In this guide, we'll explore the concept of prosody and delve into how it can be harnessed to create powerful lyrics.
Prosody is the art of ensuring that all elements within a song work cohesively to support the central message. This is about achieving a unity where every piece, from the melody to the lyrics, serves a common purpose. In other words, everything in your song should be there for a reason – to convey the central emotion, idea, and purpose of your lyrics.
Pat Pattison, a professor at Berklee College of Music, where he teaches lyric writing and poetry, has offered a compelling framework for understanding and applying prosody. He introduces two key terms: stable and unstable, as a comprehensive lens to view songwriting through.
The initial step is to identify the central idea you wish to convey and then categorize it as either stable or unstable. This forms the foundation upon which your song's emotional dynamics will be built.
Stable lyrics provide a sense of clarity and resolution in your song. They are the parts where the emotions are straightforward, and the narrative is clear. Think of them as the "calm" within the song, offering moments of emotional steadiness.
Unstable lyrics introduce tension and complexity into your song, keeping your audience engaged. These lyrics evoke curiosity and stir emotions, much like the storm that brews within a captivating narrative.
In the world of songwriting, true mastery lies in the seamless transition between stability and instability. Most songs have elements of both. It's about leading your audience through a journey – from clarity to complexity and back to resolution.
I was lost and alone (unstable)
But then you found me (stable)
Now I’m lost once again (unstable)
Because you found me (stable).
This flexibility allows you to shape the emotional arc of your song, reflecting the ebb and flow of feelings.
Rhyme types play a significant role in the prosody of your song. While perfect and family rhymes often support stability and resolution, assonance rhymes offer a sense of ambiguity and unsettlement.
Consider the following examples:
This is the last you’ll see of me
I’m done with games, I’m breaking free
Here, the perfect rhyme supports a resolved meaning, providing a sense of finality.
Is that really what you think of me?
I’m done with games, just watch me leave
The assonance rhyme creates ambiguity, introducing uncertainty. It aligns with a situation where leaving may not be the desired outcome.
The art of prosody encourages you to explore different rhyme types, making your lyrics dynamic and emotionally resonant.
To become proficient in the art of prosody, practice is key. By consciously engaging with your lyrics and the emotions they convey, you can refine your understanding of stability and instability. Consider these practical steps:
As your intuition for prosody sharpens, you'll find yourself making more deliberate choices, all in service of the central message and emotion of your song.
Prosody is about unity, about ensuring that every element in your song serves a singular purpose – to express, communicate, and focus on the central emotion and idea.
With the concepts of stable and unstable lyrics as your tools, and prosody as your guiding philosophy, you can paint vibrant and evocative stories in your songs. The balance between the two allows for emotional depth, complexity, and resolution, enabling you to captivate your audience with every word.
It’s been said that in songwriting there are no rules, only tools; prosody is among the most powerful of them. In the world of songwriting, the pursuit of unity and emotion is the ultimate goal, and prosody is your trusted companion on this artistic voyage.