Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Creative Process—Different approaches Part 1

We’ve talked about how to get started if you have an idea that you would like to use as the basis for an original song, writing a beautiful, poetic lyric, and a memorable, singable melody. But there are several ways to “ease in” to songwriting without having to come up with something completely original on your own.

Many directors have written or arranged something for their own group(s) for various reasons—the configuration of their choir made it difficult to find published works that fit their voices, the singers had unusual range limitations not addressed by publishers, or whatever. My first and foremost approach to songwriting is completely original words and music, and the bulk of my published songs are just that. But there are different approaches you can take if that method doesn’t work for you.

The most obvious approach is to find a collaborator—a colleague, a minister of music, a music teacher, an accompanist, a family member, a friend, even a student. Local college students are a great resource to tap, and they can often do their portion for school credit as well as (or in lieu of) financial gain. If your strong suit is lyrics, find a musician who writes melodies or motifs but doesn’t write words. If words don’t come easily to you, work with an aspiring lyricist or poet. If you have a lovely melody and great words but aren’t comfortable writing voice parts or accompaniments, find an arranger.

My Heart, Your Bethlehem
There are many benefits to working with another writer. First of all, you have a built-in second opinion—someone to bounce ideas off of. While I don’t have a lot of co-writers, some of my best selling songs were collaborative efforts. My Heart, Your Bethlehem was co-written with David Gaines who was the accompanist at my church at the time. He brought me a lead sheet, I did an arrangement then we looked at that together and made some minor changes. The Lorenz Corporation published it for SATB voices with Piano and String Orchestra accompaniment. An SAB version was released a few years later. 

Dreams that Children Dream
Dreams that Children Dream was co-written with my daughter, Celsie Staggers. I had the basic idea of “looking through a child’s eyes” and the three-part structure of morning, daytime, evening. She helped me with some specific lyric and melodic improvements, and Heritage Music Press published that for Two-part voices.

Of course if you get a collaboration published, you divide the royalty. With most of my collaborators it’s a 50/50 split. Of course this can always be negotiated, but I don’t consider this unfair at all, in that I always feel I would not have come up with that particular song on my own and without the contributions made by the other writer.

I’ve been blessed to collaborate with many wonderful musicians, and have had songs published with my father, my husband, and both my daughters, as well as many editors, lyricists, and other professional writers. So you never know where a great idea is going to come from, or how you will work with another writer until you try it.

Happy hunting!

Ruth Elaine SchramRuth 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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