Making a Cliche Phrase New Again, as Done by Regina Spektor
By Anthony Ceseri - 08/06/2012 - 08:58 PM EDT
The idea of "heartbreak" in songwriting has been used a lot. It's a cool
metaphor, but it’s basically lost its coolness due to overuse. In this
article, I want to show you how heartbreak can be made fresh again by how
the phrase is handled musically.
Prosody is when all of your elements are achieving one thing. Pertaining
to songwriting, a lot of times prosody refers to how you tie the
meaning of your lyrics to your music, so they work together. With that
in mind, take a listen to the first minute of the song, “Fidelity” by
Did you notice anything interesting about the chorus (which starts on
the line “It breaks my heart,” about 47 seconds into the video)? Do you
hear the way she sings the word “heart”? As if it was multiple
syllables? She took that one-syllable word, heart, and chopped it up
into a bunch of little fragments. It’s interesting that she “broke” the
word “heart,” isn’t it? She “broke” her “heart” musically, while singing
about her broken heart, lyrically.
This is an example of prosody in
songwriting. The idea of a broken heart as a metaphor, became a broken
heart in her delivery of the word “heart” as well. I think it works well
here, because it’s not too in-your-face. You barely make the connection
unless you’re searching for treasure in the details.
Go back to that line in the chorus and listen to it again. Imagine what
it would sound like if she had sung the word “heart” as one single
continuous note. Can you picture how much more complete that would
sound? That would be cool, but it wouldn’t fit the idea of the lyric,
would it? In this case, the broken heart concept is not only literal in
the broken-up nature of how it’s sung, but it also makes the line feel a
bit unbalanced, which is how our lead singer is feeling in that moment,
since she has a broken heart. So it works well in that way too.
Singing it in that choppy, broken-up way also ties into the quirky feel of the song. Another score!
Initially when I hear the words “it breaks my heart,” all of the songs
in the universe that have already used that phrase start to flash before
my eyes. But here I found myself being interested again, because it was
presented in an new way. It should be noted that Regina Spektor also
does this in the second chorus on the phrase “it breaks my fall” and it
works well there too, in all of the same ways we’ve talked about up
Play around with having your lyrics tie into your music. Start small by
trying it on a few phrases here and there. Maybe have a note slide down
on a lyric that ends on the word “down.” Then get bolder and expand your
techniques to have the musical vibe for your whole song tying into your
entire lyrical concept.
Try not to be too over the top with it, or you’ll run the risk of being
cheesy. Keep it fairly subtle and you’ll be in good shape. But as
always, experiment with it and see what works best.
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