10. The Timing or Hesitation Technique
The Craft of Musical Communication by Keith Hill and Marianne Ploger, ©2005
One way to perform the timing or hesitation technique is to hesitate a moment before playing the most important note in a line; yet another is to hang on to or hesitate on a note for much longer than its written value. This technique involves manipulating the listener's expectations of what note is going to sound, when it actually sounds, and when it stops sounding. This technique happens when a climactic note is slightly delayed by the performer, like a hesitation, so that the listener has just enough time to take the suggestion and mentally fill in the note before the performer finally makes the note sound. Comedians use this technique to change the timing of an expected word to one that is unexpected, which, of course, causes laughter.
Public speakers who overuse this technique come across as being contrived and unconvincing. Ditto with performers. As always, unpredictability is key to creating naturalness of effect.
The cognitive partner of hesitation is anticipation. Anticipation is created by building up assumption on assumption about what will happen. When the event which should occur fails to happen at the expected time, there exists a moment of disappointment. That moment of disappointment gets transformed into a rush of pleasure when the event finally comes to pass. This is what children experience on Christmas morning: parents use delaying tactics to draw out the moment of opening the presents in order to increase the pleasure of discovering what Santa left for each child. If children are given free reign to rip everything open in a willful race, they can experience disappointment even at getting what they wanted. If they are prevented from building up any anticipation by knowing that there are heavy-handed rituals to be followed, they lose interest in the moment of discovery. So it is for most people when it comes to music, comedy, politics, and sports; the art of these endeavors is in the timing.
Application: Know what notes in the music are the highest in pitch, strongest in accent but weakest in affect, most obvious and predictable, or the climax of the piece. Then, either delay a moment before playing them or hold them longer than written. The moment the hold or delay becomes obvious, it is too long.
The purpose of this technique is to catch the attention of the listener unawares in order to create the effect of a quickening of the attention. The moment that effect happens for the listeners is the moment the music must continue to its inevitable conclusion.