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As a songwriter/musician I am always amazed at the power of sound and music upon our daily lives. The two can be found everywhere on the planet. Even the absence of sound can influence our experience of life. Not so long ago I was asked about the relationship between submodalities and music. The question forced me to consider in my conscious awareness elements which I apply intuitively during the process of writing and playing music and, as a result, usually take for granted. What follows is and excerpt of my response to the question.

Ok, let's start with submodalities. What are they?

The majority of us experience the world by gathering information through the senses. However, we tend to develop a favourite method or modality to collect this information. Some people prefer using a visual method of gathering information while others are impacted by sound (auditory) and still for others how they feel emotionally or physically touch an object (kinesthetic) will be their favourite modality.

In each of these modalities there are elements which can increase or decrease the intensity of the experience. These elements are called submodalities. I call them experiential dimmer switches.

So how can they relate to music?

Firstly, let's define music as organized sound, that is, it has notes of different pitches, the notes have different tones because they may be produced by different instruments (guitar, piano, flute, etc.), the sounds can be loud or soft - volume and, lastly, there is a rhythm, beat or sense of flow to the notes.

Pitch, tone, volume and rhythm are all submodalities of a sound or the auditory modality. If any of these submodalities are changed, the experience of the music changes. For example if you play a love song by Celine Dion at maximum volume on your stereo the experience of the same song played at a low volume will be different and all you have done is changed the submodality called volume. The same holds true if I take a dance song by Madonna and slow it down to half its original speed, the experience of the song will change, all this as a result of changing the submodality called rhythm.

No here's an interesting twist. Music can be and is usually experienced with more than the auditory modality. For example, one can experience music kinesthetically. Because sound is a vibration, it can be physically "heard" or felt by the body. This fact is amply demonstrated by the fact that the hearing impaired, including those who are called deaf, are capable of "hearing" and dancing to music. Again, change one of the submodalities and the experience changes. Also, there is usually an emotional response associated with music, including a response to lyrics. If we use the Celine lovesong example again and change the words to describe roadkill, I guarantee your emotional response and the experience would definitely change!!! Lastly as a musician, playing different types or brands of instruments can change my experience of a piece of music. So the feel of the instrument (another submodality) is very important to me when playing music.

There are two other popular modalities I would like to speak to. They are visual and auditory-digital. My own experience as a songwriter is that I quite often see colours when I hear pieces of music or play certain chords. The combinations of note pitches will cause me to say " that's a red chord versus a yellow chord". It may sound bizarre, but it is the truth. I sometime literally paint a piece of music. At first I thought I was imaging things until one day while working in a recording studio the producer was watching me messing around on a keyboard. Out of the blue said "You see colours when you play, don't you?" I was initially shocked but calmly responded yes. He said that he too saw colours when composing. At least I found out that there were at least two weirdos in the world! The interesting thing about this is that if I change one note or pitch in the chord the colour I see will change. So to be consistent, change the submodality, in this case the pitch, and the experience is different.

The final modality is auditory-digital. This modality is pure analysis, similar to Spock from Star Trek. I don't believe that there are submodalities attached to this one. I present it to you for your consideration in that some people analyse music to ensure that the flow and the song "makes sense". Again this may sound bizarre, but during and after the process of composing music I will often step back from what has been created and tear it apart to make sure everything fits. No emotion attached. Other musicians with whom I have worked will do the same to their respective compositions as well as each other's. I will also do the same when listening to music just see how it was put together. I guess for lack of a better description it may be called being critical, curious, and even "objective".

In closing, the simple way to describe a submodalities is that they are experiential dimmer switches. They can turn up or turn down the intensity of the experience.


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