I’ve lived in New York City’s East Village for nearly 20
years, and have followed Regina Spektor’s career from its early
beginnings at the Sidewalk Cafe on Avenue A, just a block from my
apartment. Regina’s keyboard work provides an alluring accompaniment to
her equally impressive vocals. Let’s take a closer look at her singular
musical style. Click sheet music to enlarge.
1. Rock Riffs
Ex. 1 demonstrates the rock-oriented sonorities in
many of Regina’s songs. The first two bars have a fairly simple rock
riff that repeats, along with an off-beat bass line in bar 4 that
compliments the chunky quarter-notes in the right-hand part. Bar 5 has a
colorful Eb6 chord followed by a Bb triad with a few inversions in the bass, before arriving at the tonic on bar 6.
2. Harmonic Inversions and Rhythmic Propulsion
Spektor often manages to combine cunning harmonic structures that impart rhythmic variety to her music, as seen in Ex. 2.
The inverted chords of the right hand have their middle note dropped
down into the left hand part. This provides infectious rhythmic
propulsion, while painting the harmony with interestingly spaced chords.
I’ve added a few unusual harmonic choices of my own to show you just
how far you can go with this idea.
3. Fun with Mallets
Ex. 3 illustrates Spektor’s use of playful
instrumentation, like on her recent track “Don’t Leave Me.” Playing this
on a real marimba would require a fairly sophisticated four-mallet
technique. But using a keyboard with a good marimba sound, you can
create a realistic facsimile easily. Remember to think percussively,
just like a real mallet player would. This is a fun one!
4. Classical Components
Spektor’s strong classical piano training appears often throughout her music, as seen in Ex. 4.
Notice how the right hand provides the harmony while the left hand
plays a melody that is reminiscent of the composer Brahms. The left hand
melody comes directly from the F natural minor scale, with the exception of the E natural leading tone in bar 4.
Ex. 5 demonstrates Spektor’s fondness for using
colorful suspensions in her songs. Notice how we can add interesting
motion to even simple chords by using suspensions. Try experimenting
with moving the upper and inner voices of your own piano parts to create
chord tensions that draw listeners in.
Best of Both Worlds
“Regina Spektor’s piano work is a potent pairing of
classical harmony and technique and infectious rock ’n’ roll,” says
organist and composer Brian Charette, who has performed and
recorded with Joni Mitchell, Lou Donaldson, Bucky Pizzarelli, Michael
Bublé and Rufus Wainwright, in addition to leading his own jazz groups.
His latest album is Music For Organ Sextette, on SteepleChase Records. Find out more at kungfugue.com.