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This “Pattern” most likely can be decomposed into various sub-patterns. It seems so obvious that music has historically played a huge role in fostering social cohesion across centuries and cultures that it is tempting not to bother arguing the case or bother to put it as a Pattern. However, music does not always seem to be a positive force for social cohesion. Parents arguing with their kids about music for example; bands famously “breaking up” despite spending hours of time playing music together and listening to low quality Muzak while on hold seem to indicate that the mere presence of music is not enough; some kind of analysis of the effects of music on teamwork, cooperation and coordination seems appropriate.


Societies have traditionally engaged in drumming, singing, dancing and making music both “for fun” and as accompaniment to rites and rituals. In my own cultural upbringing in the Midwestern United States, music has been part of every church service, wedding, and funeral. Songs were sung in every camp where I worked. Singing, dancing, and the staging of musicals was a large part of the high school experience. For example, most of the high school yearbook pictures of activities involve either sports or music. Music has been such an integral part of my cultural tradition that I cannot point to specific origins of its use. Indeed, rhythm, tune and dance are not even limited to humanity but also play vital roles in social coordination among numerous species of insects and birds.

Author, reviewer and revision dates: 

Created by John C. Thomas April 11-12, 2018


People typically enjoy listening to music and making music. Music can influence mood. If people listen to the same music, it can influence mood similarly across individuals as shown by the background music in cinema. There is ample evidence that music can be therapeutic in numerous ways across the lifespan (see references). Use appropriate music to help increase social cohesion. This can take the form of people listening to music or participating in its creation. In order for group music to “work,” whether classical symphony, jazz improvisation, a work song, military band, or caroling, it is necessary to pay attention to the larger group. Most cultures have developed music to help group coordination and cooperation. Most likely music has both an immediate, “in the moment” effect as well as a longer term positive effect on social capital.



Every person has their own concerns. We have our own individual bodies; our own friends and family; our own possessions; our own preferences; our unique education and personal experiences. Yet, people are happiest and most productive when they work together. In a highly complex and highly differentiated society in which people have very different roles and expertise, common experiences in the “workplace” have become less common. Hunting, gathering and agriculture often require people to work together on very similar tasks in the same place at the same time. In an “information economy” a person’s actual work may often be mainly solitary. Only the “results” need be communicated to someone else. In such circumstances, using music for the whole group is probably more important than ever.

Not everyone has precisely the same “tastes” in music. Some people prefer to do intellectual work without music while others find it useful. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see people at their individual work listening to their music privately via headphones. Similarly, on a family car trip, people may find it less argumentative to have everyone listen to “their own” favorite music rather than communicate, play a game or listen to or create common music. We may be missing opportunities for social cohesion though when music becomes only a vehicle for private enjoyment rather than a shared experience.



Because humanity lives in a highly inter-connected world, in many cases in close proximity to many others, we need to agree on how to allocate scarce shared resources and otherwise communicate and coordinate. Often, the interconnections of people in complex social and work situations are too complex and varied to “specify” in detail. It is vital to have a high degree of mutual trust and to collaborate and coordinate, not just through well-defined and precise set of rules and regulations, but through a sense of being part of a larger group.

In addition, people often have different professions, roles, backgrounds, experiences, educations, etc. This makes both communication and trust more challenging. Many of today’s communications are done remotely and in many cases, communication is limited to writing and reading text or the exchange of other purely instrumental communications; e.g., through forms, data, formulae, or signals. While such communication can be “efficient,” it is only effective when the situation being communicated about has been well-anticipated. In novel situations, it might not work at all and that is when people need to rely on each other in informal ways. In addition, while storytelling and conversing may seem “inefficient,” they are intrinsically more engaging and richer experiences for most people as compared with filling out forms.

Communication that is purely instrumental does little to encourage cooperation and build trust. Yet, because of the wide disparity in people’s backgrounds and experiences, as alluded to above, we need that cooperation and trust more than ever.



  • Groups of groups must sometimes work together to achieve common goals.
  • Subgroups may disagree with each other about the best use of resources to achieve those common goals.
  • In a drive to improve “efficiency,” rather than simply letting people talk, many business transactions are formalized and leave no room for expressive communication.
  • When the actual problem at hand requires people to work outside of the formalized transactions for a solution, it helps to have mutual trust.
  • Music that is shared, whether listened to, danced to, or created together, provides an opportunity to be expressive and build mutual trust.
  • Higher levels of mutual trust lead to better outcomes and provide more     pleasant experiences for all.




When possible encourage groups to engage in listening to or creating music together as a means to increase trust.


1. Early in the days of IBM, at the beginning of the day, employees sang company songs in unison.

2. Many high schools, colleges, and nations have songs that everyone in the group sings together. Many couples also agree on one song that is “theirs.”

3. In basic training, the military uses cadenced marching “songs” to help keep the group literally “in step” and encourage esprit de corp.

4. When multiple people row a boat, it is more efficient when the oars all hit the water at the same time. Most cultures that use rowers, also use songs to help coordinate the effort. Song is also used when a group of people has to pull or push something heavy.


Resulting Context:

When people sing together, play music together or dance together; even when people listen to the same music, they are literally more “in synch.” Each person is individually in a better mood. The group as a whole identifies more with the whole group. Trust in increased.

A community, team, or group that regularly shares music together also experiences a longer term effect of increased mutual trust. Robert Putnam and his collaborators, Robert Leonardi and Raffaella Nanetti, in Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy found that the best predictor of both how people felt about various communities in Italy and how effective they were economically was best predicted by how many chorale societies they had.


Related Patterns: 

Small Successes Early, Build from Common Ground.


In the vertebrate body, there is a heartbeat. The pulsing heart serves as a coordination event for the rhythm of the body. In the brain, there are various frequencies of “waves” and although the exact evolutionary advantage is not known, we may speculate that these help coordinate the overall response.










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Strike! the keys then smoothly skim along.
Strike! piano then sing your song.
Strike! down harder as the music flies.
Strike! once more as the music dies.

Murmur so softly to the moonbeams of blue;
Whisper quiet to the desert night.
Rolling, caroling, dancing, whirling,
Murmur down to nothingness and silence long.

Triumphantly, the snow falls now,
Majestically were love’s enow.
Chord full rich. Chord weird whines.
Empty fifths flow futilely along.

The rhythm picks up in a waltzing gate
And all the dancers can hardly wait.
The melody’s thinking, “All is great!”
This orgy of music will satiate.

Mellow and sadly, slowly going,
Seeds of sorrow steadily sowing,
From painful pathos fire growing,
Mood and madness never slowing.

Strike! the keys both loud and strong.
Strike! piano then live your song.
Strike! down harder as the music flies
Strike! once more as the music dies.