Over the years, music theory fans have analyzed what makes music good. Eventually, they were able to develop a list of the qualities good music by Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Brahms, and Bach contained. Bear with me for a moment while we examine this, I promise it will all come together in the end😜

  1. Mostly Conjunct Motion

For all you non-music experts, this means most of the piece contains scales or small leaps between notes. 

  1. Disjunct Motion is Always Followed by Motion in the opposite direction

Any large leaps in the music are followed by a gradual scale in the other direction. 

  1. Interesting Rhythm

This is fairly self-explanatory. The melody should be interesting, containing many different note lengths and combinations to interest and excite the audience. 

  1. Coherence

The overall melody contains repeated “motifs” or similar repeated rhythms. The entire melody holds together and feels like one song, rather than a bunch of separate ideas. Everything is connected. 

  1. Climaxes

Certain spots in the melody are extra emphasized.

The great news is, you reading through that entire list was NOT a complete waste of time! Dr. Jane Swan, who taught history at West Chester University in Pennsylvania wrote,

“How is it that music can, without words, evoke our laughter, our fears, our highest aspirations?”

When we speak, evoking emotions is our goal. Music has the tremendous power to achieve that without any words at all. Therefore rhetoricians have much to learn from musicians. How can we use the qualities of good music to inform our speaking? Let’s reexamine the list of good music qualities.  

  1. Mostly Logical Flow

Most of your speaking should be full of smooth transitions, leading calmly from one subject to another. All of your logic should be fully explained, leaving no gaps in the judge’s mind. 

  1. Any leaps are followed by gradual explanation

Just like in good music, every once in a while, you want to bait your judge, shock them just a smidge to capture their interest, and then continue on. The majority of your speech should be smooth logical proofs as denoted above. However, to regain attention and add excitement to your speech, make a claim that may at first shock the judge, and then explain.

  1. Interesting Vocal Patterns

In my second year of speech, I was diagnosed with a condition, perhaps the worst disease in the history of speech and debate. Debatorius voiceus. Every time I opened my mouth in any competition room out came the matter of fact, power-hungry debater. Some of you might be familiar with this ailment. If you have ever heard someone say you sound like a debater, what they mean is that you’re starting to sound more like an exhausted news broadcaster than a person with feelings and interest. This is when you should begin to reexamine your vocal inflection, speed, and tone. The best way to treat your disease is to sprinkle some interest into your speaking. Add in that interesting rhythm. Take pauses. Allow your voice to rise with important points and fall when you wish the judge to cling to your every word as if scared to hear what comes next. 

  1. Coherence

If you’re in speech, coherence may simply mean everything fits together within your speech to achieve a common goal. In debate, coherence becomes more complicated. Adding in multiple speeches, cross-examinations, and even a partner may mean your overall cohesion suffers. Carefully reexamine your arguments. Are you addressing all of the other team’s arguments? Are you and your partner rehashing the same exact things in every speech? A common pitfall in debate occurs when neither partner branches out, instead they end up speaking on the same argument with the same responses. That’s the perfect opportunity for their opponents to declare at the podium, “repetition does not equal refutation!” and proclaim victory. Do not allow this to happen! Even if you don’t have time to examine arguments outside of round and decide who’s going to speak about what (which I would highly recommend), take those 30 seconds of prep for each partner to briefly explain their arguments. A well-oiled machine will use arguments and refutation that is coherent but expands on related ideas without overlapping every other sentence. 

  1. Climaxes

This is what coaches at Ethos like to call “collapsing” your arguments to focus on a couple of main points in the Rebuttals. There is a coaching technique my Dad started using in my club. Just before the Rebuttals, he asked each team, “what do you need to say to win, right now?” Usually, the round will come to one main climax for the judge. Your job is to identify and choose which hill you’re willing to die on. Is it worth it? Make that argument so important that if your opponent inadequately responds, you win. Move the goalpost to an almost unreachable point for the other team. That’s how you successfully bring the round to a satisfying close. Make the judge exit the room knowing exactly who won and why. Of course, this is easier said than done, but a worthy goal, and ultimately the most successful strategy if you use it wisely. 

Diagnosing the wide appeal of music allows us to identify how to mimic this powerful medium. We want our words to be just as powerful as vibrating sound waves in different lengths that are carried through the air to an audience. The next great rhetorician will be one who acknowledges a musician’s power and aims to mimic it.

Amanda completed 4 years in NCFCA, achieving numerous 1st place finishes, and placements at Nationals. She is currently studying at New Saint Andrews College to achieve her Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts. Amanda’s biggest goal is to help students achieve the ability to critique themselves, find and implement a fix, and become better communicators because of it. She truly believes in the concept of iron sharpening iron, which applies just as much to a coach-student relationship as between friends. You can book coaching here😋

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