Five gold rings, but not on my time
June 26, 2020 3:23 PM   Subscribe

What do they call it when a song sets up an expectation of the tempo which the vocal melody then thwarts?

You can hear this sort of thing in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in the "five golden rings" bit (does that need a link? Ray Conniff), and in "My Life" in the "not on my time" bit.

Alice in Chains seems to be fond of this technique, whatever it's called, though sometimes they hold the note (like in "Man in the Box") and sometimes they'll change it, or do both (in "Dem Bones," I think they might be doing both--"Dust" vs. "rise" etc.)

Sorry for the undoubtedly sloppy description of what I'm talking about; I don't know much about music.
posted by johnofjack to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In at least “five golden rings” and “not on my time,” the phrase in question is sung half as fast as the surrounding lyrics. This basically stretches one measure across two. Maybe some people would associate this with the half-time concept. (My training is mostly classical, so I don’t know how the term is used in practice in popular styles.)

A related term is hemiola, which is a particular case of polyrhythms. Tchaikovsky was obsessed with two-against-three rhythms. I didn’t notice this in any of your examples.

In the bits I listened to of the Alice in Chains songs, I mostly just noticed an extremely syncopated melody and a lot of long note values. While this partially decouples the melody from the “groove,” the melody doesn’t really seem to be “in a different tempo.”

Maybe there is a good umbrella term for the rhythmic techniques you’re talking about. It’s not obvious to me what it would be.
posted by musicinmybrain at 4:04 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]

One possible related term would be "tacet". In jazz/pop type music, usually your rhythm section instruments like drum, bass, piano, and guitar will play along with the chord progression continuously, unless specifically instructed to drop out for a while.

The word "tacet" means "silent" so it is used for example if you have a harp or a trombone or whatever in your multimovement orchestral piece but they only play in movements I and IV. So their parts will just say something like "II - Tacet" and "III - Tacet", meaning that they are supposed to just rest for the entire movements.

In jazz and popular styles "tacet" is more often used for a measure or two--or perhaps a whole section--where an instrument that usually continually plays (like the rhythm section instruments mentioned above) are supposed to be silent for a few measures or for a section of the piece.

So for example in a chart of the Billy Joel piece, the "not on my time" measures would likely be marked "tacet" for the drums, bass, guitar, etc. Sometimes you'll refer to that little section as the "tacet" as in "let's pick it up at the tacet" - since everyone knows where that exact little spot is.

Going back a little further in music history, it's very common to contrast either a soloist or a small group of soloists or perhaps various smaller groups within a larger ensemble, with the sound of the whole ensemble playing together. The sections full ensemble together are often called "tutti" which means something like "all".

But forms like "concerto" are made up of contrasting sections where the full ensemble plays, the soloist (or small group of soloists) plays alone, and then the full ensemble and the soloist(s) all play together. The whole point of the form is those contrasts between large and small groups.

So that same type contrast has been used in music since basically forever, in all types of music. The concerto just happens to be a long-standing form that is almost entirely based on those kinds of contrasts.

But in say renaissance vocal music you'll often have one passage with full choir followed by a short section by a soloist, then full choir for a while, then a little duet interlude type thing, rinse and repeat all day long in all music styles before and after that.

All that could probably be summed up by the phrase "contrasts in musical texture and instrumentation".
posted by flug at 7:32 PM on June 26

Here is a list of common musical terms for changes in tempo. If pressed, I’d probably describe the “five gold rings” tempo change as allargando. Or possibly doppio piu lento.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:33 PM on June 26

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