This series takes a look at how 10 qualities of Rhythm can help make things easier, both personally and for teams at work.
Melody: The Song of Heart and Relationship
“But is it muuu-sic?” My 85-year-old aunt had a keen, inquisitive mind that took categories and definitions very seriously. She had been a librarian all her life.
We were talking about my passion for drumming and drum circles. I was describing how, with the right intentions and a little guidance, even people who had never played any instrument before could co-create a vibrant, connected musical experience.
“But drums don’t have melody,” my aunt said. “They just make . . . noise.”
Ah, but drums DO have melody! Though different from scale-oriented instruments like the piano or violin, drums have much to teach about melody at its most elemental — to our bodies, as well as to our minds.
Pick up a hand drum, and you’ll quickly find two notes. Bounce your whole hand in the middle to find the low Bass. Notice how you literally feel it in your body — in your belly or chest.
Now pull your hand back so that the length of your fingers are on the drum, pointing in from the edge. Hold them firmly, and bounce. You’ll hear a higher note, the Tone (or Open).
With just those two notes, combined with spaces (or Rests), you can already create more melodies than you can count. With more exploration and practice, you’ll find more notes (pitches and textures) at your fingertips.
Pitch and Pattern
There are two aspects to Melody: Pitch and pattern, the tonality of the notes, and the spacing between them. Melody is the Whole, encompassing the character of the notes, and their relationships.
When people drum together, their individual melodies weave and combine into an intricate musical dance. Listen here to a jam session, playing with friends Jú Linares, Christine Stevens, and Dan Cartamil.
Melody, with its deep evolutionary roots co-mingled with language and communication, is hard wired into our emotional system. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” pulls on our heart one way, and “When the Saints Go Marching In” pulls in quite another.
The same is true for drum melodies. A deep, resonant bass line evokes very different feelings than a fiery lead.
A Symphony at Work
Just as we convey emotion via melodies on our instruments, each of us creates “emotional melodies” with every interaction throughout our days. We put out “emotional notes” through our words, tone, and behavior that vary with our mood, activity, and context. Sometimes the notes we put out are cheerful and uplifting, sometimes they are somber and heavy. We experience the same from others.
Like it or not (and realize it or not) these “melodies” blend into an “emotional symphony” at work. The overall character and quality of this collective result has a huge impact on our workplace happiness and productivity.
Create a little fantasy scene with me here: Imagine a fast-motion, bird’s eye-view video of your a day in your workplace, with everyone’s conversations played as instrumental melodies. What instruments are present? Are there lots of notes or few? What is the tempo and mood?
Tuning Your Melody for Harmony with Others
The melodies you create each day — what you say and how you say it — are influenced by your own mood, and by the tone of the “emotional symphony” around you.
At the same time, choosing your melody is your most powerful way to influence both mood and atmosphere. You can create a different melody to get a different result.
When it comes to impact on workplace relationships and one’s own mood, HOW we say things is generally more important than WHAT we say. This may be hard to accept for those of us who love ideas and discoveries and solutions — whose merits should be self-evident regardless, right? The truth is that even a great idea will meet a wall of resistance if it is presented poorly — as most of us have learned the hard way at one time or another!
How to Create Melodies that Sing
To create effective and satisfying “melodies” that express your ideas and creativity while contributing to the group song, tune into yourself and the situation with steps like these:
1. Self-awareness and mindfulness
Breathe and check in with your body before speaking. Wiggling your fingers and toes is a simple way to “inhabit” your body and feel more grounded. Note any tension or irritation, and intentionally exhale-release as much as you can. The less emotional charge that you take into the next moment when your open your mouth, the better.
2. Tune to the Group
If the orchestra is playing in the key of D, you wouldn’t want to jump in playing in B-flat. Take a moment to tune to your listeners before speaking, and shape your message to meet them where they are.
Are they tense or relaxed? Attentive or distracted? Feeling confident/capable, or not-so-sure? Begin with a few sentences that show you care, that you see them and where they are. Once you’re in tune with the group, they can follow the melody of your good ideas into new beneficial territory.
3. Speak from your Heart
Melody is the voice for emotion, which makes our expressions powerful and memorable. When you let your words and demeanor sing with appropriate emotion, others see you as transparent, authentic, and trustworthy. Sharing your enthusiasm, excitement, and pride lifts everyone. Being open about concerns, frustrations, and disappointments reassures people that “we’re dealing with Reality around here.”
Sing out with your Melodies of Heart and Relationship!
Just like the drums and all musical instruments, we are vessels of melody. We “sing” with our presence all day long through the rhythm of our words, and the emotional tone of our voice and body language. Our melody lines dance and intertwine with others’ to create a rich orchestra of human experience — the music of our days.
Next up in Rhythm Tools for Life: DIALOG →
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