For the musically clueless
December 5, 2016 10:44 AM   Subscribe

What's it called when verses are sung faster/at a different rate then another part of the verse and where do I get more of it?

Foreword: I have no idea what I'm talking about when it comes to music. I don't know the difference between a melody or tone. Pretend I'm five and I haven't taken basic high school music classes or never ready poetry. Music sings to my soul (ha..) but I'm only a clueless listener.

In the song Hallelujah (I've only heard the rendition by Rufus Wainwright), As each verse is sung it speeds up. For example these three lines:
I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
Have a very soft feel and the piano is slower/more repetitive.

The second half of that verse is faster and the piano sounds louder/different then the first three lines.
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
This change is repeated in nearly all the verses of the song. What is this called? This.. start out slow but get faster/louder/more impactful. I feel like the music climbs. Whatever this is, it does things to me. Things I cannot explain, but I know I LOVE IT. This is, what I think must be, what it feels like to have your soul soar.

I'm fairly certain all my favorite songs do this. I don't particularity care what the lyrics are, there are j-pop songs that do this that I love.

Please point me in the direction of more songs that do this.
posted by INFJ to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
To answer your above-the-fold question: The technical musical terms for what you're describing are accelerando (getting faster) and crescendo (getting louder). The word rubato is also used to describe when a performer varies the tempo of a piece for expressive effect.

To answer your question at the end: Go or Go Ahead, also by Rufus Wainwright, has a similar build that you might appreciate (though it only happens once in the song.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:44 AM on December 5, 2016

The overall tempo does not change in Hallelujah... the time signature remains constant. But it feels faster because the note values in the "faster" section are sung differently by most performers. The rhyme scheme changes too. All this combines to give the illusion of a tempo change.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:49 AM on December 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Mostly Spotify links ahoy!

I'm listening to Rufus Wainwright's version of Hallelujah, and I'm not noticing much tempo change at all [beats are very consistent] - I wonder if you're interpreting the dynamic [volume] changes as speed changes.

That being said, the gradual rise you're hearing in volume is called "crescendo," and the subsequent fall is "decrescendo" or "diminuendo;" Wikipedia has more detailed general info, especially for the gradual dynamic changes you're referring to.

If you're looking for a *really* gradual climb, I always think of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Storm - the radio version goes from the beginning of the track to about 6:19 or so, and it's one long, slow build until you're on your feet pounding along with the beat and it feels so uplifting.

I also think of New Pornographer's Bleeding Heart Show, even though it's not as gradual, especially when the drums come in - it's a build, but larger leaps and bounds, whereas Storm is more of a gentle incline.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 11:53 AM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

The lovely thing about that verse is that the lyrics describe the structure. The melody is literally going up the scale, which is probably part of what you're hearing as "climbing". I don't know enough theory to help more on this but maybe someone else can recommend songs with similarly uplifting chord progressions.
posted by yeahlikethat at 12:03 PM on December 5, 2016

I just remembered another piece of music that does this to me. Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Eve/Sarajevo. Also pretty much any rendition of Carol of the Bells.

Specifically the part where you would hear "Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas"

Is it just crescendo I'm hearing?
posted by INFJ at 12:17 PM on December 5, 2016

I think what's turning you on is the ascending notes up the scale. The tempo is pretty consistent during the "Merry, Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas" part there. It's at 2:30 ish, for others.

posted by humboldt32 at 12:22 PM on December 5, 2016

Yeah, the tempo is very steady from what I can hear.

There is some change in the singing and accompaniment--both are a little louder on second half of the verse, the piano uses frequent more and thicker chords.

I think it's mainly the structure of the verse that gives this impression, though:

Harmonically, the first two lines ("I've heard there was a secret chord that David played, and it pleased the Lord") continue alternating the same two chords (I, vi, I, vi...), which gives sort of a starting-and-stopping, not quite going much of anywhere, feeling. The next line (I IV V I) goes a *little* further, but not much. But the second half goes much farther afield (I IV V vi VI V/vi vi IV, I ?), including a secondary dominant--the effect of it is that it's all one long phrase that doesn't return back "home" till the end of the verse.

melodically, it's a similar pattern: the first two lines each repeat the same upwards melodic figure that goes from sol to la. The third line is a new figure, but it's just an answer to the first two that returns from la back to sol. But the second half is one long melodic phrase, that goes up the scale to mi (on "composing") before coming back down.

Both contribute to the feeling that the first half of the verse is starting and stopping and repeating itself, while the second is one long fluid phrase.

It sets up an expectation of a regular starting-and-stopping pattern and then violates that expectation with a phrase that crosses a longer segment of time.

I don't know if I have really good examples... one that's quite different but still strikes me as a similar idea is at the end of "Dark Side of the Moon": again the beginning has frequent stops:
All that you touch
All that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
That continues for a really long time, and then finally there's
and everything under the sun is in tune but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.
which is a phrase that keeps going across beats that you've been trained by now to expect as stopping points.
posted by floppyroofing at 12:24 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

And I think "carol of the bells" is another case of a contrast between shorter phrases and longer ones. By the time you get to "gaily they ring" and then more dramatically "merry, merry,..." you've heard that repeated dum-dadadum motif so many times that your ear is desperate for a longer phrase with a different rhythm and contour.
posted by floppyroofing at 12:36 PM on December 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is just harmonic rhythm acceleration. Harmonic rhythm is the speed at which the chords change per bar/phrase. Here, the chords change at twice the rate in the second half of the verse as they do in the first, building tension.

Examples would be 'I want to hold your hand' where the harmonic rhythm doubles at the chorus, or 'She loves you' where it halves at the pre-chorus.

On the surface, musicians will mark the structural change by altering their emphasis or accelerating tempo slightly or adding fills/ornaments.
posted by Coda Tronca at 1:11 PM on December 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

In "Merry, merry, merry Christmas" more syllables of the lyric are squeezed in to the same number of measures of the music, so the words accelerate even though the music doesn't.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:18 PM on December 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

"Here, the chords change at twice the rate in the second half of the verse as they do in the first, building tension. "

On "the fourth, the fifth", there's an extra chord on "fifth", but that's the only exception, the rest is at the same harmonic rhythm as the start. And if you left that V chord out, it'd ruin the musical joke in the lyrics, but there'd still be a strong contrast between the two halves of the verse. Still, it does give a little kick at the start of that second half, I agree....
posted by floppyroofing at 1:22 PM on December 5, 2016

(I stand corrected floppyroofing - the song does indeed have a powerful accelerating effect!)
posted by Coda Tronca at 1:27 PM on December 5, 2016

What's a Chord?
posted by INFJ at 2:50 PM on December 5, 2016

"What's a chord" is such a great question!

When Wainwright sings I heard there was a secret chord..., what he's singing is called a melody: a sequence of notes (or 'tones', as you said), one after the other.

Think of a note as what happens when you hit a single key on a piano one time. If you pick a key on a piano and play it, a hammer inside the piano strikes a string, and that makes the air in the room shake back and forth a certain number of times per second. That shaking air makes parts of your ear shake, which your brain interprets as a sound.

Back to the piano. If you hit a key, then hit the key immediately to the right, the second key will make the air shake slightly faster than the first did. If you play the key immediately to the left of the first key, it will make the air shake slightly slower. Here is a video where you can hear this (ignore the narration).

For example, this note happens when air shakes back and forth 440 times per second. This note is what happens when air shakes back and forth about 260 times per second. When you listen to them, you'll notice that the first (which shakes the air faster) sounds higher to you than the second (which shakes the air slower). That's your brain interpreting the air shaking, and we call the relative highness or lowness you hear 'pitch'.

A chord is playing multiple notes at the same time -- usually three or more. The difference in pitch between each pair of notes is called an interval. A 'fourth' and a 'fifth' are both kinds of intervals. A fourth is the difference between the first two notes in the classic 'here comes the bride' wedding march; a fifth is just a little bigger.

There are lots of different kinds of chords. Two of the most common are called major chords and minor chords. People who were brought up listening to quote-unquote western music -- like Rufus Wainwright, or the wedding march, or Beethoven -- tend to interpret major chords as sounding happy and minor chords as sounding sad.

So when Wainwright sings

It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth --
the minor fall and the major lift

and the piano is playing, the music is doing what the lyrics say: the interval between the note sung on the word 'this' and the word 'fourth' is a fourth; the interval between the note sung on 'this' and 'fifth' is a fifth; the chord the piano plays on 'minor fall' is minor; the chord the piano plays on 'major lift' is major. The minor chord sounds sad (a fall) while the major chord sounds happy (a lift).

ANYWAY. Check out the Jeff Buckley cover of Hallelujah, or a version by Leonard Cohen, who wrote it.

Probably what you are responding to here isn't so much the music doing what the lyrics say, but the music getting louder, plus the particular order of the chords in Hallelujah. There are a lot of conventions in western music, like LOUDER = MORE EXCITING, or FASTER = MORE EXCITING, or CERTAIN ORDER OF CHORDS = VERY SATISFYING. When you listen to lots of western music, you internalize those conventions and reliably respond in particular ways when you hear them.

Song writers take advantage of this. There are entire songs that are nothing but getting louder from start to finish, like White Rabbit. When you combined getting louder with getting faster -- like In the Hall of the Mountain King -- things get VERY EXCITING INDEED.
posted by amery at 7:37 PM on December 5, 2016 [9 favorites]

I feel like a terrible nitpicker here, but a correction to amery's otherwise good explanation:
the interval between the note sung on the word 'this' and the word 'fourth' is a fourth; the interval between the note sung on 'this' and 'fifth' is a fifth
I believe "Fourth" and "fifth" are usually sung on la and ti, and "this" on sol, which makes those two intervals a second and a third, respectively. I guess it'd be possible to sing "this" on mi instead, which would make the intervals work out to a fourth and a fith, but I don't think I've heard that.

So I've always assumed the lyrics refer to chord numbers instead; "fourth" is on the IV chord, "fifth" on the V (and "minor fall" is on a minor chord (vi) and "major lift" on a major (V), as amery point out).

The whole system (multiple systems, actually) of naming chords is a subject in itself, but to a first approximation, chords are either major or minor, and are named after the lowest ("root") note of the chord, because the major/minor quality and the root note are what make the biggest difference to how they work.

Every song has a "home" note, which we call "do", or "1", and in the system I'm using, the roman numeral tells you how far you have to go up the scale from that note to get to the root of the chord.

So the I chord with root on the first note of the scale, the IV on the fourth note of the scale, the V on the fifth.

We also write major chords in upper case and minor chords in lower case.

So when I say that the verse starts with alternating chords: I, vi, I, vi... I'm saying it's alternating between two chords, the major chord built on the first scale degree, and the minor chord built on the sixth scale degree. You can actually hear that in the Rufus Wainright version if you listen carefully--the chords line up with the lyrics like:
I've heard there was a secret chord
     I                 vi
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
     I                    vi
But you don't really care for music, do you?
    IV               V               I
In the introduction and the start of the verse you can hear that the piano is alternating between two chords that sound different, one maybe "darker" or more "sad" than the other--that's the minor vi. Then on the third line it does something different, and on the second half of the verse it's even more different.

There's a whole language of chords and conventions for which chords are likely to follow which other chords, which most of us process subconsciously based on a number of things, partly just our experience hearing lots of other songs.

In that system the "I vi I vi" sequence is not much movement at all, the "IV V I" is a little more, and the progression in the second half of the verse ventures much farther into the woods (still nothing unusual, but farther relative to the rest of the song) before returning home.
posted by floppyroofing at 8:03 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the correction!
posted by amery at 8:44 AM on December 6, 2016

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