Founder's Note | Finding the Harmony Posted on 28 Apr 12:10

Finding the harmony.

Seven years ago, I decided I wanted to learn the piano and bought a cheap Casio keyboard. Those lessons lasted about three months before a move to the East Coast interrupted my plans.

I don’t know why I’ve always been drawn to music. When I was younger, I tried the trumpet, the saxophone, the guitar, and (after my first attempt at piano) even the banjo. My mom can probably tell you another instrument that snuck in there somewhere. Sesame Street branded xylophone? The science of music is fascinating, but for me it was always more about the art of creating something magical and emotional. Where once there was silence, now there is moving sound. And yet those sounds only last for the time they are played. You can live in those sounds, and those sounds can ground you in the moment you hear them. But then they’re gone forever.

My keyboard had been sitting in my home for years when finally, last month, I decided enough was enough. This time around I wanted to find a real studio with structured lessons, and found one that offers classes for children. If they can teach kids, then surely they can teach me! My teacher is great. I’m learning how to read music, play, and the theory that underpins all of music. Why it works the way it does. Being an Anthropologist at heart (my college major), knowing the why behind everything has always motivated me.

This past week in my lesson we were discussing melody and harmony. Melody is the individual notes you play, one at a time, that tell whatever musical story you’re playing. The harmony is the underlying structure, the base of sound that forms the foundation of the story. The why. The melody draws from that foundation and are the individual actions you take to stay on course. And you can’t have one without the other. Even if you’re only actually hearing single notes at a time, the harmony is there, the silent partner behind the scene. If you wanted an analogy, harmony is like the story arc of a book, and the individual words are the melody.

I think about this a lot now. Harmony and melody. Melody and harmony. And now that I’m practicing every day, I hear how discordant the sounds are when the melody is out of sync with what lies beneath. My fingers know it the instant they hit the wrong key. How interesting would it be to have that kind of feedback loop in real life? Knowing instantly when we’re out of sync. Some are better at this than others, but we’re all human - no one hits all the right keys all the time. In fact the beauty of music is often in the mistakes, the out-of-sync notes our brains weren’t expecting to come next. My teacher said there was a student in her college who played piano perfectly. Watching her was like watching a perfectly-tuned engine. And yet no one liked listening to her play. She sounded... off.

So now I listen to my notes a little more closely. And when I hit the wrong key (and this happens a lot!), I close my eyes and look for the harmony, and I play on.

- Jesse