Phrasing Song Lyrics

I’m going to talk about one of my pet peeves when I visit churches; poor phrasing of song lyrics on the screen. What do I mean by poor phrasing? I consider phrasing the way the lyrics are formatted on the screen. I’m not talking about font selection, color, backgrounds or animations and transitions (those will probably all be other posts someday). I want to talk about how the lines of lyrics are presented. 

I ran into this a while back when visiting a church. The phrasing of the lyrics was pretty random—in fact, I’d guess they simply copied the lyrics and used the “Import Copied Text” feature of ProPresenter and hit save. While that will get lyrics on the screen, it doesn’t make the song easy to sing. 

Songs have Phrases

Almost all songs, and certainly most worship songs are written in phrases. 

Give me faith

To trust what you say

That you’re good

And your love is great

When you see that on the screen, you know how to sing it. However, if the phrasing is messed up, it makes it really hard to sing—especially if it’s a new-to-you song. Think about it; when you have a new song in worship, the congregation is not only trying to figure out the melody, but the phrasing. You can make it easier to figure out the phrasing by putting the words on screen the way they are written to be sung. Let me give you an example.

Bad Phrasing

Here is the song Give Me Faith from Elevation Worship. Click through the slides below and see if you can figure out how the song is supposed to be sung. I created these using the aforementioned method; I copied the lyric sheet and used Import Copied Text. However the lines broke based on available space is how the slides ended up. No other formatting was done. Click on the image to advance the slides. 

See how hard that is? Unless you really know the song, you have no idea where the pauses and breaths are. Without any visual indication, you’re left mumbling the lyrics hoping not to make too loud a mistake. In contrast, look at this.

Good Phrasing

Same song, same lyrics, but I spent about 1 minute tweaking the line breaks. Look at how much easier it is to know where to pause and breathe. Click on the image to advance.

Hopefully it’s pretty obvious how much better this is from an audience standpoint. I only added two slides, but it's a lot easier to track with what's going on. 

If you're not familiar with the song, here is a version from Elevation with lyrics. Note that for the most part, the lyrics are laid out the same way I did them, but not exactly. This just goes to show there is some leeway in how you do it. I don't disagree with how they did it, it's just a bit different than how I did. I didn't look at theirs before I did mine. 

Quick Tips

ProPresenter makes it really easy to format text this way. By opening up the Editor, you can simply place line breaks in the lines of lyrics where they fall in the song. Sometimes, when you start breaking up lyrics, you end up with more lines than are optimal. To quickly move text to a new slide, place your insertion bar where you want to create a new slide and press Option-Return. That will take all text to the right of the insertion bar and put it onto a new slide. Slick—thanks, guys! 

I generally try to keep my slides to 4 lines or less. More than that and it’s easy to get lost. That’s not a hard rule, however. If the verse ends up as 5, I usually won’t split it into a 2 and a 3. Too many slide changes can be as hard to sing as bad phrasing. On the other hand, if we hit 6 lines, I’ll usually break it up into a 3 and 3, or a 2 and 4. This is not a random choice, however; it’s based on the phrasing of the song. Sometimes phrases end up being two lines long, so don’t break a phrase in the middle and put the second half on another slide. 

Put your line and slide changes in natural breath and pause points in the song and everyone will have an easier time. It’s better for the congregation and for the operator. And it takes just a few minutes, thanks to some great software.

Roland