As a piano teacher, I always took my students through one exercise, fairly early on in their piano playing careers:

I’d play a series of notes and ask them if they recognized the song.

They wouldn’t.

Then, I’d play the same notes again, but this time, with a different rhythm. This second time, they recognized “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

Since a young age, I’ve known that rhythm is a driving force in music.

But it’s only recently that I’ve come to appreciate just how important it is when it comes to the business of exceptional teaching.


What is Rhythm?

Rhythm is the interplay between the rests and the notes; the fast and the slow; duration and the beat. It’s what makes the notes into music, not just noise.

Rhythm is based around a measure. That steady, regular heartbeat. Four beats per bar … three beats per bar … six beats per bar … most pieces of music never change their time signature, and when they do, that pulse will remain steady for a while — at least a measure or two.

But for as much as the rhythm is based on the measure, on that pulse and that beat, it’s not strictly dictated by it. So long as you obey the framework that the measure lays out, you can put in more notes or less, you can even speed up or slow down. You can fit three notes into the space that usually takes two, or two into the space that usually takes three.

If you didn’t have rhythm, you’d play every note in a song at once. With rhythm, you separate them out, one from another.

Rhythm complements the notes, and together they create melody. You can take the same pattern of notes and play them with a different rhythm, and you’ll get a different melody. A different song, often unrecognizable to the casual listener.

And always, the beat goes on.

Rhythm in Your Courses

Next week in The Master Class is an integration week — also known as a “week off”. Our current cohort has been going for three weeks solid, and it’s time to take a break.

To give a chance to reflect, to catch up — or just catch a breath.

Then we’ll go for another three weeks, and then take another breath.

The pacing of The Master Class is dictated by an overall rhythm: three weeks on, one week off. It’s a mixture of activity and space.

That’s the measure: the unchanging heartbeat of the program. Four beats … three on, one off. Then repeat.

But a straight rhythm where every beat is matched by notes of exactly the same duration and intensity, repeated one after another, is boring. It doesn’t captivate attention. It doesn’t harness motivation. A rhythm that ebbs and flows, on the other hand, is beautiful.

The first week of the program was marked by many short-duration, high impact activities and exercises. This week is the opposite; there’s very few exercises, and they require more thought. They’re slower. The impact isn’t going to be felt immediately — but it provides a respite from the intensity of the first weeks, and leads well into the rest.

How could you compose rhythm into your course?

Could you add in a rest period? Mix up the intensity? Put in more “notes” one week, and less the next?

Rhythm in Your Business

If you had a full-time job before taking the leap into business ownership, as I did, the prospect of _being your own boss_ was probably really appealing:

  • Not having to work 9 to 5.
  • Not having to attend useless meetings.
  • Not having to live and die by someone else’s calendar.

In rhythmic terms, it can feel like a march. There’s not only a strict beat, but every note relates to that beat in a predictable way. There’s less room for experimentation and going “off-beat”. Everything must fall in line.

But when you get your “freedom”, it’s easy for the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction. To create a rhythm that is so loosely connected to the beat that the notes just blend into each other like some etherial, esoteric, other-wordly tune.

Without a firm grounding in the beat, days, weeks and months feel formless and shapeless. There’s no distinction between one day and the next. What started as freedom can quickly turn to lethargy, if you’re not careful.

You forget to add in rests and spaces, or you don’t put in enough activity to fill the void… until eventually you realize you’ve been working 80 hours a week for months on end, or that you’ve not left your house for days, or that the entire day has passed and you’ve not accomplished a single thing.

Creating rhythm requires an intentional balance. It requires boundaries and routines, policies and habits, systems and processes … but also flexibility and a willingness to go off-beat every once in a while.

My friend Marie Poulin has written a great exploration of what rhythm looks like in her business.

What does it look like in yours?

Conscious Composition

Rhythm, and music by extension, doesn’t happen on its own. It’s composed.

Think about that for a moment (and maybe tweet it, if you wouldn’t mind!)

[Tweet “Rhythm – in a course, in business, or in life – doesn’t happen on its own. It’s composed.”]

To compose, according to the dictionary, means to combine things and parts; to put them into good order.

To bring rhythm to your course, your business — or heck, your life — you must bring things together and put them into a good order.

It’s a conscious process of creation. It’s craftsmanship in action.