When composing or arranging, what methods can be exploited to affect the listener's perception of the speed they are moving through time?

  • 8
    Bagpipes are capable of stopping time altogether, in the listener's perception ;))
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 11:58
  • Do you mean going back in history/ forward into the future, or simply in the here and now? It's not clear from the wording of the question as it stands.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 12:17
  • 1
    Write really tedious and boring music, and the audience will think that time is passing really slowly.
    – Simon B
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 16:24
  • 2
    There's actually a lot to discuss here—there's a lot of scholarly work about perception of time in general, and a lot about "time" as a broad concept in music—but can you edit to add a bit more about how you're thinking about it? Are there any examples that you find alter your perception of time? For instance, how do you feel about youtu.be/mr4Z99G-Yc4 or youtu.be/TJ6Mzvh3XCc ? What about youtu.be/g0WVh1D0N50 or youtu.be/miUKO5g0ONk ? Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 17:23
  • (For transparency, those four examples are "vert fast tempo with very short notes," "very slow tempo with very long notes," "very gradual change while looping a short chunk of time," and "exploring 'time' while dispensing with the concept of 'beat.'") Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 17:26

2 Answers 2

  1. Slow down or increase in tempo. That's an effective way to do it.

  2. Change time division. E.g. when playing quarter notes, switching to eight notes will feel faster, while switsching to half notes will feel slower, though the tempo remains the same.

  3. Change accentuation. The standard accents are on "1" in 4/4, i.e. emphasizing each 4th quarter note. But, like drummers do, you can emphasize each 5th, 6th and so on to overlay a slower varying pattern. Or emphasize every 3rd or 2nd to overlay a faster one. Consider subdivision of quarter notes as well for more granularity. Consider asymmetric pattern overlays, like 3-3-2 (8), or 3-2-3 (8) or 2-3-2 (7), which also change the period of repetiton.


Two ideas come to my mind:

  1. If you fill a given time with steady pulse versus rhythmically chaotic sequence the chaotic sequence should feel more "tediuos" and so time should be perceived as passing slower. Steady pulse is "easy" or even "exciting" therefore might be felt as passing faster.

  2. In the genres with steady pulse there are "tools" that warp the time perception. The simplest example is swing or shuffle feel. If played well it is perceived as faster than it actually is. Any similar methods to keep the rhythmic propulsion or tension affect perception of time. The groove creates excitement and perception of rythm as faster than it actually is.

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