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On Prosody

I’m the kind of book reader who hears words as I read. Is that because I’m a musician? Maybe. It’s mostly a pleasant experience but can be truly annoying when there are mistakes in grammar or punctuation. It takes me out of the rhythmic flow the words were creating.

Although occasionally bothersome, this trait comes in handy as a songwriter. By speaking a sentence out loud, or taking the time to listen to it in my head, I can hear its natural rhythm and flow. Sure there are different ways to deliver a sentence, depending on em-PHAS-is. But I find the individual words and combination of words often ring true in one rhythm or another.

Ever heard a song where the lyrics and melody don’t seem to fit? Where they feel unbalanced, forced together like two people in a pre-arranged marriage? Like hearing mistakes in a book, it takes you away - but in the wrong direction!

That’s where prosody comes in. The best I can tell, the word prosody has been around since the late 15th century, although I only learned it a few years ago from Pat Pattison, a songwriting teacher at Berklee College of Music. It comes from the Latin word prosodi, which means ‘accent of a syllable, and from the Greek prosoidia, ‘tone of a syllable’. The word pros is ‘toward’ and the word oide is ‘song’, which nicely describes the artful blend between lyrics and melody, between words and music.

If you’re new to thinking about prosody, try repeating a sentence or lyric over and over to find its natural rhythm. Then focus in a bit more to hear how the lyrics take on the rise and fall of a melodic shape. I think you’ll find prosody a nice tool you can add to your songwriting toolbelt!

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