Another Take On The 'Appoggiatura'

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In a segment on Tuesday, we explained how a musical device called an appoggiatura can cause a reaction in people's brains that is instrumental in making a song sad. We pointed to the Adele song "Someone Like You" as an example. Some listeners say we got it wrong, so Melissa Block talks with composer, conductor and music commentator Rob Kapilow to set the record straight.


And now, an appoggiatura apologia. That word again...



ADELE: (Singing) I heard that you're settled down, that you...

BLOCK: Yesterday on the program, we discussed why Adele's Grammy-winning ballad "Someone Like You" is such a tearjerker. And we mentioned research showing that music with what's known as appoggiaturas evokes especially strong emotional reactions. We defined an appoggiatura as something not unlike a grace note, sometimes dissonant, that resolves into a main note. And we use this vocal dip when Adele sings the word you as an example.


ADELE: (Singing) Never mind, I'll find someone like you.

BLOCK: I cringed at Shutter's listener, Marcus Maroney of Houston. The slight flip on you is clearly not an appoggiatura. He goes on to say, an appoggiatura, or leaning note, must occur on the beat and be half the length of the main note value. To put it simply, the appoggiatura must produce an accented dissonance, not merely a fleeting one. And by way of example, Mr. Maroney points us to the word connection when Kermit the Frog sings "Rainbow Connection."


JIM HENSON: (Singing as Kermit) Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection.

BLOCK: And, in The Beatles' song, "We Can Work It Out," Mr. Maroney steers us to the words: my way and your way.


THE BEATLES: (Singing) Try to see it my way. Do I have to keep on talking 'til I can't go on? Why you see it your way?

BLOCK: Well, for more insight into the appoggiatura, we have reached the composer and conductor, Rob Kapilow. He's the man behind the series called "What Makes It Great," which explains great works of music.

Rob Kapilow, help us out here. Those examples that we just heard, are those actual appoggiaturas?

ROB KAPILOW: You know, I think it's words like this that make people hate classical music or even hate people who like classical music. You know, I mean, these are fussy definitions for things that just happen naturally in music. Yes, if you want to be really technical in your own music theory classroom. Yes, in truth, the real definition is an accented leaning note on the beat and if I were in a music theory class, I would go with something like this.


KAPILOW: Appoggiatura resolution.

There's absolutely no rule about how long it has to be, but at heart, it simply means a dissonance that resolves to a consonance.

BLOCK: You're there at your piano at your home in New Jersey, and help us out again. Does an appoggiatura have to be a downward step? Does it have to be resolving from a higher note to a lower note?

KAPILOW: No. In fact, it can go in any direction and, in fact, the very first note of Mozart, "A Minor Sonata..."


KAPILOW: ...starts lower. It can be lower. It can be upper. And all it has to do is be an accented dissonance on a beat, if you want to be really pedantic, resolving either up or down. But the really heart of it is that it's a dissonance.


KAPILOW: And then resolves to a consonance and that's what your scientist was really talking about, that dissonance-consonance relationship, tension release. It's what we have in mystery stories. It's what we have in music and it's been there from time immemorial.

BLOCK: Let's think about the song, "Someone Like You." Maybe we got the wrong part of the song. Are you hearing other appoggiaturas in there?

KAPILOW: Oh, there are appoggiaturas all over.

BLOCK: Oh, good.

KAPILOW: In fact, you know, even at the beginning - in fact, what makes it very beautiful at the beginning, when she does this note here.


KAPILOW: The that your is - this is the chord. This note, that, is actually dissonant to the chord and then resolves quickly. Also, down here, when it's found a girl and you're - that's another one. And you're. In fact, almost every time that comes in...


KAPILOW: ...those two notes are part of the beauty of the song and then, in fact, at the end of the next phrase.


KAPILOW: It's always dissonance resolving to consonance. And, in fact, that is at the heart of the opening of the song.

BLOCK: Composer and conductor Rob Kapilow, thanks very much for helping us out with the appoggiatura today.

KAPILOW: Hope you do better on your AP music theory exam now.

BLOCK: I'll do my best.


ADELE: (Singing) I heard that you're settled down, that you found a girl and you're married now. I heard that your dreams came true. Guess she gave you things I didn't give to you.

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