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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 Regina Spektor:

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 until now.
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.

For more songwriting techniques, you can download my free EBook here:

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