My brother, Jon, and I have a recurring argument with our lovely wives, Amanda and Andrea, respectively. They believe that good music is in the ear (as it were) of the beholder. Jon and I cringe, like Will Smith and his poor children, subject to the needless visual supplements required to make the music of Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga interesting enough to consume. Seemingly incapable of withholding the raft of musical elitism that will surely land us in the bad graces of our beloved, we’re drawn to the life-zapping light like flying insects.
“No, you don’t understand,” I assert, “there is good music and there is bad music. Like too much sugar will rot your teeth, too much ‘ear candy’ will rot your…your soul!” (After all, it’s only Andrea’s best interest with which I’m concerned.)
“Then why don’t you marry Jon, so you can listen to your favorite music all the time?”
These little spats are just for fun (usually) and give our lives together a unique texture, but too much variability in the ways we live and love is draining and too often leads to a marriage requiem. Discord over financial issues is often cited as the leading cause of divorce, and while the statistical jury is still out on whether money issues are a leading or lagging indicator of marital health, it’s clearly an issue worthy of our attention.
Here are three ways that you can apply musical theory to maintaining financial harmony in your household:
1) Establish a rhythm – In music, the rhythm is the foundation of a song. Musicians establish a song’s rhythm first through the time signature, musical math composed of measures and beats per measure. Rock songs, like Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” with its iconic drum beat, are typically written in 4/4 time signature. Contrast that with the Dave Matthews Band’s “Seven,” written in 7/8 time, a rarity in rock and pop that has a notably different rhythm. Another time signature easily spotted is 3/4, as in Johann Strauss’s “Vienna Waltz,” with its recognizable 1-2-3 repetition.
Every household has a rhythm of cash flows—money comes in via income and goes out as expenses. Regulating this rhythm to the best of our abilities allows our household to settle into a comfortable pattern. This becomes more of a challenge when your pay comes at a different interval than your expenses, but you don’t have to be a virtuoso to accommodate for these differences. Divide your conservative estimate of your annual income by 12 and you have your monthly budget to allocate. Then divide any annual expenses by 12 to be sure you set aside the necessary coin to pay for them when they arrive.
2) Create a melody – Rhythm makes a song work, but it’s the melody that makes it memorable. You don’t have to love classical music to get Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” stuck in your head. Great melodies are often reincarnated, like when Billy Joel reprised Beethoven’s “Sonata Pathetique, Movement 2” in his song “This Night” (listen to the chorus at: 59).
Crafting a comfortable rhythm helps keep our finances on track, but we create a melody in choosing how to spend our excess cash flow. Maybe you’re known for generous hospitality, like one friend of mine whose parties are not to be missed. Maybe you’re making a concerted effort to provide meaningful support to a worthy charity or broadening your children’s horizons through regular travel. Or maybe you’re foregoing income to invest your time as a mentor or student.
3) Manage dissonance – Dissonance is the sound produced when two or more musical notes don’t appear to mesh well. If you hit three adjacent white keys on a piano at the same time, you’re likely producing dissonance. Musically speaking, dissonance can be used to good effect, creating atonal suspense that is eventually resolved, but left unresolved, it’s likely a song that no one wants to hear.
Financially speaking, every couple is born in dissonance. Our individual personalities, strengths and weaknesses, compounded by our personal history with money, make it impossible to strike a rich major chord every time. Our goal should be to recognize the dissonance when it arises, treating it not as failure or a misplayed note in our duet, but instead as an opportunity to work toward a deep resonance when the dissonance is resolved.
Jon and I had some fun a couple years back riffing on this topic in a video we created called “Making Financial Music.”
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