Communicating With Music

Ahoy Mateys!

The following is a speech I did for my Toastmasters meeting today, I hope you enjoy!

(Said happily)

Good morning fellow toastmasters and guests! It’s a privilege to be speaking to you today!

(Said with a monotone)

Good morning fellow toastmasters and guests. It’s a privilege to be speaking to you today.

(Said Sadly)

Good morning fellow toastmasters…and guests. It’s a “privilege”… to be speaking to you today.

Which one of those intros would make you want to listen to my speech: Happy, Monotone, or Sad?

Happy right? Easy choice. But why? I said the exact same thing in each intro, why would one stand out as being more appealing to listen to?


In our daily lives, we are texting and emailing so much that we sometimes forget just how important tone is to our conversations.

J.C. Wells, a British phonetician (the study of the sounds of human speech) postulated that there were six main functions of tone:

1) Attitudinal Function – for expressing emotions and attitudes (which I demonstrated with the intros)

2) Grammatical Function – the difference between a statement and a question.

3) Focusing – Putting emphasis on a certain word or point.

4) Discourse Function – Pausing a sentence (with a clause) to make a point.

5) Psychological Function – Rhythms and rhymes to make remembering easier

6) Indexical Function – Like, omg, it can show how society would distinguish your identity.

From this list, I think it is easy to see that tone is extremely important to communications.

The way I look at it: words convey the message; tone conveys the emotion that makes that message worth listening to. In that sense, the tone of a conversation is much more important than the words being said.

I’m not alone in thinking this either. To quote Maya Angelou: “Words mean more than what is set on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”

George Hendley of The Speakers Acadamy reiterates the point: “ Your words are important, but it’s your tone of voice that far outweighs the actual words in relaying the deeper meaning of the message.”

Now how does all this relate to music? After all, the title of this speech is “Communication Through Music” and I haven’t mentioned music once.

From, the definition of music is

 -the tones or sounds employed, occurring in single line (melody) or multiple lines (harmony), and sounded or to me sounded by one or more voices or instruments, or both.

Put simply: music is tone, and I just spent the last few minutes explaining how tone is important to communication.

Music speaks to us, not just in the lyrics, but in the beat of the drum, the strum of the guitar, the slide of a trombone. Each sound and instrument conveys an emotion that is not just heard in our ears, but felt in our heart.

When you give your significant other a mix tape of your favorite lyrics, you aren’t just giving them the “I love you” lyrics, you are giving them the hope and happiness conveyed in the music.

When you break up and spend the afternoon listening to break-up songs, you don’t just hear the “I miss you baby”, you hear empathy for your situation, a shoulder to cry on.

There are playlists to get you pumped before a run, playlists to get you focused to work or study, playlists to help you fall asleep.

Music can convey a depth of emotions that words alone never could.

From a paper “The Psychological Functions of Music Listening”

“Work and war songs, lullabies, and national anthems have bound together families, groups, or whole nations. Relatedly, music may provide a means to reduce social stress and temper aggression in others. The idea that music may function as a social cement has many proponents.”

The reason we love music and listen to it constantly is the connection it gives us to the people around us. A connection to the artist who spoke to your soul, a connection to the radio dj who seems to know just what you needed to hear, a connection to the strangers at the concert who are all there for the same reason you are.

We connect to the music and thus communicate our wants and our needs, our dreams and aspirations, our deepest hopes and our darkest fears. With music, we can communicate everything we never wanted to say out loud, and still feel safe and feel heard.

I shall leave you with a quote from Plato: “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”

Photo Credit: Toastmasters International


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