How To Write A Song?
Understand and use PROSODY

Prosody - What is it?

Anyone who knows or wants to know how to write a song is actually intimately involved in this subject, knowingly or unknowingly.  This ‘hidden factor’ either makes a song powerful, crisp, and memorable or, when lacking, makes the song hard to ‘hear’ and even annoying, whether the lyrics are brilliant, the melody is gorgeous or the hook is killer or not.

Why is that?  Well, let's pick up and handle this term.

“Prosody” embraces these two elements of a song:

[a] Spoken words can have a RHYTHM of their own.

[b] Melodies also have [or should have] a RHYTHM of their own.

The DERIVATION [not the definition] of “prosody” means: ‘THE RHYTHM OF THE WORDS’ and/or “SONG SUNG TO MUSIC”  The word is thousands of years old, stemming from the Greeks.

Here are some of the DEFINITIONS I found:

“the rhythm and pattern of sounds of poetry and language”
“the rhythm, and stress of speech.”

Remember that in antiquity, literacy was not widespread, and enormous amounts of material - religious, folkloric, ceremonial, etc., had to be memorized and recited and performed by storytellers, poets, priests. and minstrels.  There had to have been tons of attention paid to arranging the words and music so that they would work together for maximum memorability and impact.

This is why some works are still known, even after thousands of years: When the rhythm of the LYRIC plus the rhythm of the MELODY are synchronized [made to occur at the same time], you have unstoppably effective integration of words, meaning, melody, sound quality, and mental image.  This is PROSODY at work.

Wow.  How about that?



Ok, let’s break this down further, starting with ordinary speech:  The rhythms of conversational speech are unnoticed, simply because they come and go at random.  But they do exist and show up.  Here’s a random paragraph:

“I want you to meet my friend.  His name is Fred.  Hey, wanna have lunch?"

There may be a perceivable rhythm there, but it changes with every sentence.  So let’s focus even more and emphasize the accented syllables in the first sentence only.  [say this aloud, if you will]

“I want you to meet my friend.”

Now let’s show the accents.

“I WANT you to MEET my FRIEND.”

Just for demonstration, you can hear a rhythm now:

“I WANT you to MEET my FRIEND.”
“I WANT you to MEET my FRIEND.”
“I WANT you to MEET my FRIEND.”
“I WANT you to MEET my FRIEND.”

Now, when words are organized and deliberately melded into a song lyric, so as to have the natural accents of the words appear as they would in normal conversation, you get this stellar example of prosody::


“SomeDAY I’ll WISH upON a STAR,
beHIND me…” [etc.]

That’s a big part of the “unstoppable forward motion” of a great song.  I’ll go out on a limb and state positively that there is NOT any great song in any genre where you won’t be able to find this mechanism in heavy use.

Here are some songs with totally obvious “word rhythms”: “Jingle Bells”, “The Star Spangled Banner”, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’", “We Will Rock You”. Try ‘reciting’ these without singing the notes [pitches].  Notice how much fun and motion are in these lines.  No track or music needed.



So much for the “rhythm of the words”.  Now what of the “rhythm of the melody”? [also known to composers as melodic rhythm.]

Let’s return to “Over the Rainbow”:  Let’s break the melody down into it’s simplest form, We don’t need the exact pitches of the notes, just their relationship to each other as higher to lower -- so we get this “rhythm”:

high-LOW high-LOW high-LOW high-LOW
high-LOW high-LOW high-LOW high-LOW

Now [using a karaoke disk, if possible] listen to the melody WITHOUT the lyric and notice the accents.  Melodic rhythm can be established by means of change in pitches and/or changes in note duration, but in any case, the construction of the melody involves a RHYTHM.

Here’s another example: Try playing “YESTERDAY”, with pitches ONLY - all quarter notes with no bar lines.  What would that sound like?  Right!  Incoherent chaos!



So to tie it all together - When the rhythm of the MELODY and the rhythm of the LYRIC are fully synchronized, you have a winner.

Take a look at some of your own songs and some songs currently out and see what’s happening with their prosody.  When you can hear how a certain syllable is emphasized or mis-emphasized and what effect that has on the song and the listener -  you’ve nailed it!

And as far as PROSODY is concerned, you know that much more about how to write a song.

Good luck!

Check out these other songwriter resource pages:

HOW TO WRITE A SONG: Info from JASON BLUME, master songwriter:

THE THESAURUS - The Songwriters Best Friend!

SONGWRITING SOFTWARE - Beyond Any Rhyming Dictionary

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