Book: The Craft of Christian Songwriting -- working with Tonal Harmony book

Skip to the bottom

  • @ustaknow Mar 8

    Some time ago, when went through The University of Edinburghs Coursera course Fundamentals of Music Theory, that very tight Cohort did a read/work through of "Tonal Harmony", Kostka, Payne -- missed it.

    I had a copy of "The Craft of Christian Songwriting", unread.

    I am about to read, work through it, with TH book, other, in hand.

    If that "rings anyone's bell", like no more than 5ish folks...small group, we could all, somehow work through that book as "Curriculum" and others on tow.

    Context qualifiers:
    -- Anyone who knows me here, and there are just a few, or who observe folks, know I am actually anti-church, its secularism and liturgy, stupid-"preachers". However, I have walked through a few Trials of Job, so to speak and am a follower (at one time started to work through a D.D. at a major Univ.) -- I am not an evangelist. Moreover I feel the rediculous watered down contemporary stuff is, well rediculous and dangerous. I've worked within Christian Radio, and other. Anyone observing me since last year, may even be surprised by "this"... you had no idea.

    --- This book starts with (only just read the preface), classifying the genre, -- and I just started page 6 and will proceed as the journey takes me.

    Additionally, I love the hard core roots of Blues, and the questions it raised, along with books like, obscure, "American Negro Songs", J.W. Work, with other.

    For "me", anyone, Athiests et al., would be considered to read/work through this with me. Just so long as no proselytizing was considered in any direction, -- its about the music, Curriculum. If someone has an issue with the name Jesus, use the word Love instead.

    I know folks do this "anyway"... I just reviewed a "Christmas", as it was call song where I wonder if that could have been done with the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoist et al. in tow with the word "f___" as what it was about.

    So, I'm not a puppies and kittens song writer, nor amiable to "f___" songs either.

    --- Or, skip it...

  • @donna  Mar 8

    I bought Robert Sterling's 'The Craft of Christian Songwriting' a couple of years ago, and found it excellent. (Though not a 'believer', I do love writing big-tent-revival gospel lyrics.)

    I found that much of what Sterling has to say about writing for the Christian market holds true for songwriting in general. I recommended the book in this thread.

  • @ustaknow Mar 8

    Thank you for that Donna.

    -- I want to be clear, I'll be "around" here till the next one, I don't abandon a nicely organized list, like here, etc. πŸ˜€

    I am not teaching it, or creating a group ... this is a one-off, for which this thread could serve for what a read, work through does. It fits the "culture", method "here". It gets erased, but we have long enough... I love erasure anyway, not into Archives, so to speak.

    -- I'm done with managed FB groups, www's. I'll check back and see if "anything", here, on this thread, bumped with engagement. Anyone can **still post links to SoundCloud in these response boxes, and Still post "here"... why leave? Use it. Or, not 😝

  • @kc5 Mar 10

    Hey I have that book too! I actually got mine at a lawn sale of all places--treasure! 😝 I haven't cracked that book open in quite a long time, however. Perhaps I will now pull it out from among my books on the shelf and brush that ol' dust off after the reminder of it. πŸ˜€

  • @ustaknow Mar 10

    Well, @kc5 -- great.

    My think "here" was, ... I am actively reading it and with other. So, as I proceed, if saw anyone here doing the same and updating this thread, with e.g., observations, results, queries, good relational momentum from it and why, etc., etc., well, -- that's what I'd do, here.

    So, no, -- not a new group or etc., just "here", reading it and interacting here as "we" all do "here". Why abandon a perfectly good List with work already there.
    -- As well, Links can be posted "here" to SC. So, what's the difference, I figured...?

    -- Or not πŸ˜€ Looked like not... (But as Donna says, and not as a believer, -- relevant, good content. Also, as I said, one can substitute "Love" et al., and proceed as the R&B, Blues men did with Hymns πŸ˜€

    As you know, 2 - 5 is a good size small group. No one is "teaching" it nor managing a group. Anyone could disappear, etc. for a while. And, this all gets deleted anyway, so does have a shelf life, as I prefer anyway.

    So, derUgo

  • @ustaknow Mar 12

    -- Just FYI, @kc5 , other, ? --it ain't a bad book, so far. Looks to be a curriculum, of stuff, not just advice you already know, as we all know πŸ˜€ So much krappe like that, don't need it. So far so good.

    And, so far, is about the craft of it. So no, no "wierd" Christian stuff, etc. that usually does more to push folks away, than anything else. As you said kc5 ... we are not Christian enough for some, or at all/just being Christian (offends), for others. Good thing this has nothing to do with"them/that/it".

    -- so again, until done, will comment regardless of engagement 😝

  • @kc5 Mar 12

    Embarrassed to say, I haven't given attention to the book yet since last mentioned. Had sick child last week and wasn't feeling so great myself. I'm a little behind on things. It on my mental list of things to do. I'll be glad for your posts as I will compare them when I do give attention to the book. Good to know it will be here. I THINK I'll have a few days this week to catch up on some things if I don't get called in. I'll update you when I make some progress.

  • @kc5 Mar 12


  • @ustaknow Mar 13

    Hey @kc5 ... I already read that 😝 -- nothing wrong with it. Actually both speak of the same issue. That is, what it, means.

    Anyway..., I can only engage a few pages at a time, not chapter by chapter, -- time. Also, if I do a skim read, I'll never go back, -- how I am. I've noticed already, as I predicted, it's an organization of much of what I, we --hit hard ala WCS, et al., that period. I'm reading my own words... --there's only so many.

    I proceed since, --I have yet to have read a great consolidated curriculum from which, e.g, a "songwriting", "class" could be based. His reference list is fairly extensive, diverse. He has already direct quoted Pat.

    -- Well, there are only so many ways to bake a cake πŸ˜€ , burnt or raw dough

  • @kc5 Mar 13

    If you can only engage a few pages at a time, that gives me a chance at keeping up. I'll try to look for that book today after I get some things caught up. πŸ˜€

  • @ustaknow Mar 13

    @kc5 -- If you, or one would, like confirmation of thought, to feel one should be confident to proceed regardless of results (results always vary, this is "method") you should find all of the preface, and the first two chapters easy and fast.

    As I said, it (content) should look much like the thoughts of the past, what is it three or so years...?, from WCS and the rest. (I am actually unsure of the time line previously, is it more?... I"d have to look to be sure).

    Anyway, you know what I mean.

    If you have no other clear direction currently concerning "writing", or even if you do, -- this won't get in the way. "This" is just a stop-in thing to comment (here), --very different from a formal group thing. (No commitment and all goes away at some point.)

    When they did the "Read Through" of the book Tonal Harmony (Coursera Course), it became an informal, ad hoc "Discussion Forum" which actually drove the reading (--I understand). Some didn't read the book, just the posts and did one-o

  • @iveg Mar 13

    It appears to be an interesting book. I'm reading the Amazon preview now. It's very limited, but I'd like to follow your discussion.

  • @ustaknow Mar 13

    Hey @iveg sure, that's why I did this here.

    Depending on what winds up posted, I anticipate if one didn't read it they can likely still comment, participate. KC and I were part of a group some time ago where only 1% commented, and the rest faithfully came to read.

    Though, one can't track that here, I am sure plenty been reading this.

    What I like about this "here", it's accessible, it will go away, and only the most interested will likely be here now.

  • @kc5 Mar 14

    Page xiv of the subtitle copycat Christians in the introduction caught my attention. Particularly the last three lines of the 2nd complete paragraph and the last three lines of the following paragraph and I'm glad for his insights in the following paragraph. The trend in writing toward the empty calories he refers to is one of the things that dampened my interest in proceeding in the way I felt things were headed for Christian songwriting. The old hyms hold gems of truth that inspire reflection rather work toward just playing on emotion--that gets old real fast when you want some substance. Glad you mentioned this book. So far (which is not yet far at all, I've gleaned a lot from what I've read.

  • @ustaknow Mar 14

    Again, it is interesting this books content and the past "arguments", even. -- Just say'in 😝

  • @ustaknow Mar 14

    I find his literal itemizing of stages of creativity, odd, and yet, thoughtful.

    His illumination stage, subdivided into starting and working I feel, imo, why, e.g., i.e., FAWM may work so well, -- one can't finish if don't start. And permission to start and finish, both, exist.

    At the start of FAWM I thought, "well, this will all be krappe", and as I learn my new songs, now, and compare to prior work, they really are "better" in some ways, better than others along the way. I think the permission to just write, and for me, the new Fawmlings, new interaction with totally new strangers validates the process in real time.

    As I learn the new songs, most written in flow of thought, I start to see, "oh, that's what I meant", *and what this commenter said and why! --"oh, how nice for me". The songs start to make more sense to me in just a little bit of time. And, they get tweeked too, certain chord phrasings get front or back heavy-ied.

    I believe I am in his varification stage now, and will be for a while.

    I believe too, FAWM clears the way for free flow of thought. One can't task this while hammered by daily task knats interrupting thought flow. I suppose many position theirselves well for this. But he speaks of, doing so 24x7x365.

  • @iveg Mar 14

    Ok. I read all I could free and legally. That's part of the intro and part of Chapter 1. My library doesn't have access to it.

    So please... to be helpful to me, please distill the IDEA or CONCEPT into a sentence or phrase so I can understand what you're talking about.

    So for me, here were the things I could get from the intro and CH 1:

    Songwriting can be taught, because you can unlock and grow talent, and show how to use songwriting tools.

    The goal of popular music business is to sell as much as possible as fast as possible. I'm not sure I agree that music is a "bit player". I think theatrics, charisma, and attitude have always been part of music. If Mozart was a sour old guy, I don't think his music would have gotten as popular as it did. Classical composers Schubert, Donizetti, Schumann, Smetana, Wolf, Joplin, Deliusβ€”all were likely victims of syphilis. Maybe they weren't writing and singing "Anaconda" but they weren't the lily-white pure virginal choirboys that Sterling seems

  • @iveg Mar 14

    to imply they were. They were normal screwed up humans.

    Hymnals are like Greatest Hits of the Last 500 Years. So you get Beethoven melodies with 1907 lyrics by Henry van Dyke [Joyful, Joyful]. You get Martin Luther lyrics written to a bar song [A Mighty Fortress]. You don't get 500 years of "Drop Kick me Jesus through the Goalposts of Life"

    Well that's enough for me today. πŸ˜€

  • @ustaknow Mar 15

    What I really like about "read alongs", it's like the FAWM lyrics comments, --all the ways folks engage them. I'll have to go back and review for what you observe, once I've gotten through it all. Again, why I like a small group reading of 5 or so folks in these things. We all get so much more for $:word paid for it πŸ˜€

    KC is amazing at aggregating stuff, if anyone can one-idea summarize chap one, as you ask she may -- if she has time.

    Well, up to chap 3, it's so far, --his introduction to his POV, as I read it. Unfortunately "today", we have to be so "inductive" to prequalify why what "we" say has value (?). (What he's doing?) I remember times in my life, -- you had an idea, opinion, you spit it out. Then, we decided... etc.

    Anyway, as I said, I am not skim reading it, rather more as again, if could be a "curriculum" Frame... so, can't wait for his stuff to come. Class framed "chunking" of information will be where I get "critical", so to speak. In that context, one simply starts. [oh got cut off!]... anyway, -- one may do well to qualify levels in the audience, but, that's about it, 1+1=2... no need to preface it.

  • @iveg Mar 15

    I'm not asking for @kc5 to do a chapter summary. I'm just asking any of you to let me know what you're talking about, since I don't have any more access to the book. Sterling uses words like "implicit" or "explicit" to summarize his concepts. Without more context, I don't know that he's talking about "subtle songs that suggest a Christian worldview, for an audience of everybody" vs "songs about Christ and the cross, written primarily for believers/ the Church".

    Like "inductive". To me, it means "Look for patterns, and build theories from them" Oh. That's @ustaknow not Sterling. I was able to preview more pages, so took more notes.

  • @kc5 Mar 17

    What I was referring to was in the introduction. It appears on my end that you were beyond that @iveg. I had missed your post (apologies) prior to mine and didn't realize you were following. I will try to not merely refer to the content, but give context in any upcoming posts. Glad to have you along! I hope you can aquire the material. Sometimes the library can get it for you if you have one you belong to.

  • @ustaknow Mar 17

    -- This weekend is a long one for me... so, may not post, but will be reading and etc. So, will be "here", but not "here" ... not to worry, (as if you were πŸ˜€ ) .

  • @iveg Mar 17

    @kc5 No prob. I was able to read most of the intro, and all of Chapter 1. A few things I liked from CH 1:
    A songwriter is someone who writes songs. [No "you have to write certain number of songs, or certain quality"]
    I have the ability to write about EVERYTHING. [Might not be an audience for many of those songs, though]
    Know your audience. Who are they? What are they concerned about?
    Bad art is bad religion, no matter how pious the subject. [Good art doesn't guarantee good religion. Good art and good religion can be simple, rough, and disturbing, like John the baptizer wearing camel skin, eating bugs and honey, screaming at the religious phonies, telling them to change their lives.]

    I checked - our library system doesn't have this book. I thought I found it at the Open Library but they didn't actually have it.

  • @kc5 Mar 17

    @iveg,Do you have a State library? I ask because...we'll let me explain. I belong to my local library which as a system that connects to participating libraries in my state. I can go on their online system and do a search by subject, author name or key words and it will search other participating libraries in the state. Some are city/town libraries, some are university libraries and some might be private libraries. If I find it and reserve it on my library card, they'll send it to my local library and I'll get a call when it arrives there. I also return it to my local library. I believe our State library also participates, so that would be an option for me if I didn't belong to my local library. More of a jaunt, but I'd have to travel the same distance to go to a bookstore. Anyway, if your library doesn't have anything like that, you could try your state library if it's not too far away from you.

  • @kc5 Mar 17

    I dislike how I can't edit my forum posts when on the iPod. I would have corrected some spelling errors.

  • @kc5 Mar 17

    Also, I've asked about a book before that they didn't have and couldn't find in state. Some they will order, some they won't. In the case of the book I wanted, it came from an out of state library. I had to wait longer, but it was worth the wait, borrowed THROUGH my library and returned through them as well. It doesn't hurt to ask them if they can get it for you.

  • @kc5 Mar 18

    Ch, 2, The Stages of Creativity p. 23-27 note summary
    There are four stages of problem solving according to (credit) Henri Poincare (Mathematitician) which Sterling borrows for his for stages of Creativity. They are: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination and Verification.

  • @kc5 Mar 18

    1. Preparation: Preparation has been occuring your entire life and encompasses your education (musical and otherwise), your reading, your life experiences and development of your world view.
    2. Incubations: Incubation is the mulling over phase where you inwardly procss they lyric options and melody idea while dubbing in other activities such as gardening, taking a walk, exercising, drawing, painting, napping, etc. Mundane tasks free up the subconscious to go exploring. This stage is not visible to others.
    Sterling recommends keeping a notepad/pencil/recorder available to keep track of ideas.
    3. Illumination: Otherwise known as brainstorming. This is the most visible stage to others. In this stage you write out your ideas without interrupting the flow with revisions or editing. Illumination is writing, writing, writing. Note * Its important when collaborating to keep comments positive and encouraging, so as not to shut down the creative the flow of ideas.

  • @kc5 Mar 18

    cont...This stage requires complete focus and involvement. The greatest enemy is the interruption of flow--a phone call, an email, a long conversation or television.
    There are two approaches to writing. a) Romantic: which is by inspiration, the need to write. b) Classical writing: Writing regardless of how you feel.
    A mix of both is best.
    4. Verification: Verification is the final and to professionals, the most critical stage of songwriting. Its where you finish what you started. It requires an objective eye to determine changes to be made. The more time devoted to this stage of songwriting, the better the song will be.

  • @kc5 Mar 18

    Impressions: The Illumination stage for me is the most challenging for two reasons: 1) I am the household manager in my home. I deal with finances, phone calls, paperwork, emails, taxiing, etc..., basically the secretary of the household, I'm the cook and cleaner most of the time--have to credit my family with some of that. I'm the one who helps with homework and keeps my kiddos occupied and my household is mostly always noisy. I know that when my husband gets home, If he doesn't eat, my ability to focus will be further compromised, so no matter what, my thought process is interrupted prior to suppertime. That's on days I don't work outside the home.

  • @kc5 Mar 18

    If my household is in disarray, I can't focus. I get interrupted a LOT and I do lose my focus and can't get it back at times. My husband doesn't understand the creative process or its requirements at all, so doesn't generally allow for it. My most productive songwriting days are when no one is home, but I am. I feel like I've done my best work in the past when camping because the kids are playing and my husband does cooking and cleaning while camping. No bills and time to relax. 2) I have a really hard time not editing during my brainstorm or rather, going back to something and making it more of what I want it to be because I'm afraid that I will forget and it will get lost. I have ALWAYS had trouble with this.

  • @kc5 Mar 18

    I needed that permission to do other creative activities besides songwriting (as part of the incubation process). I have a tendency to use all my spare time processing songs/music/learning about songwriting or giving feedback on others' work to the extent that I've passed up things like going for a walk, drawing (of course its not gardening season yet. I do do that! I also take LOTS of naps because I fatigue easily and it does help me with processing). I think some of the time I do household tasks, like dishes, laundry, cleaning , cooking (not bills/paperwork/filing/phone calls or emails, helping with homework), driving, I can and do some of the incubating during that time.

  • @kc5 Mar 18

    Verification for me is sometimes easy, sometimes not. I think this is where it helps getting feedback. It can be difficult to gauge yourself at times. Also, sometimes by this stage, I'm mentally fatigued. Often giving reasonable space between the song and me and then re-visiting helps, but sometimes there are just certain things or times the help from feedback is extremely helpful and welcome.

  • @iveg Mar 19

    @kc5 Thank you SO MUCH! My state library system doesn't have it. That's what I checked. I did not check the university library, or any church libraries.

    What I found when I went searching for the 4 stages was "Fearless Creating" by Eric Maisel. I disagree violently with some of the things he says, so it's been a fun read. Here are my comments on your comments:

    Preparation - consider this a more active phase. What am I going to feed myself so I can create better art or solve a problem? You don't want to just eat dry facts, light entertainment, dull stuff, or lies.

    Incubation - You've got a fragment or a piece of an idea. Or a question. So you need to work on something that doesn't use brain processing. You need your brain neurons to link up in new and different ways. Sleep or naps also help, as they flush out neurotoxins and allow for new connections.

    Illumination: This ISN'T brainstorming. It's deeper and more subtle than that. It's an idea from the subconscious, or an inspiratio

  • @iveg Mar 19

    Illumination: This ISN'T brainstorming. It's deeper and more subtle than that. It's an idea from the subconscious, or an inspiration from God, A fragment of an answer. Then brainstorming can be used to develop or explore that. At least that's what I'm understanding.

    Looks like this also includes Working.

    There's a balance that needs to happen between working and evaluating. It's a tension between focusing on what you're working on, and taking a step back to see if what you're working on fits with the idea you had. Working without evaluation can lead to wandering away from your idea, making something that doesn't fit with the rest of the work. Evaluating/ criticism can kill your forward momentum. So it's a constant dance between the two.

  • @iveg Mar 19

    Family. My wife is an artist, painter and sculptor. She likes to have tv, radio and/ or laptop on for background noise. I can't work on lyrics or music with the distractions and interruptions. I've tried writing in the margins of my life, when I'm waiting, walking the dog, grocery shopping... Scattered little bits through the day

  • @ustaknow Mar 19

    Hey, -- I'm still "away" this weekend. But, I got into Chapter 3 a bit. He's still framing some Basics, so to speak, POV, first/second/third person voice, etc. Well, that's all I got. Some of what you all get will/may be different. He, by indirect, direct comment carries along, knowing your audience, and a Standard for that.

    As a tangential remark to him, and what we/I know about knowing your audience, -- I am very glad I forgot my guitar this weekend. That small voice was correct again πŸ˜€ I did not "do" two songs, minimum I had been asked to prepare for them... -- these folks would not have been into, whatever style I am, no matter what they said or asked for 😝 πŸ˜€

    When East meets West... it's like curdeled milk with lemon πŸ˜€

  • @iveg Mar 20

    Ok. I thought this exercise for Ch 3 was really thought provoking. POV? What primary emotion did you want to convey? Setting (place, time, emotional setting)? Universal human theme or truth? How will story-song unnfold?

    Using "Movie Musical": (weird choice because it was SUPPOSED to be a duet) POV1: her - surrounded by bad things, feeling oppressed, but this morning they've all been transformed. POV2: him - isolated and lonely, but this morning he's outside, dancing. Emo: bright primary colors of being in love. Setting: grimy big city. Truth: being in love changes how we act, and how we see the world around us.

  • @ustaknow Mar 22

    Chap 3 is longer than I realized. It then gets into Forms. However, it first wraps up the generalized Focus elements with, "general audience" appeal. In his context he is addressing "congregational", which is translate above.

    It's true, -- how can all sit there and listen to a "congregational prayer/song" about uncle jims gambling, family abuse and etc habits, and say "Amen". The same goes for a Secular Song, -- if so personal, and specific, and mind pictures can't be formed by the gen audience, it may lack appeal of any kind. As I say, if I can sing your Love song to my gold fish and it can make sense, it's "successful" in its general application, or audience mind pictures. Love is love. It can be about your dog, car, woman or man, but then, is self limiting. That's ok too. Just be deliberate. If I sing about my precious wife, I sing about my precious love.

    It makes sense he combines this with Forms/Format to come.

  • @kc5 Mar 26

    Chapter 3 is long with lots of good reference material. I should have let you know I read it a few days ago, but to comment on it felt a wee bit overwhelming. I peeked in here with the intent, but the doing of it eluded me. Today, I would have to review it again to refresh myself for commenting. I remember thinking I would quote way too much of it.

  • @ustaknow Mar 29

    Chap 3 has one of the best explanations of Format sections I've read. It reads like the output from a Theory class, concerning certain songs analyzed for what form they are. It shows that there is no formula for format, just Formats. After written, then we can determine what was done. And so it is. However, I get it, since already knew this, in my own thoughts. I wonder how a "new" person may perceive this "chunking" of data analysis, --learning what?

    Also, I like his consideration of modern "Christian" songs, pgs. 39-40. He should/could just declare Format AB, verse, chorus, -one, repeated 1x, as many as 6? possibly, pending where you listen. It confirms many criticisms of these songs today. Known to me as "hillsongs", I don't ever cover them. While many love them, this format has fractured and divided many congregations, imo; so, can't be "good", so to speak. If we are 6yo's at a campfire singing kum ba yah I'd otherwise agree.

    So far, so good 😝

  • @iveg Mar 31

    The criticism of AB repeat ad nauseum seemed more a characteristic of the 80s and 90s to me. Shout to the Lord is 1993. The form is a limitation of TECHNOLOGY as much as anything else. People didn't want to hold a hymnal. They wanted new songs. The projection technology was slide projectors and overhead projectors. So that led to dropping verses off songs, and singing 7-11s [the same 7 lines 11 times] I have an old Psaltery, where Psalm 119 has been made into a song of 88 verses. No chorus. No refrain. THAT would be mind-numbingly repetitive.

  • @iveg Mar 31

    The fracture was more between old and new. Old was hymnal, organ, large choir singing 4 part classical music. There was a certain amount of training involved.

    New started off in the 60s and 70s from folk music, everybody sing along, you don't need to be able to read music to play. Bring whatever instruments you have.

    It's kinda like Classical/ Jazz/ show tunes/ prog rock which require chops and knowledge of applied theory versus blues/ country/ folk/ punk where the music is generally simpler. "4 chords and the Truth"

  • @ustaknow Apr 7

    Chapter four is short, -- all about hook lines, redundancy negatives. He calls it his scraps chapter, and places it in the first half of the book.

    So far he has not "taught" how to "write a song", so the speak. He's still Framing it all out, it would seem. I get it. We shall see. πŸ˜€

    However, there may be a case to be made to have a song effort of any kind in hand while discussing elements. -- A, "before we start, write a song now", assignment. Baseline with a response to that simple request, then engage the rhetoric. -- Just a thought to self, for me, if asked to "teach" someone, in some way.

    If I ask someone to dig a hole, prior to teaching how to do so, how many would just start with their hands, how many would look for a shovel, how many would do nothing? Or, should I lecture about hardness of ground, what is a shovel and which end to hold first? Or, should I just say, "watch me, and then do as I did"?

    Interesting 😝, well, to me it is πŸ˜€

Leave a Message. Log in to FAWM or sign up first...