2018 VCE Music Performance Exam Analysis Response Question 3

2018 VCE Music Performance Exam Analysis Response Question 3

Interpretation A

Work: ‘Billie Jean’

Performer: Michael Jackson

Album: Thriller (MJJ Productions INC., 1982


Timing: 1 minutes 52 seconds

Interpretation B

Work: ‘Billie Jean’

Performer: Chris Cornell

Album: Carry On (Interscope Records, 2007)

Timing: 1 minutes 46 seconds



Compare the ways in which the two interpretations create different expressive outcomes through three of the following:

  • tempo
  • balance of music lines
  • tone colour
  • articulation

*Note the question asks for only three.  I have provided responses for all four elements to enable feedback for all responses.

A   Energetic B  Tranquil, melancholic
Tempo A moderate tempo.


Tempo clearly set at the very beginning through ostinato on the drum kit, strong beats on snare and bass drum on beats 2 and 4, quaver pulses in the shaker and melodic quaver ostinato on the bass guitar. This all enhances the energetic character.

The voice also maintains this tempo through staying in strict time with the accompaniment. Use of shorter note durations in this part make it seem a little faster, or at least driven towards the next beat but the underlying pulse is so steadily set by repeated patterns.

Created through a slower tempo

Tempo less strict. Pulses in threes marked less strictly by the guitar. Beats given by the less pervasive gentle taps on the ride cymbal.

The chorus has a more driven sense due to more complex rhythm on the drum kit including off beat, driving accents, more quavers being played on the ride cymbal, strumming on the guitar rather than arpeggiation.

Balance The bass guitar is further back in the balance due to low pitch. Forward in the mix is the drum kit – sharper, penetrating tone colour, which enhances the energetic character. As other instruments enter – the synthesised chords then the voice, these rhythmic then harmonic parts get moved back in the balance. The increased complexity of balance increases the energy of the work.

The voice is clearly in the foreground due to more penetrating clear tone colour and clear melodic line.

Strummed guitar chords in the chorus thicken out the texture, increases the energy and bring the harmonic line forward almost competing with the main melody due to rhythmic complexity and ringing tone colour. This competing is similar in version 2 thus both versions are more energetic in the chorus.

The voice has the foreground immediately as it is significantly louder than the accompanying instruments – synthesised string sound and strummed acoustic guitar. The clear balance, rather than competing for prominence of version 1, contributes to the more tranquil initial character.

As the character changes toward the chorus the balance is less clear. In a similar way to version 1 there is a competing for prominence. The drums are significantly louder due to more complex rhythms and more forced attack, electric guitars with distorted tone colour also fight for prominence and contribute to a more aggressive character in the chorus.

Tone Colour Sharp, penetrating snare tone colour contrasts with warm, mellow bass and resonant, brighter synthesised chords.

The voice is much more nasal and brighter in tone colour. This mix of tone colours and use of colours that are brighter/harsher contributes to the energetic character.


There is less variety of tone colour between verse and chorus than in version 2. The height of phrases is less harsh in tone colour as head voice is used with a more relaxed attack.


The chorus introduces backing vocalists which sing with a blended, warm, bright tone colour. This thickens the texture and increases the energy of the work but the difference of tone colours is not as marked as in version 2 so the change in energy remains less marked.

The voice in Version 2 has a huskier, more mellow tone colour in comparison to version 1 which enables a more tranquil initial character.

Mellow, brass synthesised tone colour at comfortable register and soft dynamic is again less penetrating than version 1.

Bass instruments have a similar warm, resonant tone colour but are allowed to ring for longer due to use of much longer note duration.

Acoustic guitar equally has a warm, resonant tone colour. Upper notes tend to be brighter but are only played at the height of the arpeggio.


The contrast to the chorus tone colours change.

The male voice changes to be more harsh and strained thus increases the energy of the piece, especially towards the upper, more uncomfortable register.

Distorted, penetrating electric guitar enters and the drum kit is hit with more force therefore giving it a more penetrating, booming tone colour and increasing the energy.

Articulation Sharp, accented attack on drum kit notes increases the energy of the work.

Staccato, accented articulation on syncopated chords aids energy.


Ends of vocal phrases tend to be thrown away – use of premature or interrupted decay, use of Gospel release (hey/ah) gives clear definition to the ends of notes and enhance the energy of the work.

Few legato lines.


Voice favours sharper decays to notes than version 2.

Echoing decay and legato phrases creates a sense of tranquility. The cymbal is not accented like version 1. Gentle attack and ringing decay enables tranquility.

The guitar strummed notes have natural, unaccented attack.

Ends of vocal phrases make more use of downward bends initially, legato articulation, gentle bends upwards and downwards to complete notes.

Legato line of brass synthesised instrument has a flowing higher melodic line.

Towards the chorus notes blend more together. Sharper attacks and instruments are let ring out over each other. Far more force used on the percussion giving sharper more accented attacks.