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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > Dec 17 > PROSODY IN TECHNOLOGY


Prosody is a term we use to define the uniting of the sonic and lyrical elements of a track. To demonstrate, Erin Barra deconstructs one of her compositions…


Prosody’ is a word I use a lot. Its meaning was taught to me roughly 15 years ago by Berklee professor Pat Pattison and in some ways, it’s become the foundation for what I consider to be art – or at least the kind I’m interested in.

In the words of Pat: “Aristotle said that every great work of art contains the same feature – unity. Everything in the work belongs – works to support every other element. Another word for unity is prosody, which means the ‘appropriate relationship between elements, whatever they may be’”. Some examples of prosody in songs might be: prosody between words and music – a minor key could create a feeling of sadness to support or even create sadness in an idea. Prosody between syllables and notes – an appropriate relationship between stressed syllables and stressed notes – a really big deal in songwriting. When they’re lined up properly, the shape of the melody matches the natural shape of the language. Prosody between rhythm and meaning – obvious examples like, “you gotta stop! (pause)… Look and listen.” Or writing a song about galloping horses in a triplet feel. The elements all join together to support the central intent, idea and emotion of the work. Everything fits.

Mainstream examples of this include Garth Brooks’ song Friends In Low Places and Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror. In Brooks’ song, the melody of the song when he sings: “I’ve got friends in low places” is pitched quite low on the word ‘low’, again, sonically mimicking the intention of the lyric. Or in the last chorus of Man In The Mirror, there’s a half step modulation up on the word ‘change’, reinforcing that the narrator himself is going to make that change. There’s so many ways prosody manifests itself in music; harmonically, melodically, rhythmically, lyrically… and perhaps the thing that gets talked about the least and what I’d like to focus on here, is sonically.

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About MusicTech

Making music is an expensive pursuit. From monitors to microphones, DAWs and plug-ins: before you know it, just getting your creative space in order has made a serious dent in your bank account. But it really doesn’t have to be this way. In Andy Jones’ in-depth cover feature this month, he dives head-first into this ocean of free software, highlighting the best of the best and detailing how to use it effectively to build a track – for free! Elsewhere this issue, we’ve got the first in a new A-Z series, detailing some of the oft-used, key terms that you’ll likely hear and need to understand in the music-making world. Alongside all this, we’ve got our usual range of reviews, tutorials, tips and a complete guide to the vast high-tech world of controllers. We’ve also, very excitingly, teamed up with the best studio in the world with this issue’s free Abbey Road calendar. We hope you enjoy the issue.