Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Creative Process—Getting Started

Isn’t the creative process fascinating?  I love to watch artists at work – with minimal strokes of the brush a picture emerges.  From a few lines of a pencil, a portrait begins to materialize.  Sculptors play with clay and a recognizable form takes shape. Composers put a pen to paper and… a song is born?  Could it really be that easy?

I’ve been asked many times how to write a song.  I can’t say exactly how it works for other composers, but I do have several ways to approach that somewhat intimidating “blank page” that may help you if you have an interest in writing a song of your own.

First of all, “creativity” is really a bit of a misnomer.  The artist may mix colors on his palette, but basically he is working with the familiar primary colors of red, yellow, and blue, and the mixtures that can be formed by combining or layering them.

By the same token, what we composers and arrangers really do is work with elements that already exist and combine them in new and different ways to craft a unique musical work.

One thing that amazes people about the seemingly endless variety of music out there is the limitation of the tools we have to work with.  There are, after all, only eight notes in the scale.  However there seem to be countless ways to put those eight notes together in distinct melodies, and within chord structures that enhance a melody’s beauty.

For me, what really makes each song unique, and what really helps me “find” the melody, is the lyrics. Think about it; the words to a song will dictate what kind of mood the song will elicit. That mood will then dictate the tempo, the mode, the style, and to a certain extent, the dynamic range. It will also indicate what type of melody it should be attached to—one that starts high and comes down, one that starts low and goes up, or one that starts in the middle and goes up and down, for instance.

Stay tuned for the next post in which we’ll discuss how to approach writing a lyric.


Ruth Elaine Schram wrote her first song at the age of twelve, and her first octavo was published twenty years later, in 1988. In 1992, she became a full-time composer and arranger and now has over 2,000 published works. Over thirteen million copies of Schram's songs have been purchased in their various venues, and Ruth has been a recipient of the ASCAP Special Award each year since 1990. In addition to Schram's choral music for church and school choirs, her songs appear on thirty albums (four of which have been Dove Award finalists) and numerous children's videos, including sixteen songs on four gold videos, and four songs on one multi-platinum video. Ruthie's songs have also appeared on such diverse television shows as The 700 Club and HBO's acclaimed series The Sopranos.

Ruthie began piano and theory lessons at the age of five. She studied music at Lancaster Bible College and Millersville State College and taught Elementary Music in Pennsylvania for several years. Schram now lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Scott, and they have two grown daughters, Crystie and Celsie.

Ruth Elaine Schram's current published works, including pieces published by Exaltation Publications, Monarch Music, Laurel Press, Heritage Music Press, and Lorenz Publishing Company (all Lorenz companies) are listed on her web site,, with samples of audio excerpts and select pages of the scores.

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