

1. The most critical characteristic of a memory song is that it you can stand listening to it over and over. If my songs hit you like fingernails on chalkboard, you could always try to write your own. I guarantee it will help you memorize the verses.

It helps if the melody is memorable, though this is not absolutely vital. If you can stand the song enough to listen to it repeatedly, sooner or later it will become memorable. (I think a lot of worship leaders bank on this principle.)

2. The melody should follow the natural rhythm of words, with syllables accented in the same places they are when the verse is read. Boy, this is hard! Quite often you’ll find a verse or half of a verse that is very rhythmical, and even fits perfectly one line of a hymn or chorus you know. But the next line will have a totally different rhythm.

3. Whenever possible, the melody should fit the mood of the verses. This is a challenge when writing for Ps. 119, since one verse of the psalm might express a deep cry for help, and the next a great joy in following God. Really hard to come up with a melody that fits the mood of both!

4. It has to be relatively quick. While singing verses will probably always take longer than reciting them, it shouldn’t take two and a half minutes to sing an 8-verse passage that you can read in 40 seconds.
The melody of a quick song will help us remember and recite the words better. And, of course, it takes less time to listen to, so we can listen to more songs (or repeat the same song) in the same amount of time.

This means no long instrumental introduction (the sooner you get into the verses the better), no words held for an excessively long time, no waiting around in the middle of the song for chord changes or echoing voices or whatever.

5. It’s important, too, to sing the words and verses in order, and not use any of them as a chorus or something that you keep coming back to. That way, you begin to be able to move naturally from one verse to the next, rather than training yourself to return to a previous verse.

6. Occasionally, a good memory song will bend or break any one of the rules other than the first. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Here are my songs. Check out our Andrea page to see how these worked for us. (It would be nice to have these melodies in a variety of instruments and voices–especially from people with better voices and more musical talent than I have, which, let’s face it, shouldn’t be too hard to find. If you wanted to pick out one or two of these tunes and make a new recording for us, it would be very welcome.)

Aleph, 1-8

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Beth, 9-16

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Gimel, 17-24

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Daleth, 25-32

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He, 33-40

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Waw, 41-48

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Zayin, 49-56:

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Or, if you’re tired of my voice already, here’s a variation:

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Heth, 57-64:

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Teth, 65-72:

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Yod, 73-80:

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Kaph, 81-88:

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Lamed, 89-96:

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Mem, 97-104:

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Nun, 105-112:

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Samek, 113-120:

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Ayin, 121-128:

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Pe, 129-136:

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Tsadde, 137-144:

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Qoph, 145-152:

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Resh, 153-160:

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Shin, 161-168:

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Tau, 169-176:

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Here are the songs for our memory contest at Bloomingdale Christian Church.  (Go, Team Luke!):

Proverbs 3:5-8

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John 15:11-14

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1 Corinthians 13:4-7

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Psalm 66:1-4

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1 Thessalonians 5:15-18

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Philippians 4:4-7

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Matthew 5:7-10

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1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

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And here are a few additional memory songs, from the English Standard Version:

Lamentations 3:21-26

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Psalm 90:14-17

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Numbers 6:24-26

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2 Timothy 3:14-17

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Psalm 73:25-28

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Romans 8:31-34

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Hebrews 12:1-2

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John 1:10-14

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RBC Chapel

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Qoph: Ps. 119:145-152, From agitation to adoration

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Sardis

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