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MM#17 – What’s Your Communication Style?

I often compare my communication in business or personal relationships to “doing it like a music therapy session.”  This may sound a little odd so please indulge me as I attempt to explain. You see a music therapy session might go something like this:

It starts with a GREETING that lures attention from any previous distraction – a greeting needs to be nice and accepted if the conversation is to move successfully forward to the next step.

The VOCAL RONDO – a call and response – you say something, I say something, you say something, I say something.  At the end we have both spoken and felt heard.

If the vocal rondo is not direct enough or if one of the parties is unable to present their side then a MUSIC IMPROVISATION is in order.  This is when people are no longer speaking but using a common medium. Just like verbal conversation music can make assumptions, critically analyze,  find a solution, vent or express whatever is on someone’s mind in the moment.  Our tone, gestures, facial expressions and energy say more than words ever can.  Here sometimes one party gets more of the floor while the other does more listening, however both parties are equally engaged and present in a successful conversation.

Each session regardless of how it started will have some form of CLOSE – a final salutation that reflects the essence of the full communication that has transpired,  a sense of resolution or understanding, a swift so-long, or perhaps a sense that we need to do this again very soon.

Do you recognize the common formula? A process of transferring information from one to another regardless of the medium.  A sender imparts information and then the receiver decodes the message and returns feedback.  Successful communication requires that all parties have a foundation of commonality, acceptance, and understanding.  Music therapy presents music as a common place. For a session to be truly successful the music therapist pays close attention to the tone of voice, timbre of instrument, inflection of pitch and body language – all critical to establishing a positive bond that strives for optimum communication.  If done right, even the most inhibited person can find a voice.  And isn’t that what we all desire? – having a voice that is heard.

JUST FOR FUN – how would you describe your communication using musical terms?

Acappella – performing without accompaniment
Accessible – easy to listen to and understand
Adagio – restful, at ease
Allegro – lively and fast
Atonal – no regard for any key
Cadence – brings an end to a phrase
Cadenza – initially improvised solo building into an elaborate passage
Canon – lots of imitation at regular intervals
Capriccio – quick, improvisational, spirited
Cavatina – short, simple
Chorus – togetherness
Concert Master – the first violin in an orchestra
Conductor – one who directs a group.  The conductor indicates the tempo, phrasing, dynamics and style by gestures and facial expressions.
Dissonance – harsh, discordant and lack of harmony
Drone – dull, monotonous
Expressivo – expressive
Harmony – pleasing combination, playing together behind the melody
Legato – smooth
Minuet – slow and stately
Nocturne – romantic and dreamy
Opera – dramatic
Ostinato – repeating
Resonance – traveling vibrations
Waltz – a dance

Your Answer Below:


This post was originally released in July of 2010.  I felt it was important to add to our Musical Motivators for 2011 (there are a few others I will be bringing back too)

Jennifer Buchanan is the happy owner of JB Music Therapy, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2011. Our “Music Speaks” Blog: 50 Musical Motivators for 2011 (MMs) aims to Help you Relax, Reflect and Remember what you Value Most


  • Wonderful article, Jennifer. I’ve often noticed that my communications out in the world are much gentler and better received if I treat everyone as well as I treat my music therapy clients.

    It’s ingrained in me to see the best in them, to celebrate their wholeness, to always assume they can succeed. Why wouldn’t I greet everyone with that same loving, open-hearted approach?

    It hasn’t always been easy, but over the years the lines have blurred and I do feel like the same person in every setting.

  • I love this metaphor, Jennifer! I use it, too, in so many ways both professionally & personally 🙂 I love how the Italian musical terms encapture so much emotion & information in one word!

    As a time saver (and for fun!), I’ve been gradually changing to use musical symbols or the abbreviated musical term when writing session notes. I.e. using symbols plus dates/times to describe a gradual shift in a client’s verbal interactional style such as volume (cresc./descresc.); or describing a shift in a client’s emotional state using a musical phrase (pesante -poco a poco scherzando) instead of a lengthy description (“Client arrived with stooped posture & minimal to no eye contact; body language appeared very heavy; through the course of the session client was observed to gradually sit more erect, initiate eye contact, and interact playfully through the musical improvisation…etc.”).

    When working with students who have sensory regulation challenges due to FASD, some of my groups find it helpful to use familiar musical tempo terms (they learned the terms in music class playing tempo tag!) to describe how they feel their body is responding to and processing environmental stimuli. They create their own musical ‘How Does Your Engine Run’ chart using tempo terms, visual tools, & color when learning strategies for self-regulation & impulse control.

    And personally, it’s fun to seek the matching musical term for my own conversational style of the day, and if I’m not pleased with an interaction -what is the opposite musical term to stive towards? I resonate right now with ‘tempo rubato’ ‘ritenuto ma non troppo’ ‘dolce’ ‘patetico ma subito scherzando’.

    Thank you for this article. It feels so good to be part of a community that speaks the language of music!

    With gratitude,


    • Thanks for this great post Tanya!

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