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Perfect shark music: How can the principle of prosody be used in contemporary song-writing?


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A dead black screen hangs lifeless as random sound effects bubble and swirl. These freaky underwater effects, washes and blips, sound like they were created on an early 1970’s synthesiser. Without warning an ominous rumble of bass swells - Dum da - a simple two-note motif. The first note, an “E” is a semi tone lower and longer in duration than the second. This “E” drifts menacingly until abruptly the second note of “F” cuts it off. Above these sounds edgy chimes jingle and float like static.

An opening credit appears in bold white filling two thirds of the screen, a Zanuck / Brown Production. Another - Dum da - the production credit slowly fades. The motif is repeated - Dum da - Dum da. Three actors’ names flash Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss. As these names hover the motif plays again. Now it’s repeated four times - Dum da - Dum da - Dum da - Dum da. The actor’s names fade and we cut to an underwater camera traveling at speed a meter above a sandy white seabed. Little fish dart in front of the screen and seaweed wafts from side to side. Accompanying this visual change the music intensifies. The two-note bass motif is continuously repeated at a much faster tempo than previously. A thumping low note on piano is played accentuating beats two and four. The orchestral score is building. An angular seventh arpeggio of brass punches through and the movie title in bold type emerges, “JAWS”.

The above describes the first fifty seconds of action in the 1975 Hollywood blockbuster “Jaws”, directed by Steven Spielberg with soundtrack composed by John Williams. Paul Tonks in his book “Film music” labels the score of “Jaws” as “perfect shark music” and he observes that film composers utilise music to “manipulate our emotions” (Tonks, 2001). Just like film composers it is theorised that contemporary songwriters also use music to manipulate emotion. In “Writing music for hit songs” Jai Josefs comments with this analogy, “As pop composers, whether we write our own lyrics or collaborate with others, we are basically film scorers – and the film we are scoring is the lyric message of the song”. He goes onto write …”marriage of music and lyric in emotional tone is what I refer to as prosody” (Josefs, 1989).

In this dissertation I explore the principle of prosody by analysing a song titled “Galileo (Someone Like You)” which is written by Irish singer/songwriter Declan O’Rourke. The analysis is mainly musicological in focus and is implemented within five specific areas: lyric, performance, rhythm, harmony and melody. This dissertation is an opportunity for me to deepen my understanding of prosody, which I hope will increase my song-writing skills.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Prosody, songwriting, lyric, performance, rythm, harmony, melody
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Divisions: Schools > School of Media Arts
Depositing User: Gaby Douglas
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2012 00:51
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 03:00

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