Contextual tuning as a compositional technique: Investigating the paradigms of Jacob Collier’s music

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Music Honours


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)

First Advisor

Lindsay Vickery


Microtonality is an obligatory and inevitable aspect in music performance and is the basis for many harmonic palettes in non-Western and traditional music cultures. The fact that Western art music’s standardised tuning system is twelve-tone Equal Temperament (12-TET) limits exploration into microtonal exploration and expression in a Western art music context and popular music context. This document, in conjunction with examining Collier’s technique, aims to consistently relate the technique’s flourishment to microtonality and how being open to the nature of microtonality itself will help one understand the desire to compose with it. This dissertation will expose how contextual tuning is a way to compose purposefully and comfortably with microtonality, microtonal harmony and microtonal intonation. It will promote, to a composer, an open approach to harmonic manipulation and limitlessness with effortless fluidity.

This investigative dissertation serves to draw emphasis on the possible methods to harmonic limitlessness of music creation in a Western art music context, and how Jacob Collier has severely contributed towards this. The dissertation will be divided into three chapters. In Chapter One, the dissertation focusses on the discussion around microtonality as a functioning expressive device and introduces the concept of non-standardised tuning. In Chapter Two the thesis will detail the analyses of three of Collier’s works. The clearest examples of contextual tuning as a compositional technique were discovered through a detailed exploration of his broader oeuvre. The selected works are, “In the Bleak Midwinter” (2016), “Moon River” (2019) and “All I Need” (2020). Lastly, in Chapter Three, the thesis will comment on how contextual tuning was achieved alongside exposing the ways it was achieved in each example of his work based on the discoveries amongst the data collected.

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