Rubato

ru·ba·to/ro͞oˈbädō/MUSICnoun

  1. 1.the temporary disregarding of strict tempo to allow an expressive quickening or slackening, usually without altering the overall pace.

adjective

  1. 1.performed rubato.”a rubato phrase”

I just learned this term and it’s wonderful, and what makes it so is its versatility. It is immediately clear that this term can be used outside of music. The idea is to always maintain the pulse of the piece, but use the quickening or slackening of pace to smudge the smaller subdivisions of time for interest and expression.

As a modest example of the concept I rehash Gillian Welch’s The Revelator and draw your attention to the last verse, wherein, in beautiful harmony, Welch and Rawlings sing the line

“And watch the waves, and move … the … fader. Time’s a revelator…”

Note the intentional slackening of pace when they sing “move the fader”. Now, the sentiment expressed in the lyric at that point is one of seeking to head back home, or to some place where one can live life at a slower pace, and so the intentional slowing or slurring of tempo in the vocals is also an example of another favorite concept and word, prosody.

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