Anatomy of A Tear Jerker

This article is inspired by an article published by  the Wall Street Journal, Anatomy of a Tear Jerker, authored by Michaeleen Doucleff ( February 11. 2012)

Have you cried to love songs or can  you remember the Bridget Jones’ Diary where she lip sync and tear jerked her way to Celine Dion’s All By Myself. Which she, Miss Celine herself cried while performing the  song, choked with remembrance of her loving husband.

Some songs have that uncanny ability to  stir deep seated emotions and just riled up those emotions without waarnings and drive you teary eyed. What!

For me, I have always liked sad songs. Nowadays, I can’t really remember which  one that really did it for me. Right now, the ssong, Cinta Mati by Marcell, is a sad. It’s there  but it didn’t make me lose control and turn into a merciless water tap. Still, it is a nice song with a sad twang in it.

Yup, I can relate to Miss Celine’s All By Myself’s soaring vocals and heartfelt delivery. So, while I rake my memory for THE song that had it for me, let’s delve further into the seminal review by Michaeleen, what’s the magic behind Adele’s Someone Like You?

A tear jerker is not just about the song, it is a powerful combination of powerful lyrics and unique and even more powerful voice.

Appoggiatura, rediscovered by Dr John Sloboda while conducting an experiment 20 years ago, is a musical device sets off physical reaction. In his experiment, his subjects were asked to identify passages in a song that bringss out intense emotions in them, 20 were identified and 18 of them can be relegated to the phenomenon called appoggiaatura.


From Wiki

An appoggiatura (/əˌpɒəˈtjʊərə/; Italian: [appoddʒaˈtuːra]; German Vorschlag, Vorhalt; French Port de voix) is a musical ornament that consists of an added note in a melody that is resolved, delaying the appearance of the principal note. The added note (the unessential note) is typically (though not always) one degree higher or lower than the principal note; and, if lower, it may or may not be chromatically raised.

The term comes from the Italian verb appoggiare, “to lean upon”. It is also called a long appoggiatura to distinguish it from the short appoggiatura, the acciaccatura. An ascending appoggiatura was previously known as a forefall, while a descending appoggiatura was known as a backfall.

In contrast to the acciaccatura, the appoggiatura is important melodically and often suspends the principal note by taking away the time-value of the appoggiatura prefixed to it. The time subtracted is generally half the time value of the principal note, though in simple triple or compound meters, for example, it might receive two thirds of the time.[citation needed]

Appoggiaturas are usually on the strong or strongest beat of the resolution and are approached by a leap and left by step.[1] This notation has also been used to mark an accent in the articulation of vocal music, meaning that the grace note should be emphasized, for example in Haydn’s Missa Brevis in G major,[clarification needed not Hob. XXII:1 in F major?] fifth bar for soprano and tenor voices.

How to recognize an appogiatura
Question: Could you please explain how to recognise an appoggiatura in music of the classical era? -D.E.Answer: The appoggiatura is a “non-chordal” or “nonharmonic” tone – a note that is not part of the harmony at the moment it sounds, but rather is a second above a harmonic tone. Speaking without regard to chords, as in pure counterpoint, the appoggiatura is a dissonance – forming a dissonant interval with another sounding tone – that is approached by an upward leap and is left by a downward step.

In music of the classical era you’ll generally see the appoggiatura written as a small note – a grace note – that is followed by a note a second lower and is slurred to it. But sometimes, especially if an editor has intervened, you might see the appoggiatura appear written out as it would be played, as a normal-sized note slurred to a note a second lower and having the same time value.

That sounds sort of abstract: here’s an example of an appoggiatura written as a grace note and one written out as it would normally be played, with the grace note having half the value of the main note:

An appoggiatura is always “on the beat” or it doesn’t deserve the name. If you see two notes that form a descending second, and the first is in an accented position and is approached by an upward leap, that is possibly an appoggiatura. If the accented note is dissonant, moving to a chord tone before the harmony changes, that confirms its nature.There is an audio example in the Wikipedia article on the appoggiatura in which you hear what is claimed to be an appoggiatura but it moves upward by step. This detracts somewhat from the personality of the creature. The true appoggiatura is a metrically accented note approached by upward leap and moving downward by step to a consonant tone of the continued harmony. If it were approached by downward leap and moved upward it could be called an “inverted appoggiatura,” and if approached by step in the same direction it would be an “accented passing tone.” If it is approached by leap and left in the same direction it is just plain wrong and deserves no proper name among decent

An appoggiatura is a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. “This generates tension in the listener,” said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. “When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good.”

Martin Guhn didn’t really let the subject rest as he and his colleague Marcel Zentner  continued digging for the phenomenon in  musical archives and compositions. They studied and measured the intensity of the goosebumps, chills, heart rates and sweating, all the reactions that resulted from the discerned phenomenon. They find  that all of the passages have for common chaaracteristics :

  1. They began slowly and then became loud
  2. Include an abrupt entrance or a new voice, instrument or harmony
  3. Include expansions on the frequencies played
  4. The passage contains unexpected deviations in the melody or harmony

“When the music suddenly breaks from its expected pattern, our sympathetic nervous system goes on high alert; our hearts race and we start to sweat. Depending on the context, we interpret this state of arousal as positive or negative, happy or sad”

“Robert Zatorre and his team of neuroscientists at McGill University reported that emotionally intense music releases dopamine in the pleasure and reward centers of the brain, similar to the effects of food, sex and drugs. This makes us feel good and motivates us to repeat the behavior”  

Thus making it one of the most popular song for quite some time then, even now, yes?

For a composer like me, I wish I had the art and tools to play with, to fully make use of these findings but alas,  I make music directly from my inspirations, then  past it to AG Coco to masterfully arrange it. I wish one day though, that some of  my songs will have this features and thus giving the listeners a wonderful experience worth listening to.

Ryan Tedder, who co wrote with Adele in 21, and the song Remedy in 25,  said that Adele listens to the greats and trained to them – Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole – In the Time article interview. He added that when Adele writes, its really her. All about her, she makes it personal.

Adele  was also said to be inspired by Etta James, Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys.

For the article, please go to  :

For the TIME article :


This Brit Awards, is soo wonderful that makes me attest to the uber magnificence of Someone Like You

%d bloggers like this: