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Need ideas for prosody workshop

SharonA 23 Feb 07 - 12:43 PM
Bernard 23 Feb 07 - 03:25 PM
Jack Campin 23 Feb 07 - 04:57 PM
Bob the Postman 24 Feb 07 - 09:34 AM
Bernard 24 Feb 07 - 10:00 AM
SharonA 24 Feb 07 - 01:15 PM
SharonA 26 Feb 07 - 08:53 PM
Bert 26 Feb 07 - 11:15 PM
Bert 26 Feb 07 - 11:25 PM
mg 26 Feb 07 - 11:44 PM
SharonA 27 Feb 07 - 06:06 PM
Bert 27 Feb 07 - 06:25 PM
SharonA 28 Feb 07 - 08:37 PM
Bert 28 Feb 07 - 08:54 PM
SharonA 01 Mar 07 - 06:46 PM
SharonA 01 Mar 07 - 06:53 PM
Vixen 01 Mar 07 - 07:57 PM
Dan Schatz 01 Mar 07 - 11:48 PM
lennice 02 Mar 07 - 01:17 AM
Vixen 02 Mar 07 - 09:13 AM
Bernard 02 Mar 07 - 02:36 PM
SharonA 02 Mar 07 - 03:34 PM
Vixen 04 Mar 07 - 11:45 AM
SharonA 04 Mar 07 - 01:22 PM
Fidjit 04 Mar 07 - 06:24 PM
Vixen 05 Mar 07 - 12:46 PM
SharonA 05 Mar 07 - 04:29 PM
Bert 05 Mar 07 - 06:38 PM
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Subject: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: SharonA
Date: 23 Feb 07 - 12:43 PM

Next Saturday (March 3), the songwriters' organization of which I am co-chair will be having its annual event that includes an afternoon of songwriting workshops (four hour-and-a-half sessions) and an evening open stage. This is an all-volunteer organization, and one of the people who had volunteered to run a workshop says he may not be there because of family obligations (a close family member of his passed away). So I will be filling in for him, and I need to come up with a songwriting-workshop idea on very short notice.

I think I'd like to do something on the subject of prosody (making the lyric of a song flow naturally and conversationally through the melody line, so that one does not ac-cen-TU-ate the wrong syl-LA-ble). But I'm not sure what sort of a short creative-writing exercise I could assign that would be both instructive and fun. It would need to be a half-hour to forty-five minutes long, so that the group will have time to re-convene and present their results to one another.

Anybody out there have any ideas? Have you ever attended or led a workshop on this subject? What was it like?

Also, any insights or comments on the subject of prosody would be very helpful. How about examples of songs with really great (or really terrible) prosody?

Thanks in advance for your help!

Sharon


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Bernard
Date: 23 Feb 07 - 03:25 PM

Well, maybe slightly off track, but one thing I used to do as a schoolteacher with 9-year-olds was to give them a sentence such as 'What's that in the cupboard', and encourage them to deliver the words to convey as many different meanings as they could.

I suppose taking the lyric of a well-known song (nursery rhyme?) and trying to fit it to some inappropriate tunes may be interesting - okay, I realise your group are probably adults, but it's common ground... adults do like to behave like kids sometimes, even though they hate to be treated like them...

'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' to 'Amazing Grace' - and vice-versa - works quite badly! On the other hand, 'Pinball Wizard' fits perfectly to 'Farewell Sweet Lovely Nancy'.

Many of Jake Thakray's songs are brilliant examples of how words tumble over each other, but cannot possibly work with even one syllable wrong! How on earth could you paraphrase 'I love a good bum on a woman, it makes my day'?! (The first line of 'On again, on again').

Hope someone comes up with something a bit more useful...


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Jack Campin
Date: 23 Feb 07 - 04:57 PM

One of the more improbable bits of prosody I've heard set to a memorable tune was e.e. cummings's "all in green went my love riding", set by Peter Schickele for Joan Baez's "Baptism" album.

A really useful source on this stuff, for French song, is the vast prosodic index "Le Cle du Caveau" of the early 19th century.


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Bob the Postman
Date: 24 Feb 07 - 09:34 AM

You could approach the problem via the backdoor by having them make up a few verses to a familiar tune with the syllabic stresses all wrong. Some of the results might be quite funny.

I've always been annoyed by Bruce Cockburn's faulty stress on the line "kicking at the darkness to make it bleed dayLIGHT". What's so annoying is that the song as a whole is so powerful that the darn guy can get away with an awkward stress.


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Bernard
Date: 24 Feb 07 - 10:00 AM

Another brilliant example is Keith Marsden's 'Doing the Manch'.

The classic lines...

We kicked off at the Majestic, little Alice kicked us out
When Dad said he was scared what he might catch
We didn't mean to set on fire the White Swan and the Devonshire
But Dad was always careless with his match – es

('es' carefully sung as an afterthought...!)


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: SharonA
Date: 24 Feb 07 - 01:15 PM

Some good ideas so far. Keep it up, guys!

I especially like the matching of a well-known lyric to a well-known but inappropriate tune. Then there's the game where you sing a well-known song but without the first syllable of the song (as in "CAMP la-DIES sing THIS song DOOOO, DA dooo, DA camp" etc.)

But there's more to prosody than that. The melody also needs to be appropriate to the mood of the song (major or minor key, fast or slow, soft or loud, assonant or dissonant, etc.).

Here's a short excerpt from a book by John Braheny, discussing some of the various aspects of prosody: Writing Lyrics: Prosody and Meter

Sharon


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: SharonA
Date: 26 Feb 07 - 08:53 PM

Hey, c'mon, guys, I need some more advice here! The workshop is this coming Saturday! HELLLLLPPP!!!

Sharon


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Bert
Date: 26 Feb 07 - 11:15 PM

Hi Sharon,

At a songwriters group I went to recently, one young lady sang a song that was so disjointed that we all were asking just what it meant.

She led off with a detailed explanation of the song. I suggested that she write the song again but this time write what she had just said.

And beware of Jake Thackeray; he was a great wordsmith but he would break sayings across line endings for effect.

eg. On again, on again continues...

It is part of the proof of God's existence a
posteriori also I love breasts and arms and ankles elbows knees...

Probably not quite what you are intending to teach.


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Bert
Date: 26 Feb 07 - 11:25 PM

Another tip.

DON'T write anything down. If you do, the words tend to become set in concrete too soon, and you wil resist changing them.

If you create the verses in your head, then by the time you get to the second line you will have forgotten anything in the first line that didn't work.

It might take longer to write the song but the result will be smoother.


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: mg
Date: 26 Feb 07 - 11:44 PM

I would find examples and give them to the class to circle the ouches...Or have them submit their own work to be analyzed for this, but sometimes feelings can get hurt etc. People are very fond of the words they produce and don't want to change them even when they don't fit. Actually, maybe you could get into the psychology of that. And it is my belief that our ears are set up for good rhythm and others will flinch when they hear bad rhythm even if it is really really special to the author. mg


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: SharonA
Date: 27 Feb 07 - 06:06 PM

*refresh*

Thanks for the additional comments, Bert and mg. But I need more, more, MORE hahahahahaha! *ahem* Sorry, got a bit carried away there, probably from desperation.

Sharon


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Bert
Date: 27 Feb 07 - 06:25 PM

You ALWAYS say that!!! *HEE HEE*


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: SharonA
Date: 28 Feb 07 - 08:37 PM

Bert: Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!
- - - - - - -

The small number of responses to my thread seems to me indicative of the need for a prosody workshop for songwriters: apparently a lot of people aren't interested in the subject, but a good songwriter should be. Or maybe some folks just don't know what prosody is...

Ah, well, we'll see on Saturday whether anyone at the songwriters' event even chooses to attend my workshop!


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Bert
Date: 28 Feb 07 - 08:54 PM

One of the problems creating a line that flows nicely is that often one gets stuck with a particular rhyme.

When that happens to me, what I try to do is create a picture of the verse in my mind. Then I'll add props to the picture and choose one of the props to create a different rhyme.

For example, the first verse of 'Kiss for the Road' goes...

On the night that we first fell in love
we kissed 'neath the stars up above
By your front porch light as we said goodnight
you gave me a kiss for the road.


The front porch sets the scene for the verse and the porch light is just one prop that you could put on the porch. Others might be the door, the steps, a barbecue, (Could have been a back porch if necessary) potted plants, railings or even a dog.

The more possibilities that you have for your verse the easier it is to make it flow.


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: SharonA
Date: 01 Mar 07 - 06:46 PM

I love a challenge...

Then I tripped o'er the plant in the pot
And the barbecue grill was upsot
As your dog did bite me and I took flight
Out the door, down the steps, for the road.

(Couldn't fit the railings in there -- sorry.)


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: SharonA
Date: 01 Mar 07 - 06:53 PM

Now, that last post of mine was quite flippant, but seriously I appreciate your comment, Bert. Your point is well taken. It is a challenge to make the words flow naturally within a rhyme scheme once one sets it up!


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Vixen
Date: 01 Mar 07 - 07:57 PM

There's more to prosody than just rhyme and meter, though they are what most people think of.

Here's one exercise I've used:
Have each participant take a verse, or chorus, to a song he or she knows really, really well, both musically and lyrically, and which, MOST IMPORTANT, he or she admires for some reason. It's ok if everybody has a different fragment. Write it down (just the verse or chorus, shouldn't be more than 8 lines, and more usually 4). Then each person analyzes that fragment for rhyme scheme, meter, assonance (like vowel sounds), consonance (like consonant sounds), and interesting figures of speech (metonymy, synecdoche, metaphor). This will take awhile, depending on how well they understand what they're looking for. At the very least, this exercise will give them a deeper understanding of the components that make a lyric interesting to themselves. Then, you have a couple options if there is time left over: You could have them create a similar lyric (just 4 to 8 lines, not a whole song!) using a topic and words of their own, but using the rhyme scheme, meter, and other prosodic tools that the lyricist of their fragment used. You can also have them share what they found out about their fragments.
As with any workshop, the quality of the output will be highly variable, but the objective is to give people a close up look at the prosodic elements that interest them.

Just my $0.02, for what it's worth...your mileage may vary!

Good luck, have fun, and bless you for doing the job!!!

V


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Dan Schatz
Date: 01 Mar 07 - 11:48 PM

Prosody, aside from being my new vocabulary word for the day, is incredibly important to me as a songwriter - but I haven't a clue how to teach other than to say, "speak your lyrics. Then sing them. They should more or less match." That's not very helpful, and way too simplistic.

People often neglect to think about the foot of the song - defined as a unit of stressed or unstressed syllables. Lyrics with the same foot and meter have interchangeable tunes - like "Amazing Grace and the theme from "Gilligan's Island."

It may help to simply have examples of songs that have foot (feet?) especially well matched to melody. For whatever reason I'm blanking on good famous examples at the moment - perhaps "Wild Mountain Thyme." You can speak the lyrics to the rhythm of the song and it still sounds like good poetry. For that matter I think most traditional songs I can think of are strong in this area - weak marriages of lyrics to melody tend to get cleaned up in the process of oral tradition.

Good luck with your workshop, Sharon!

Dan Schatz


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: lennice
Date: 02 Mar 07 - 01:17 AM

John Prine is a goldmine for this subject, good and bad - what's so great about him is most of the time his prosody is some of the best I've ever heard, but then once in a while you'll be humming along with him and you fall in a pot hole. It's such a jolt, thus illustrating the importance of the subject!

examples:

When I woke up this morning, things were looking bad.
Seemed like total silence was the only friend I had.
Bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down and won.
It was 12 o'clock 'fore I realized I was having no fun.

or

I hate graveyards and old pawnshops for they always bring me tears.
I can't forgive the way they robbed me of my childhood souvenirs.
...
Memories can't be boughten, can't be won at carnivals for free.
It took me years to get those souvenirs
And I don't know how they slipped away from me.

But my favorite line: "Broken hearts and dirty windows make life difficult to see" is followed by "that's why last night and this morning always look the same to me." Say what? Maybe I'm missing something, but it sounds to me like he just didn't know what else to say next. He did carry through the looking/seeing theme, but ...

or,

I think I'll go and call up Rudy.
We worked together at the -factory- [not so great]
What'll I do if he asks what's new?
Nothing, what's with you?
Nothing much to do. [in my book, fabulous]

Good luck with your workshop! It's a great topic!


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Vixen
Date: 02 Mar 07 - 09:13 AM

What Dan said--the marriage between the melody and the lyric must be "speakable!" That *is* a function of meter, and knowing the different metrics of stressed and unstressed syllables in "naturally spoken" language (English is the only one I'm competent to write in...) and how they translate musically is *very* important. Just that aspect of meter alone would be a workshop in itself--an exemplar of this kind of work is the translation of "Aura Lee" to "Love Me Tender". This would be the aspect of prosody that deals with iambs (stressed/unstressed), anapests (unstressed, unstressed, stressed), etc. There's trochees, spondees, and a mess of others.

However, if your audience is a bunch of lyricists who are not necessarily the melody composers or the harmonic arrangers, some of them might not be interested in this kind of "metrical" prosody (just like they might not be interested in finding an appropriate key or mode for a lyric). Songwriting is a manifold venture, and some people focus more on words, some focus more on music, and some focus on both more or less simultaneously.

After reading Dan's post, I'm thinking you probably want to prepare two or three exercises that focus on the different aspects of prosody in songwriting, just in case you get a group of composers or arrangers, instead of lyricists.

Good luck!

V

PS, a good "take-away" to prepare for this kind of thing is a handout with the definitions and examples of the prosodic terms you cover.


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Bernard
Date: 02 Mar 07 - 02:36 PM

Which reminds me - Joni Mitchell... often her lyrics have to be twisted a little to 'fit' the tune. Something to do with the way she sings.

Look at the first verse of 'Big Yellow Taxi', for example...

They paved Paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel
A boutique and a swinging hotspot.

Sing it rhythmically isn't effective, it has to 'sway' a little as if being spoken.


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: SharonA
Date: 02 Mar 07 - 03:34 PM

Fantastic input, everybody! Keep it coming. I am the Queen of the Last Minute, so I won't be finalizing my workshop plan until this evening (the workshop is tomorrow!). So any more comments you can offer on the subject are more than welcome!!!

Thank you all,
Sharon


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Vixen
Date: 04 Mar 07 - 11:45 AM

SOOOO??? How did it go???


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: SharonA
Date: 04 Mar 07 - 01:22 PM

Thanks for asking, V!

Mine was one of the workshops scheduled for the first period of the day(each period being an hour and a quarter long), so things started off a bit slowly and we had some interruptions as latecomers trickled in. I ended up with 10 attendees. It took a while for me to "hit my stride", so to speak, so I felt like I wasn't engaging everyone in the topic to start with, but we all warmed up to it soon enough.

I started off by passing out a six-page handout of articles on prosody that I had found on various websites, for people to read later (and also to demonstrate the broadness of the topic and the different ways that different writers defined it). Then we had a brief, informal discussion of "what prosody means to you" and touched on some of the main points: major/minor key, tempo, meter, contrast, accentuation, scancion. We talked for a short bit about examples of good and bad prosody in popular songs.

Then I assigned a 20-minute writing exercise: take a few lines of a song you have written (or a song someone else has written) and "sound them out" for conversational flow, noticing which syllables were stressed, how voice inflection changed, etc. Then try to pick out a melody based on that sound, matching the pitch of your voice to musical notes. I wasn't looking for a "pretty" song to be written, I just wanted people to think about melody-writing in a prosodic way.

Then we re-convened to present to the group the results of the exercise. There were a lot of creative songs written, though most folks didn't really "do" the exercise I'd described. So for each presentation I made some comment about some element of the prosody that was on the mark or that could be improved, and the group discussed each song for a couple of minutes.

One guy who likes to write humorous songs made up a little ditty about how I was trying to teach them about prosody. His chorus started off with "Pros-o-DEEEE, pros-o-DEEE..." Of course, I had to point out that the PROS-o-dy of that chorus had a little problem! Then we chatted about how prosody can be intentionally "worsened" to make a funny song funnier. That discussion ended with another guy in the group singing "Pros-o-DEEEE, pros-o-DAHHH, pros-o-DEEEE, pros-o-DAH ha ha ha ha ha..."

I think everybody got a little something out of the workshop, and I hope they will follow up by reading my handout, exploring the topic further, and applying the principles of prosody in order to hone their songwriting skills.


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Fidjit
Date: 04 Mar 07 - 06:24 PM

The words of "What's the use of wings" does it for me

Chas


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Vixen
Date: 05 Mar 07 - 12:46 PM

I know how workshops can go at these things--I helped coordinate a songwriter's conference a couple years ago. Sometimes getting the participants to "do" what you're asking is next to impossible!

It sounds like your exercise nicely blended the musical and lyrical aspects of prosody, and I'm sure your students learned more than you might think!

Good Job!

V


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: SharonA
Date: 05 Mar 07 - 04:29 PM

Thanks, Vixen! I think it might have gone better if I'd been scheduled for a later workshop period. This is the fourth year that the PASA (Philadelphia Area Songwriters' Alliance [Pennsylvania USA]) has put on the event (we call it "Winter SongWorks"), and I've long since learned that the first period is always rough because folks are still in the "meet-and-greet" mental mode when they come into the workshop room. It takes a while for everyone to switch gears and start thinking about songwriting in general, much less the workshop topic in particular.

I hope you're right that the attendees left knowing a bit more than they did when they came in, and that they'll think twice the next time they starttoputtoomanysyllablesintoaline of their next song!

Anywho, if this thread generates any interest in PASA's activities, we have workshops every month, a showcase-and-open-stage house concert ten times a year, the Winter SongWorks event (workshops and open stage), the less formal Summer SongFest (workshops plus song circles and open stage), a pool party in the heat of July and a holiday party in the chill of December. Membership and most events are free. Events are held in the Philadelphia PA area (amazingly enough!) -- southeast Pennsylvania and western New Jersey (Cherry Hill - Collingswood area). All info is at www.pasamusic.org If you live in the area or are planning a visit, come join us!

Sharon Abbott
PASA co-chair


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Subject: RE: Need ideas for prosody workshop
From: Bert
Date: 05 Mar 07 - 06:38 PM

I'm glad to hear that PASA has picked up a bit. It was kinda slow when I was last in PA.

It sounds as though they are doing very well now.

If any 'Catters are in that area you must check them them out.


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