Know Your Music: Tempo Rubato as a Persuasive Technique

When you lay on a couch and listen to Chopin, you’re bound to notice something very specific. One of the things that makes a Chopin piano piece is the lingering resonance and/or the quick succession of certain notes or phrases. There’s a technical term for that. It’s called “tempo rubato.” (If you’re burning to hear an example, try Martha Argerich’s performance of Nocturne No. 16 in E Flat, Op 55, No. 2.)

I would suggest (and I do) that tempo rubato is a rhetorical technique within the form of musical performance. It is a style meant to express improvisation and feeling. . . pathos. By speeding up, we are hurried through the piece and by slowing down we are forced to contemplate that musical phrase. Like any good romantic period piece, it emotes and manipulates. Tempo rubato manipulates its audiences into feeling differently than if the piece were kept in strict time.

I know, I know–you may be asking yourself why this is important. Why does it matter what it’s called as long as it’s effective, right?  Well, I guess I’m kind of a music geek (I did minor in it), but the effect that music has on our current society is undeniable. Don’t you think?

How many musicians have benefited from Apple commercials using their songs (The Ting Tings, Yael Naim, CSS, Prototypes, etc.) or car/alcohol/sports commercials (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Young Dubliners, etc):

(Which, I am a fan of Spread Your Love by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It’s definitely a driving-in-your-car-feeling-bad-ass song.)

Music is used to add to other persuasive forms/arguments/compositions, yes. It’s used in movies, tv, commercials, grocery stores, department stores, etc., etc., but music also has its own persuasive techniques within itself. I once learned in some music class which I can’t pin down that what most people were drawn to most of the time was the use contrast and repetition. That’s why songs on the Top 40 lists follow the same basic format: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus.

This is where tempo rubato comes in. This technique is used to offer that contrast which maintains a person’s interest while repeating a phrase that we’ve already heard. It draws us in because there is familiarity and keeps us there because there are slight changes. It persuades us to keep listening.

Trading iPods

To continue on my music-is-a-form-of-communication rant, I recommend you read and/or listen to this short piece by Andre Codrescu.

In this piece, he describes listening to his wife’s ipod after his dies and the world that opens up to him after doing so. I like the potential of this. I like the thought that our choices of what to put on our ipod communicates our lives to other people and that those choices impact their lives as well. Call me idealistic, but I find it a beautiful concept.

Funky Remixes

I talked before about about Musopen for a good place to access classical music that’s in the public domain. Now, I can’t do quite that well again, but I can give you an option to update your music selection. Funky Remixes is a site dedicated to, well, funky remixes; however, they do generally try to list music that uses creative commons licensing. So, even if you need something a little more lively to accompany your project, check out the site and see if anything will fit. You might find something totally sweet you could use. They even have mixes from some notables such as Beastie Boys, David Byrne, Le Tigre, The Rapture (a personal fav), and Danger Mouse & jemini. Oh yes, and they’re all free to download.

If you need a recommendation, then I’d start with “I’M FUNKYN’LOVE YOU” by DEEJAWU. It’s just groovy–er, funky.

Analyze That Melody

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about music these days. And its role in rhetoric. I don’t know. It just seems like as much as we try to keep the disciplines apart, they keep strolling down lovers’ lane hand in hand.

Music is so integral to most societies worldwide–whether they define it as “music” or no. For instance:

1. My boss not too long ago criticized a coworker for having rap on her ipod and then promptly handed the scissor sisters for her to listen to. What happens if the under-person does not accept the higher-ups version of what is “good” or “acceptable/respectable music?” Does their relationship change in some way? Does their dynamic dampen because they don’t cherish the things that the other person does?

2. I will be driving some coworkers (of a different job) on a 2/3 hour trip. Trust me, they will be forced to listen to my music and the things I like. Now, I will try to be sympathetic and stay away from some of the most polarizing kind of stuff (ie Linkin Park–you’ll either love ’em or hate ’em), but I don’t think they’d want to hear my Aphex Twin or Boards of Canada either. Which I guess will make us stick with something that most everybody likes (The Temptations it is–or Clapton, no one can “no” to Clapton) or just not play anything at all. Does this mean that we might actually have to talk to each other!?

3. Abstract music intrigues me. What’s it trying to say exactly? Hmm, I think it is trying to communicate, even to persuade in some way, but what is it that it’s trying to communicate to me? For example, from Opsound,  a piece called “sailing.” I mean, how exactly is this “sailing” and how does it connect to the overarching message of the piece?

I guess, I just think it’s there. It’s worth exploring and delving into the many, many facets that music encompasses–from social connections to identity to what the music does itself. Seriously. The musician (in most times) very intentionally choose a minor key over a major key for a specific reason and that reason is trying to communicate with its audience. It’s just another form of persuasion.

The interdisciplinary ideals make me salivate.

Photo from [nati] of Flickr.