Contemporary worship music: How do editors intend their product to be used?
  • Potentially silly question from a CCM newbie (and due apologies if there's a better section for this thread!):


    What do editors of Contemporary Christian Music for publication or home printing have in mind when they're formatting their music? How do they intend it to be used? Is formatting a short piece of music on 7 to 15 pages with multi-page repeats embedded inside other repeats really considered normal these days? Between all the pictures of rock musicians on publishers' sites and some very strange e-mail exchanges with publishers' reps about their abysmal formatting, I am left to conclude that usability for the average musician with a medium grand and a Laserjet is considered an extremely low priority.


    Since reluctantly getting involved accompanying at a formerly "hymnal-free" church with a critical mass of CCM fans, far and away the best thing I've done for my own sanity was a one-man effort where I gifted the church a tiny public domain hymnal as well as the "Voices" contemporary hymnal from GIA. "A Hymnal of the Heart" does not have an accompaniment edition and doesn't need one, but the "Voices" accompaniment edition has been a truly amazing accessibility tool, especially to someone like me who lived 99.99% in the land of traditional hymnals, listening to CCM of any sort rarely if ever, until about 2022. So for the past year, instead of getting a giant headache over a mysterious printout before giving up and completely re-engraving it, I can get straight to the business of practicing unusual rhythms and wondering what the heck a "bridge" is. :-D

    This year I've (also reluctantly) agreed to start producing our own seasonal hymn-books, partly to get back down to just one printed resource (no pews = no convenient book racks), and partly in order to use traditional hymns not included in HoH. What I had failed to predict was that I would once again receive requests for modern music that's not in "Voices", which means I've again run into the issue of downloads I can't seem to use without doing some serious work first!


    So what do other users of non-hymnal resources for congregational music usually do? Is my experience and difficulty at all typical, or is it more common to be able to take weirdly formatted downloads from sources such as PraiseCharts or SongSelect Premium and use them as-is?
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 2,044
    It is a mess. Steubenville has a hymnal, which they published and which hardly anyone else picked up. So much of what is done, at least when I was a student, was done without anything except memory for the congregation. In Austria, it was marginally better, since there was one Mass and far fewer people. I have no idea how the office and the groups singing at each mass handled it, but they had to do all the licensing stuff and had big PowerPoints for the all-school Masses in the gym.
    Thanked by 1michael_in_MI
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,033
    Play off a one or two-page lead sheet and improvise the accompaniment. CCM songs are not difficult to improvise decent accompaniments for.

    I use this site whenever I have to buy sheet music for CCM, such as for wedding preludes. You can select different formatting (full score, lead sheet, SATB, chord & lyric page) and transpose keys:
    https://www.praisecharts.com/
    Thanked by 1michael_in_MI
  • MarkB, that would be consistent with a priest I've contacted who's a singer/songwriter, and it turns out lead sheets are pretty much all he writes down. He then records quite sophisticated performances with many different instruments!

    How did you learn your skill? I've studied jazz improvisation on multiple occasions with marginal results, whereas when music is written out I can play what I like (within reason). Was there any special training you've done that helped?


    MatthewRoth ... licensing! Ugh! I'd never even heard of CCLI or OneLicense before a couple of years ago. OCP were very firm that I might not really make use of some of their stuff without a OneLicense, even though we already had CCLI. I eventually bought one myself and had the church treasurer pay me back.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,033
    It helps to have a good ear for music so you can imitate professional CCM recordings. Barring that, just practice playing the melody line while adding other notes based on the chord symbols.
  • So it sounds like in your experience, listening to lots of CCM records has been an important part of training, and playing only from lead sheets most typical, to the point that you might even choose a lead sheet, when available, even over buying a piano part. That's almost as odd to me as when I heard recently that some people actually dislike using hymnals and prayer books, but okay!


    What do you think makes the difference between some publishers like GIA putting out nice accompaniments (and pew editions!), while others like PraiseCharts seem to think it very strange to request such a thing?
  • This is a broader question than perhaps you might think -- most things praise-and-worship/CCLI aren't intended or written for Catholic liturgies/Masses, but a good chunk of "contemporary" music from GIA or OCP is intended for use at Mass. Perhaps 15-20 years ago or so, OCP started to lessen the praise-and-worship and printed more stuff intended for liturgy -- the result was a much improved Spirit & Song.

    I eliminated our parish's CCLI license, because I don't and won't use praise-and-worship style music. I don't do it well, and we're not the nearby megachurch or the other nearby megachurch; in general I don't think we should use it. But I do a fair amount of OCP "contemporary" stuff and occasionally a GIA "contemporary" piece. I don't care for Voices (as One) at all, but YMMV.
  • TimTheEnchanter: (great SN, by the way) Great to hear positives about OCP, and that you were able to eliminate CCLI entirely! I have been much inclined to be gloomy about music obviously intended for radio having ever made its way into the worship repertoire in the first place, liturgical church or no.

    Spirit & Song was actually the first contemporary hymnal I evaluated, though at the time I was very confused by its being a melody-only book in the first place, and even more so by its lacking some of the music entirely. I've since wondered if it would have had its advantages, if only the hardback binding! Since my limited observations of CCM in churches have suggested at least some interest in the extinction of hymnals, learning of the existence of such a publication was an absolute game-changer after it had been made clear to me that keeping at least some CCM was non-negotiable.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 1,033
    Noteworthy to mention in this thread is that OCP has decided to discontinue its contemporary music annual missal/hymnal combo, Choose Christ; 2024 is its final year.

    Apparently, it wasn't selling well. I welcome that news.

    Next target: Breaking Bread, but that's a behemoth.
  • So what do other users of non-hymnal resources for congregational music usually do? Is my experience and difficulty at all typical, or is it more common to be able to take weirdly formatted downloads from sources such as PraiseCharts or SongSelect Premium and use them as-is?


    This gets to the heart of one of the biggest quality control problems with SongSelect. If you're using the lead sheet and especially if you are using the vocal accompaniment sheet, many of these end up with way too many pages and page turns.

    I have dealt with this by generally trying to stick to the lead sheet and encouraging vocalists to improv the harmonies, or printing the vocal sheets for the singers but just the lead sheets for the instrumentalists. Another option is to use image editing software to more efficiently lay out the music onto a smaller number of pages.

    I'm also seeing that printed sheet music is on its way out in worship bands - a lot of people are transitioning to iPads that change the page with a single tap.

    As bad as page counts on PraiseCharts and SongSelect can be, OCP and GIA are in my opinion much worse offenders. The page count seems to essentially be a function of to what degree the publisher assumes you are operating from a classical music paradigm (performer is given nearly complete instructions via the sheet music, limited interpretation expected from the performer) vs. a jazz music paradigm (performer is given very limited information, and expected to interpret a lot). OCP and GIA tends more towards the classical paradigm and often have needlessly inflated page counts for works that I think ought to have been notated in a more stripped down form, such as a lead sheet (that gives just the melody and the chord symbol).

    SongSelect tries to be everything to all people and often ends up with music notation that makes a lot of compromises with all sides and this often makes the final product really frustrating to interact with.

    I could go on about problems with SongSelect. They are inconsistent as to whether they are notating the pieces as they were written or as they are performed on the radio (the performances often have the soloist loosely interpreting notes and rhythms in a way that doesn't work for a congregation). They are inconsistent as to whether they write difficult rhythms out exactly or if they write out something simplified and assume you know how to modify it. They are inconsistent about whether vocal harmonies follow the recordings of the original artists or whether they just make something up, and when they write their own original harmonies its often poor quality work. Sometimes they choose none of the above and publish stuff that's just objectively incorrect.

    I love SongSelect. Getting nearly every song imaginable in any key you want is awesome. OCP should make something like SongSelect, and they are in my opinion clearly losing market share for having not done so. Nevertheless, SongSelect needs to get better quality control.

    Unfortunately there is not much you can do other than take what SongSelect gives you and make small modifications. I'm not aware of any other services that provide anything comparable. WorshipNOW publications has a hymnal and accompaniment books for about 200 of the most common worship songs. PraiseCharts often notates the music to a higher standard but they make you pay for each song individually, which gets expensive. Everything else I can think of just gives you chords.
  • I guess the Y'all-pad thing makes some sense. If you're tapping a button to turn pages and there's a repeat of several pages, I suppose if you're using a computer program you could have it insert those pages a second time so you only have to advance forward, regardless of whether it makes it take 20 pages.

    I had wondered about the weird rhythmic artifacts, and what you say does seem to explain some of the SS accompaniments that just aren't very good. Do some of these editors actually use some kind of software to transcribe an audio tape instead of just getting the music from the composer? PrintMusic! 2001 has that capability if you play into it from a MIDI-enabled keyboard, but I could never play precisely enough to get anything that didn't effectively need to be rewritten. I guess that program came out over 20 years ago now ... perhaps someone has a transcription computer program that can listen to the radio and turn it directly into sheetmusic of a sort?


    I know my experience is limited, but I've not yet encountered accompaniments from GIA/OCP that are worse than PC/SS parts in unnecessary length - nothing like - though that isn't to say it couldn't sometimes go on fewer pages or move measures about to eliminate an awkward page turn (I'll sometimes photocopy a page in such cases). And while the multiple-keys thing is potentially handy, I've absolutely had requests from stuff for which they have only words, if even that. I went through more than enough of that 15+ years ago when a family friend wanted me to play for a Christmas program, and helpfully brought a photocopy with just some words on it (for some very bad poetry I'd never seen before), and made a great show of thinking I was insane, not to mention inexcusably rude, for not innately knowing how and what to play.

    At least in the GIA publication I have, having fairly complete performance information lets any idiot have a go at playing even if he's only ever listened to or played better sorts of music. No need to be the least bit "musical" in the folkie sense - a few years of private lessons and classical ensemble experience are enough. At least half the battle with this stuff can be figuring out the structure, and PC/SS seem to artificially make that far more obtuse. One of the great things about good congregational music is its simplicity - in modern hymnody, something like St. Patrick's Breastplate is an anomaly in that it has two different tunes and an abrupt repeat in the first verse and in a harmony edition is notated on up to four pages; most anything else, at least in hymnals I own, is perfectly straightforward in structure, usually doesn't require page turns at all, and just making the notes happen, and providing musical contrast as we are able, is sufficient challenge for those of us who are less experienced and have limited practice time. Pop-style music adds considerable complexity just to figure out what to play and when, especially when there are two or more versions of a refrain (alternated with verses in ways that vary greatly, and sometimes each verse varies the melody so you can't just repeat the whole thing) and that's not to mention this newfangled interlude thing they call a "bridge" that may be in one place, or possibly in another. Notating the accompaniment with sufficient information, and keeping any performance notes as simple as possible, is very much of the essence - anything else really does require specialized training or experience, extensive practice time with someone else to help, or both. Voices! #191 ("Mighty To Save") is an interesting example; Ed Bolduc provides enough information that despite never having seen anything quite like it, even I could make it very musical and interesting in a short period of time, and provide a really big improvement over using poorer music that sounds like "Leavin' On A Jetplane" just because a few people like folk trios and are in rebellion against historic church music. No input from anyone, no searching for audio recordings, just the music book and a piano, and I didn't even have to learn the melody. By contrast, I was aghast recently to discover that some people called "Hillsong," who apparently consider themselves professional performers of a sort, took the same song and completely ruined it - all narcissistic face-making layered with vague guitary stuff, and no musicality at all. This guy called Matt Redman seems to have this talent as well, even with stuff he wrote himself. Makes me want to throw things!
  • Soo, I’m not really into CCM and the other music they use in churches these days. I started studying the history of music, and it’s pretty impressive that it all basically started with Gregorian chant. I was hoping to find out more about the current state of church or choral music. From what I’ve gathered, are you guys really that against any changes in the music? There are so many more ways to create music now, and I read a lot about different software and plugins on forum https://faqaudio.com/. New musicians can bring something unique to the music, and that really excites me. As someone not connected to faith and religion, it’s hard for me to grasp how important traditions are in the church, but I think changes, if not necessary, are definitely inevitable.