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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Finding Musicality in Your Writing


Every time you put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard, you are delivering an image to the world. It's an image of who you are and, more importantly, how you communicate. If you want to stand out in written communication, you need to take another important step. You need to add musicality to your writing.

What is musicality in writing anyway? Is it special words or phrasing? Is it rhythm or a particular beat? Is it a special combination of sentences? Is it the varied patterns of your words? It's all of these and more. Musicality is your communication brand—who you are as a writer. Musicality is your unique image, but it's an image that appears in print instead of as a picture or an item you buy. So, how do you find it?

Producing musicality in writing is similar in many ways to what a composer, a painter, a software programmer, or a designer does. It is seeking out and recognizing the unique sound patterns that you alone can produce on paper. That pattern is based on the words you choose and how you combine them to create your personal writing melody.

Every piece of writing has a rhythm and its own particular beat. If you've ever read a passage in a letter or a research paper, a proposal or brochure, or a novel that you found really stayed with you, you've probably experienced musicality. To explain what happens a bit more precisely, think of attitude. Everything we write has its own special attitude. That attitude is the soul of the writing. A writer wants to communicate some part of himself or herself to an audience. Most writers spend a lot of time seeking the right attitude for a piece of writing. There are different attitudes of course for different audiences and different genres of writing, but the goal is always to express that one best attitude in every piece you write, Musicality must have attitude.

To understand attitude better, think of the following scenario. Think of yourself as being in a crowded room and wanting to be heard over the noise. You want people to hear what you will say because what you have to say is important. You climb on a chair and start to speak, but you don't yell. You whisper. Everyone looks at you high on that chair and becomes silent. You have them. If as a writer, you create an "attitude " that works, the readers in the back of your creative "room" will hear you just as clearly. You will drop a pin in that crowded room, and your readers will be suddenly silent because your "pin" is a huge diamond. That's the kind of silence you want in writing. Attitude comes from musicality.

To use another analogy, think about the theme of your favorite movie, and then think what that movie would be like if the movie theme were missing and there was only silence as the action scenes raced across the screen. Can you imagine Superman, Star Wars, or Jurassic Park without their musical scores, without their repeating themes? Musicality in writing produces a similar background for your writing. Musicality offers the same flow of scene, emotionality, and direct focus that great movies themes give to great films. Musicality is the rhythm of syllables becoming words, the flow of phrasing that becomes fascinating, and memorable repetitive patterns, or even jolting change that stops you cold. It's that unique sound that comes from hearing just the right word combined in just the right turn of phrase to communicate just the right idea at the right moment.

Musicality in writing is a bit like a lyrical song or the repetitive beat in great jazz. It is a pattern you create to communicate an idea. It grabs your attention, holds you in its grasp, and replays in your memory long after the song is ended or the music stops. All of us can remember a special line from a song we loved or a bar of music we hummed. It replays in our heads over and over for hours as we go on with our daily lives. Musicality in writing is the same special combination of sound. Word juxtaposition, phrasing rhythm, and tonal sounds all produce a totality that becomes magical. If you can find such magic in your writing, whatever the goal for your piece, you'll have in hand a unique communication that creates an unbroken bond with your reader. That bond can be to a sales letter, a brochure, a statement of purpose, a recommendation letter, a technical explanation, or a scientific abstract – it doesn't matter the purpose or the genre or the length. The concept is the same. Once you place your personal style of musicality on a piece of writing, that piece will engage your reader, excite the senses, and be remembered. It will also influence, and its ideas will be handed on to others.

Rhythm is a pattern like those you hear in jazz as in Dave Brubeck's famous Take Five. That piece has a wonderful precise theme that keeps repeating and reappearing in different arrangements. You remember it. I've always wanted to write as well as George Gershwin wrote music. Listen to Rhapsody in Blue or An American in Paris sometime, and you'll understand musicality. Gershwin delivered an emotion in those pieces that we still can feel today, and he did it with tone and rhythm and musical themes.

Musicality is a chosen pattern of words you consciously place in your writing. It lets words move in concert across the page. It can be syllables, or alliteration or use of metaphor or a simile, or a pattern of sounds that you determine is a crazy pattern for your piece. It is a pattern that continues on and joins with itself and is only interrupted when you want it to do so for a specific purpose. When you read aloud a piece that has musicality, it moves easily with high's and low's, and the sounds of the syllables blending naturally to communicate a precise sound you can physically hear, a sound that hopefully matches the theme.

As you write, listen carefully to the words and phrases, and sentences you create. Listen for the unique meter or rhythm of your words as your ideas develop and become sentences and then paragraphs. Listen for natural sound breaks too. They will tell you where the idea breaks occur. Listen to your introductory words and notice where you placed them and how the musicality and meaning changed when you changed the placement of certain words. Notice where the rhythm and the flow changes, and ask yourself, "Is this what I want right now?"

You might call musicality the heartbeat of a piece of writing. The heart has its own beat that we all can hear when we're quiet – ba- dum, ba-dum, ba-dum. Poems have their own heartbeat too. It's called meter. It can be iambic pentameter or singsong, or one of many combinations with different weights for different syllables. Everyday speech has its own rhythm and sound. Listen to people talk when you're at the mall or in a restaurant. That is musicality. Different languages have their own musicality, and all cultures have their own.

If you listen to your thoughts as you write them and then listen to the actual sound they make as you edit and revise, you'll develop your own brand of musicality. You will conduct an orchestra of ideas. Eventually, you'll learn to recognize when your writing is "off-key" and learn how to rearrange the sounds and rhythms and loud's and soft's to bring your writing back in tune again. You'll really "hear" your writing. If you listen well, you will write well and better.

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