I move fast.
It’s just how I am. My natural inclination is to make quick, precise, sometimes jerky movements designed to do what I need to get done as quickly and efficiently as possible. My wife likens it to a bird, which isn’t necessarily the best animal to be compared to, unless it’s a hawk or falcon or other kick-ass bird of prey.
“Enough about birds!” you might be saying now. “I didn’t think this was an ornithology blog!”
And it’s not. Not yet, at least. But birds do have their own sense of rhythm.
“Rhythm!” you’re saying now. “I like rhythm! Music, right?”
My natural rhythm, the tendency to be make quick movements, spills over into other aspects of my life: I walk fast. I talk fast. And I tend to think fast.
Thinking fast sounds good, right? But you’d be surprised–reaching a conclusion quickly, perhaps quicker than other people, sometimes means that you’re not thinking things through.
Slow down . . . breathe . . .
This is where the idea of rhythm comes in. Think about music. If the drummer or the guitar player is doing a solo the entire time, it would get kind of boring, wouldn’t it?
Or a movie that’s 90 minutes of bloody action. It sounds cool, sure. But it works far better in theory than in practice.
But I like the music anaolgy better, because so much of life resembles music.
So much can resemble a bloody action movie too, but I digress. Back to music.
One of my favorite drummers of all time is the late John Bonham of Led Zeppelin.
I know, I know, everyone loves Bonzo. But I’ll tell you why, among other reasons, he’s in my drummer top three:
He didn’t overplay. He could, but he didn’t.
Listen to this song, “The Ocean.” Listen to the space. I love how he lets the song breathe. He’s not playing a fill in every single empty moment. And when he does let loose at the end of the song, the delayed gratification makes it all the more satisfying.
In other words, the guy had a sense of rhythm and timing.
So let’s tie this idea back to the thought process. There’s a common axiom among creatives that says your first idea is usually your best one. But there’s an equally common axiom that you can often dig a bit deeper and find a better idea.
In other words that 7–a perfectly good joke, bit of dialogue, melodic motif–is alright, but with a little bit of work, you can turn it into a 9 or a 10.
Or how about that business strategy or legal defense? Did you really think that through? Is that conclusion you reached right away really your best?
Rhythm is a concept I try to apply to my whole life, even right down to things like walking and how I move. When I play music, this idea comes naturally, and I think it’s due to the practice. Whatever you’re playing–classical, rock n’ roll, and jazz (especially jazz)–always rushing can ruin the music’s cohesion. Sometimes it’s fun to play with time, being a little ahead of the beat here and a little behind the beat there, but these are conscious choices.
And that’s the rub.
The idea is to make the rhythms of your life and thought conscious choices.
If I’m involved in a task and I find myself sweating, breathing heavily, and feeling flustered, it’s a good bet that I’m trying too hard, doing things too fast, and not letting things breathe.
Taking a little time, no more than a second or two, to breathe and to think, can make a huge difference between beautiful music and a train wreck:
- When you talk, you may feel like you’re slowing down way too much. But that’s only how it sounds to you. To other people, you sound normal.
- When you walk, you may feel like you’re not getting where you want to go faster. But unless you’re actually traveling at a molasses-paced saunter, the difference is negligible.
- When you think, you may feel frustrated that others can’t see the obvious answer as quickly as you do. Or maybe you just tend to solve problems faster. But this is where mistakes are made, since a conclusion isn’t necessarily the solution. It doesn’t take that much time to go over things a few more times, reread and rethink, to make sure that your reasoning is as iron-clad as you thought to begin with.
- When you move, you might feel like you’re lagging behind. But you’re often just more in control. True mastery of the body looks effortless and can feel effortless as well. Look at a professional boxer or basketball player–nothing looks like a struggle. They make everything look natural. That’s rhythm.
- When you write, you don’t always have to use long, run-on sentences or page-length paragraphs. You also don’t always have to use choppy, stacatto bursts. This goes into how you speak as well. Monotony of any kind is often the death knell for your message: the content might be great, but the delivery is what makes or breaks you.
And so I find myself, erstwhile musician that I am, trying hard to continually practice music by other means. It has helped me calm down and take control when I feel the tempo spiraling out of control. Take a moment, let things breathe, and when all else fails, listen to some Led Zeppelin.
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