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.
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 briancharette.com