A new year arrives, and so do the resolutions. January is the Month of Resolve. And it’s in this way that we can all learn a thing or two from music theory.

Music (Western music, that is. The Chuck Berrys, Beethovens, and Thelonius Monks…) is built almost entirely on the need for resolution. Resolution is the movement from dissonance (the jarring sound of notes that don’t sound quite right together) to consonance (the satisfying sound of that final chord of a favorite tune.). Music is actually compelled to come to a resolution. And its the drama of tension-and-release, consonance-and-dissonance, that skilled composers wield when crafting a piece of music. This is harmony. The sound of cooperation and agreement.

In the key of C, a G7-chord makes your ear CRAVE the sound of a C-chord. Your ears need to hear it next. And when they do, when that C-chord is finally strummed, you feel at ease. Imagine for a second that someone is singing “Row Row Row Your Boat”:

Row, row, row your boat

Gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

Life is but a…

This uncomfortable feeling of incompleteness is the dark side of harmony. But I find it interesting that people, like sounds, have a compulsion to come to a resolution. The trick to keeping your new year’s resolutions, then, is to somehow link your inability to follow-through with the unfinished line of a nursery rhyme. An incomplete resolution should bother you as much as hearing “Happy Birthday” without the final “you.”

That’s the ‘key’ to completing any task: it should bother you enough not to leave it undone. If music can care enough to resolve, then you should probably care enough too.


One Response to Resolutions

  1. pochp says:

    Wise words of a musician lithe!

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