The Theory Of Appreciative Comparison. Part 1

This article is based on a theory borrowed from Psychology, but adapted to the musical world.

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This article is based on a theory borrowed from Psychology, but adapted to the musical world. In Psychology, there is a theory that people can't fully appreciate something (or appreciate it more) until they have the complete opposite to compare it to. For example, if someone lives in the Midwest it is more probable that they will fully recognize and appreciate a warm sunny day. This is because they have been able to compare the great weather they are having now, with blizzards and ice storms a few months earlier. Where as a person living in California is less likely to fully recognize and appreciate beautiful weather because they are exposed to it constantly.

A common lyric used in many popular songs today wraps up the theory of Appreciative Comparison very well, You don't know what you've got, until it's gone. This serves as a good example because the two extreme opposites are exposed to this person (having something great and having nothing at all); and because of that, they are able to compare the two and in turn are more appreciative of the thing they once had.

So what I will be doing in this article is adapting this theory to the Musical realm in a practical way so that we (the artists) can more effectively write music and in turn have the audience recognize, understand, and appreciate our music much more.

However, before we begin using this theory in a practical way and applying it to our own music, we must understand the basic elements of music and compare they're extremes to discover the most efficient way of expressing a change in a musical idea/emotion/etc. Now on to the basics, there are 7 basic musical elements contained in most every song and I will list them below.

01. Melody 02. Harmony 03. Rhythm 04. Dynamics 05. Timbre 06. Form/Structure 07. Emotion

Melody refers to the arrangement of single tones that form a musical phrase or idea. This is usually the most catchy part of the song and is easily identifiable in most pieces. There are many extremes that we can use and compare with melody, but here is one example: A very consonant beautiful stepwise melody that moves slowly and gracefully // A very dissonant awkward leaping melody that moves fast and spontaneously. Each one of these melodies implies different things and is more effective musically in certain situations than the other.

Harmony is the chords played underneath a melody as an accompaniment or the sonorities created with the melody (if you are thinking and composing horizontally). Here is an example of two different ways you can use harmony. Strictly Diatonic and a simple progression that follows the rules // Pandiatonic progression which doesn't follow any rules at all, but still stays within the same key. Obviously this isn't the only difference or opposite that can be matched together, but it is a good example of how you can expand on the extremes of each element of musicality just by going into more detail. As with Melody, the different Harmonies chosen imply unique and separate ideas and emotions too.

Rhythm refers to the note durations (of any musical idea/phrase) and/or sequencing of these durations to form patterns. Rhythm is important and can be assigned to melodies, harmonies, themes etc. Here are two opposites: Predictable rhythmic pattern that repeats // Unpredictable and violent rhythmic pattern that is through composed and never repeats. Again, each of these has different meanings and is more effective at expressing certain emotions than others.

Dynamics refers to how loud or soft the music is at any one point or during a whole section/passage/entire piece. Dynamics can be assigned to a particular instrument, group of instruments, section, theme, melody, etc. These two opposites of Dynamics are very commonly used with great results musically: Very soft // Very loud. This could mean that one section of music is played very softly and immediately after the next section is very loud. Like the rest of the elements of music, each dynamic level and pattern has a different meaning.

Timbre refers to the sound quality produced by an instrument or group of them playing together. Here is an example on guitar: A Guitar playing Sul Ponticello (by the bridge) which creates a very metallic and thin tone // A Guitar playing Sul Tasto (on the neck) which creates a warm and thick sound quality. Other things that affect the Timbre of the music are: Articulations, Materials used to play the instrument with, etc. Each Timbre and Sound quality has a different meaning and can effectively be used to express that meaning musically.

Form/Structure refers to the way the musical piece (or sections of the whole) is organized. There are many ways you can form a piece of music and here is an example of two completely different ways of structuring a song: A very strict and balanced form which was intended and used throughout the whole composition process // A natural and intuitive form which was not pre-planned and is uneven in some sections. Each of these ways of forming your music is completely valid; however their use is more appropriate in some styles and situations than others.

Emotion refers to the feeling you want to express and the listener to understand throughout the entire piece, a passage, melody etc. Two different types of emotion that can be used in a piece of music (but are not complete opposites) are: Slightly irritated at something (like a bug flying in your face) // Unbridled fury and about to erupt with passionate Anger. This example uses only one emotion, Anger, but the details are what separate them from each other. Using different elements of Music that I've explained above, will be able to express these different levels of Anger Intensity.

That covers all of the 7 basic elements of music and hopefully you have gained insight into a new way of thinking and the amount of detail that can be placed into your song. However, before I leave you I will give an example of the way that this theory can be used musically.

01. Lets say you are writing a song and you have the first section of music composed. It is a dark but melodramatic song.

02. However, after this section you want to express Triumph over this darkness. You're not exactly sure where to start, but you want this to be a very expressive point in the music that everyone picks up on (try to make it as effective as possible).

03. This is where the Theory of Appreciative Comparison comes into play. By understanding this theory and using the technique (that I will describe in the Second Article), you will be able to more effectively express your musical ideas (especially the changes) and plan out a course of action on paper.

Now this might sound very structured and condemning the intuitive nature of music; however the technique I will be explaining in the second article, allows a gradation of participation. It will be this way so that those of you who like to improvise for the majority of your musical compositions, will still find some use with the Theory of Appreciative Comparison, and the following technique.

This concludes the first part of the Theory of Appreciative Comparison, I hope this article has opened your musical mind and intrigued you to look forward to the next article in this 2 part series; which will actually deal with using the Theory of Appreciative Comparison, to more effectively express what you have to say to the listener and in turn the listener will be able to more fully recognize and appreciate your music. Until next time, take care and keep composing fellow artists.

Kole has just finished two years of music composition and classical guitar at Indiana University; but he will be transferring to, G.I.T., in the fall. He also is completing his debut album Exile through Empire Records which should be available within the next few months. He regularly teaches many students for guitar/songwriting and has studied with Guitar Virtuoso and HolyHell Guitarist Tom Hess. Kole has also just finished co-authoring a great new instructional e-book for guitar titled The Next Step: Serious Improvement For The Developing Guitarist, which can be found and purchased at thenextstepguitar.com. If you would like to find out more information about Kole, his music, or lessons feel free to visit his site at kolemusician.com or send him an e-mail at kole@kolemusician.com.

50 comments sorted by best / new / date

    wtfisthatadew
    SlashRules wrote: this is waaaaay to technical. i mean its a freakin song. just play your ideas and emotions.
    well, he was just trying to get people to understand that music can be complicated AND still express feelings and emotions. music is poetry. its words and images that mean something when you dig deeper. thats how i look at it -Adam
    saad_nirvana
    err its a whole lot of useless crap i feel... when a song is to be written,it will be written without the need of ****edup theories and crap..it all depends on the person writing a song produced out of theory isnt as good sounding or feeling as a song written out by applying yourself,not a theory
    NosferatuZodd09
    saad_nirvana wrote: err its a whole lot of useless crap i feel... when a song is to be written,it will be written without the need of ****edup theories and crap..it all depends on the person writing a song produced out of theory isnt as good sounding or feeling as a song written out by applying yourself,not a theory
    dunno, Inferi writes their stuff from theory and well say... it pisses all over nirvana's grave :S, somewhat interesting article, ill check out part two i guess
    sharpiemarker
    axe_2_grind : ...we must understand the basic elements of music and compare theyre extremes... Dude, what the hell is happening to the english language in america?? "They're" is the conjunction of "they are". He was supposed to use "their" if I am to understand his meaning correctly. Anyway, english lesson over. I'm just bitchin' cause I see this kind of thing on the forums all the time, I just don't expect it in an article.
    I think you're looking for the word contraction. See? Grammar slip-ups happen.
    Jawshuwa
    saad_nirvana wrote: err its a whole lot of useless crap i feel... when a song is to be written,it will be written without the need of ****edup theories and crap..it all depends on the person writing a song produced out of theory isnt as good sounding or feeling as a song written out by applying yourself,not a theory
    Loving the fact that "nirvana" is in his screenname. I hope everyone else makes the connection.
    megadethdefying
    Jawshuwa : saad_nirvana wrote: err its a whole lot of useless crap i feel... when a song is to be written,it will be written without the need of ****edup theories and crap..it all depends on the person writing a song produced out of theory isnt as good sounding or feeling as a song written out by applying yourself,not a theory Loving the fact that "nirvana" is in his screenname. I hope everyone else makes the connection.
    nice... article...interesting actually - very weird though...i'll wait for part 2
    yawn
    This introduction is decent enough, though I look forward to the next article. I enjoy your analytical approach to music, and hopefully your future article(s) will draw up some fresh insight (instead of "common sense concepts").
    SlashRules
    this is waaaaay to technical. i mean its a freakin song. just play your ideas and emotions.
    5e1v5h0
    "Where as a person living in California is less likely to fully recognize and appreciate beautiful weather because they are exposed to it constantly." I LIVE IN CALIFORNIA AND WE GET SHITTY WHEATHER A LOT
    HavokStrife
    Not that bad, I kinda felt like I was in school while I was reading it... Just glad it isn't another column about picking...
    spikedemon!
    Interesting stuff. Nice to know, but its hard to take all this too serious when its so drawn out. Yeah music is what your make it, and every part of a song can be some much better/worse from small changes in your composition and overall performance.
    Wildnight
    Yeah, nice, but most of the other guys who write stuff like this say the same... so this article sounds more like an expansion than some new stuff
    Stampede
    hippyguitardude wrote: 1st... sounds intruiging... i'll have to read the next one
    agreed. thus have opened thy mind a bit.
    1stBass
    sharpiemarker wrote: axe_2_grind : ...we must understand the basic elements of music and compare theyre extremes... Dude, what the hell is happening to the english language in america?? "They're" is the conjunction of "they are". He was supposed to use "their" if I am to understand his meaning correctly. Anyway, english lesson over. I'm just bitchin' cause I see this kind of thing on the forums all the time, I just don't expect it in an article. I think you're looking for the word contraction. See? Grammar slip-ups happen.
    No, he really didn't, you retard
    wyldeshredder
    powerage225 wrote: now if we can only teach this to hardcore and black metal players...
    i have to disagree with you there when you say that about black metal.Although there are no solos,black metal is one of the most creative genres of metal. Black Metal does change in intensity as stated in the article. It explores the musical world,unlike many(not all) death metal bands,who seem to only portray one emotion.Of course there are exceptions to black metal, as some bands are uncreative,just like in every genre, but if we look at the whole black metal is very creative.
    Dr. A
    wtfisthatadew wrote: SlashRules wrote: this is waaaaay to technical. i mean its a freakin song. just play your ideas and emotions. well, he was just trying to get people to understand that music can be complicated AND still express feelings and emotions. music is poetry. its words and images that mean something when you dig deeper. thats how i look at it -Adam
    Agreed. I'm glad to see that someone (at least) has tried to outline some basic musical theory in order to help with compositions in the future. Music is a universal language. Think of the masters of art: Even the more modern art that seems at first not to follow any rules is intrinsically bound to universal and biological facts that weave together and allow the individual to form a perception of a personal universe as well as artistic theory and technique. Sorry.
    Shor-T Zero
    The article was really good. A lot of it is basic knowledge, but I wouldn't let these people that say this article sucks deter you, considering they may not understand what you are talking about. It's acceptable too, since they're barely getting past 8th grade. But can't blame them. Great article here, and I like how you are explaining these subtle effects in music...still, music is "just there" rather than it ever being explained. Good lesson and article, I like it.
    punkrocklove999
    Prince Albert wrote: Dude, what the hell is happening to the english language in america?? are you from saskatchewan I'm pretty sure it's gone down the proverbial drain. The article wasn't that great by the way.
    z4twenny
    i'll wait till part 2 before i judge fully, so far i don't like it not that it's bad but sounds a bit restricting and to me at least music should be freeing. but again, i'll wait till the next article.
    axe_2_grind
    ...we must understand the basic elements of music and compare theyre extremes...
    Dude, what the hell is happening to the english language in america?? "They're" is the conjunction of "they are". He was supposed to use "their" if I am to understand his meaning correctly. Anyway, english lesson over. I'm just bitchin' cause I see this kind of thing on the forums all the time, I just don't expect it in an article.
    Prince Albert
    Dude, what the hell is happening to the english language in america??
    I'm pretty sure it's gone down the proverbial drain. The article wasn't that great by the way.
    anthrax233
    If only everyone would understand music's "meaning" instead of thinking about it in bits and pieces. It just breaks my heart thinking about kids sitting there writting music and saying THIS SONG WILL GO: INTRO, VERSE, CHORUS, VERSE, CHORUS, BRIDGE, SOLO, CHORUS. mainstream music will destroy all creativity in music
    SleepyandHollow
    Alternatively, theory of appreciative comparison could just mean getting a really crappy band to play before you in a gig
    aeolian
    You've caught my interest. I'm excited to see where you take this.
    J.A.M
    SleepyandHollow wrote: Alternatively, theory of appreciative comparison could just mean getting a really crappy band to play before you in a gig
    LOL, you're right there! Good lesson, but this stuff isn't really new to me; since I heard Metallica's One, I've recognized quiet stuff makes louder stuff louder, and slower stuff makes slower stuff slower. I employed this technique in my art exam to a large extent; I talked about how the inclusion of dark colours would make some parts brighter because of comparison to the darker tones the human eye makes.
    crewdanny
    Very nice column!! A very thoughtful effort, and I look forward to the next one. On a site where the currently-highest rated columns are on on-stage antics and sweep-picking, this column is refreshing. Keep up the good work, see you next time!!!!
    clint86
    I like the article but I don't think the greatest poets of the past 50 years had this mind set. I'm sure they wrote their best stuff when they "just wrote" and just let go using a pencil and paper.
    Cycon
    J.A.M wrote: SleepyandHollow wrote: Alternatively, theory of appreciative comparison could just mean getting a really crappy band to play before you in a gig LOL, you're right there! Good lesson, but this stuff isn't really new to me; since I heard Metallica's One, I've recognized quiet stuff makes louder stuff louder, and slower stuff makes slower stuff slower. I employed this technique in my art exam to a large extent; I talked about how the inclusion of dark colours would make some parts brighter because of comparison to the darker tones the human eye makes.
    No shit sherlock! How tough was that for you to figure that out? The article is quite good, I'm looking forward to the second part.
    Dannystrumpop
    slower stuff makes slower stuff slower.
    Wow, say that with your mouth full of jacob's crackers.
    guitaringsailor
    Good article you've definatly got a hold of what music is all about, there's allot of people here that doesn't get it and for all of you, sit down listen to some songs and try to feel the emotions, then you will probably evolve quite a lot musicaly. Great article i'll read the rest!
    ClickClick
    god damn people the grammar nazi fad was over 3 years ago. Anyways very nice article, looking forward to the second part
    Kole*
    Thanks to everyone for reading part 1. I'm glad to see that many of you are looking forward to part 2 of this series and I can guarantee that it will be worth the wait! Take care and if any of you have questions feel free to e-mail me at Kole@KoleMusician.com; I always reply. -Kole
    Edde
    anthrax233 wrote: ...mainstream music will destroy all creativity in music
    I take it you made a typo and actually meant HAS destroyed rather than WILL. :/
    travman_401
    axe_2_grind wrote: ...we must understand the basic elements of music and compare theyre extremes... Dude, what the hell is happening to the english language in america?? "They're" is the conjunction of "they are". He was supposed to use "their" if I am to understand his meaning correctly. Anyway, english lesson over. I'm just bitchin' cause I see this kind of thing on the forums all the time, I just don't expect it in an article.
    Hoo givz a siht? itz juus 1 GRAMRE mIsstaik! Great article!!