Rhythmically Challenged People

Rhythm. Some people have it and some people don’t. Johnny Cash sang, “Get Rhythm” as a cure for the blues, and, although I love Johnny Cash and this song, in particular, I don’t share his optimistic view about certain people’s ability to get rhythm. Fortunately for me, I have always had rhythm. I can keep the beat. I can dance without making a misstep. At the conclusion of my first bass guitar lesson, my teacher said, “Well, you won’t have any problem learning how to play the bass. You have a great sense of rhythm. And, I bet you’re a good dancer.” Very true! I truly have a good sense of timing. There are some people, however, who cannot seem to keep the beat. I see these rhythmically challenged people at concerts and other live music performances. They clap and tap their feet on the wrong beat (not to mention sing off key, but that’s another story!). My current bass guitar teacher frequently laments that, when he performs in certain parts of the United States, the majority of the audience claps on the wrong beat and, when the clapping is noisy, it really throws him off his playing, to the point he has had to learn how to tune out the off beat sounds. There are parallels to the presence or absence of musicality in many aspects of life. Sometimes, we hear a person described as “off beat,” “marching to her own drummer,” or “out of step.” These descriptions are rarely provided in a positive manner. Although I am not advocating conformity, for the sake of merely conforming to social norms (especially when doing so is harmful), I am suggesting that keeping the beat is usually preferable than being out of touch with the rest of the world. Test yourself the next time you listen to music. The beat goes on, with or without you, but can you keep the beat?

“Timing is everything” takes on a new meaning when talking about keeping the beat. Because that is literally what it is about – timing. I can’t dance, but I’d like to think I can, or once could, keep the beat when I played in my high school’s band. And, I try hard not to be one of the people Phill warned us about who clap on the wrong beat, though, now aware of this, it is surprising how often we observe it. But to use rhythm as a metaphor, I think it applies in workplace settings. There is a rhythm or flow to the work. When things happen as they should, things flow smoothly. When the beat is off, it requires special efforts to keep things on track. For example, when we are forced to wait on an accounting department somewhere to process a retainer check for several days after the “drop dead” start date given us by the jury recruiter, many things get off the beat. When a computer problem emerges after hours because the power went off and someone is trying to connect to the remote server, things get off the beat. You get the idea. When someone is listening to his or her own drummer, and not keeping up with everyone else, problems ensue. Keeping in the beat involves working through a song, or a plan, to achieve the objective, whether musical or not.

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