I'm not sure if I should post this question here in English Language and Usage or in one of the music-specific forums...

The word for (sometimes deliberate) "sour" notes or semitones is "dissonance." Some musicians use this technique to good effect, such as Orleans on their song "Still the One" and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes on many of their songs.

What about deliberately singing "off time" though (ahead of or behind the beat)?

A prime example of someone who uses this technique often is Willie Nelson. And it's an interesting juxtaposition to his almost overly-precise enunciation/phrasing.

What is the word for this hesitation/gun-jumping while vocalizing? Is there one? If not, I submit "dischronance." And a picture of Willie should appear in the dictionary at that entry.


There are two musical terms that might describe what you’re talking about.

The first is syncopation, where an accent occurs on a beat within a measure that would not normally carry it. If, for instance, you start a phrase after the first beat of a measure, the vocal line won’t match the instrumental until the next measure or so and the accents won’t fall on the expected beats. Jazz singers do this all the time.

The other term is rarely used outside of classical music: (tempo) rubato, Ital. lit. ‘robbed time’. For added expressiveness a musical phrase is given a more or less free rhythm over the course of several measures but finishes on the beat. The “robbed” time is made up by singing or playing some notes shorter. Accent occurs where it’s expected, but not in strict tempo. A lot of Romantic music would sound incredibly dull if it were forced to obey a metronome.

The problem with *dischronance is that, without getting into particle physics or even metaphysics, time itself has no rhythm unless it imposed: it’s rhythm that’s being manipulated, not time itself.

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