Category Archives: music

Linking Gardner to McLuhan — Extending Ourselves via Muscle Memory

Starting the week off with positiv-e-motion and mo-mentum…

Dan Spira

In his 1964 classic, Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan described the wheel as an extension of the foot,  the arrow as an extension of the hand and arm, and electronic technology as an extension of the central nervous system. 

In defining what he calls “bodily-kinesthetic intelligence,” Howard Gardner (1983) described the ability of handling objects skillfully and controlling one’s body movements.  A person with this “intelligence” will have good hand-eye coordination and fine-motor control. They will also have a strong sense of the space around them (in terms of volumes of air and objects placed within those volumes) and well as a strong sense of timing or rhythm.

Putting bodies in motion
‘Cause I got the notion
Like Roy Cormier
With the coconut lotion

The sound of the music
Making you insane
You can’t explain to people
This type of mind frame

   – Beastie Boys, Body Movin’

Danny MacAskill (mac-a-skill?) of Scotland proves that…

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14 Songs About Change — A Trainer’s Personal Playlist

(#13 of 27) — Re-blogged this list of 14 favorite songs related to the theme of change, adding a couple of strummin’ good tracks.

Let’s call this the Classic Guitar Hero Supplement:

#15) Eric Clapton, “Change the World”

…where he sings to his Beloved, over silky chord sweetness. Clapton is a worthy heir in the lineage of Robert Johnson. Perhaps the ‘queen’ he refers to here is none other than the Blues tradition itself.

If i could be king
Even for a day
I'd take you as my queen
I'd have it no other way

#16) Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed”

Alternate title for this song is, “Alienated Aging Rockstar Gives In to Midlife Resignation.” Get a grip, Bob. (…but we love you anyway.)

People are crazy, times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm outta range
I used to care, but things have changed

Dan Spira

The idea of Change is a complex topic, with many different “takes,” as you’ll see from the list of songs (with lyrical excerpts) below — about 56 minutes of total listening time if you decide to play ’em all.


iPhone Headphones

When selecting music to play during a training session, I typically use instrumental music, as it adds energy to the session without competing with participant dialogue — both the inner dialogue within individuals and the outer dialogue between individuals.

However, there are times — given the right mix of audience, program and activity — where I’ll play lyrical music, for example popular songs from the radio, or genres of music from the “golden years” (late teens / early twenties)  of the group that I’m facilitating.

Some genres — e.g.  funk — seem to more easily cross generations of workshop participants, but an even nicer “common denominator” is when I can weave-in a series of songs…

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Coffee, Chocolate and Love Songs: Mindfulness for the Cynic

When we were teenagers (assuming you the reader are not currently a teenager or a preteen), we often experienced music in a peculiarly personal way. Listening to a given song, it might seem like it was composed JUST FOR US and that whoever wrote the song UNDERSTOOD US PERFECTLY, UNLIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

This perception magnified whatever feelings we already had, especially when we were smitten by a girl/boy… or angry at our parents/friends… or feeling excited about an upcoming competition/performance… or experiencing any other part of that angsty roller coaster ride known as adolescence.

iPhone HeadphonesFor those of us who aren’t teenagers anymore, we’ve moved on from having that experience… okay, well, most of us have moved on… most of the time. For my part, I can still get pumped up by a song here and yanked down by a song there, however I recognize that these songs are entirely manufactured, carefully crafted to create predictable emotional effects. Take a tiny spark of genuine artistic pathos, inject it into words alluding to some form of unrequited love (which is really just a fancier term for plain ‘ol love), throw it all onto a 4-chord progression [ I-V-vi-IV ], give a little twist of something different and new, and presto!  Our reticular activating system (RAS) will take care of the rest.

And yet, even while knowing all this, I refuse to be cynical.

The song may be manufactured, but I am not manufactured.

My RAS may be looking for familiar patterns within a vaguely-worded poem written by a stranger, but my RAS is pattern matching against me, or rather, some aspect of myself that I (may) want to bring to the forefront of my consciousness.

Better living through chemistry

cupajoeIt’s the same thing with coffee and chocolate. Those are manufactured goods with the chemical triggers of caffeine and anandamide (one of the main active ingredients of chocolate, named after the Sanskrit word for bliss) which can change our mood and mental focus.

However, to write off their effects as mere chemistry is to miss the point:  As triggers, coffee and chocolate magnify something that is already there within us, a latent potential.

Better chemistry through living

empty gym on New Year's Eve - a space between resolutionsIt’s not just music, coffee and chocolate. We can experience a change of emotional state just by focusing our thoughts or actions. Certain activities have predictable effects not unlike coffee or chocolate: cardiovascular exercise, socializing, sex, learning, playing and gift-giving are just a few examples of voluntary activities that can generate feelings of well-being, exhilaration and connection.
In contrast to chocolate and coffee, many of us assign greater value to emotional triggers that require high levels of effort and personal investment.

However a deeply cynical person can dismiss any emotional experience as the contrived effects of a prior stimulus, whether it’s a love song, a shot of bourbon or a 5k run. The unrepentant cynic is a former idealist who got hurt, someone who will happily focus on proximal causes and superficial effects. It’s just easier that way.

Yet all of us are susceptible to a kind of cynicism engendered by logical explanations and scientific knowledge. The understanding of, “I feel like y because I just experienced x,” presents us with a decision, a follow-up question of, “So what?”

So what?

“So what” is a question about significance and consequence.

How we answer the question of “so what” determines a lot.

A weak answer to “so what” can put us onto a path towards alienated cynicism, or send us floating down a river of meaningless gluttony, or drive us up a precipice of terrified asceticism, or have us rotating between all three of those places.

A strong answer to “so what” brings heightened awareness and mindfulness. The more mindful we are of the emotional triggers and our (initial) reactions, the more we can fine tune our experiences and responses, maximizing meaning, purpose and satisfaction. It also helps to develop good taste.

Yes, coffee helps me wake up… but a hot shower does the trick too… and exceptional coffee trumps mediocre coffee… and white chocolate is an abomination (just sayin’). When I give a gift, I give it with both hands and make eye contact. I look, listen, touch, smell and savor the details of these things. I dial down the frightened rationalist living in my brain, and I tune in to the wisdom of my heart.

14 Songs About Change — A Trainer’s Personal Playlist

The idea of Change is a complex topic, with many different “takes,” as you’ll see from the list of songs (with lyrical excerpts) below — about 56 minutes of total listening time if you decide to play ’em all.


iPhone Headphones

When selecting music to play during a training session, I typically use instrumental music, as it adds energy to the session without competing with participant dialogue — both the inner dialogue within individuals and the outer dialogue between individuals.

However, there are times — given the right mix of audience, program and activity — where I’ll play lyrical music, for example popular songs from the radio, or genres of music from the “golden years” (late teens / early twenties)  of the group that I’m facilitating.

Some genres — e.g.  funk — seem to more easily cross generations of workshop participants, but an even nicer “common denominator” is when I can weave-in a series of songs that relate to key themes of the program content. For example, if it’s a session about celebrating diversity and learning to express oneself more confidently, I might slip in songs like Wave Your Flag and Express Yourself.” When done subtly and with a light touch, it adds a fun, not-quite-subliminal layer to the workshop experience.

Here is my list of songs related to theme of Change  —  I started this list years ago when running  a program on Change Management and have been using parts of this playlist ever since for different programs….because ultimately, almost every program I do has an element of personal change and growth.

There are a few songs here that don’t make it to my classroom, but I enjoy them when exercising at the gym. Although these songs all feature the word “change” prominently, each one explores the concept of Change differently.


#1 – “Changes” by David Bowie (1971)

If you’re gonna play music about Change, you’ve gotta go back to this Bowie classic… particularly if your participants are Gen X or older.   It’s a song about continuous artistic reinvention and the inevitable passing of the baton between one rebellious generation to the next.


Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes — Turn and face the stranger
Ch-ch-Changes — Don’t want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes — Turn and face the stranger
Ch-ch-Changes — Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me — But I can’t trace time


And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware
of what they’re going through


Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes — Turn and face the stranger
Ch-ch-Changes — Oh, look out you rock ‘n rollers
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes — Turn and face the stranger
Ch-ch-Changes — Pretty soon you’re gonna get a little older
Time may change me — But I can’t trace time



#2 – “Hazy Shade of Winter” by The Bangles (1987) 

Speaking of transitions between generations, take a 1966 song about the changing of the seasons written by a couple of hippies,  throw some 1980’s rocker chicks with electric guitars, and you get this most excellent anthem…

Time, time, time, see what’s become of me
While I looked around
For my possibilities
I was so hard to please
But look around, leaves are brown
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter


Hang on to your hopes, my friend
That’s an easy thing to say, but if your hopes should pass away
Simply pretend
That you can build them again
Look around, the grass is high
The fields are ripe, it’s the springtime of my life…


#3 “Change” by Blind Melon (1992)

When it comes to songs about Change, a common theme is about experiencing hard times and then doing work to persevere and change in the face of adversity.  I love the scratchy, soulful, acoustic Southern Rock feel of this song and the entire album it comes from… for me, it just hits the spot, like a glass of bourbon on a porch in Mississippi on a hot summer’s day.


And oh as I fade away,
they’ll all look at me and they’ll say,
“Hey look at him and where he is these days.”
When life is hard, you have to change.

 #4 “Tubthumping”by Chumbawamba (1997)

As with the previous song, this song is also about perseverance…  except substitute the porch in Mississippi for a pub in Liverpool filled with striking dock workers and anarchist punks, the bourbon for Irish whiskey and hard cider, and the hot summer’s day for a long, blurry night that isn’t quite yet over.  Sing it.


I get knocked down
But I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down


Oh, Danny Boy
Danny Boy…


#5) “Change” by Faith Evans (2010)

Okay, it’s Sunday morning after that long night in the pub. You’re back home, Down South. Get your gospel choir robes ready.  This song, with its honeyed vocals and soothing R&B choruses, provides general all-purpose encouragement towards pursuing one’s personal aspirations and the aspirations of a broader society, with phrases like, “we the people,” “united we stand” and “promised land.”

We got to change
We need to change
Come on change
Why don’t you change?
I want to change
Things don’t always stay the same
We can make it together
Things don’t always stay the same


#6) “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson (1988)

Continuing with the gospel-derivative form, but moving WAY UP  to the top of the radio charts, we have this number by the King of Pop.  As with the Bowie song, no playlist on Change would be complete without this Michael Jackson classic. This is a song about commitment to taking personal responsibility for change. The refrain could not have been any clearer.

I’m gonna make a change, for once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right . . .


I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change


Gonna feel real good now!


You know it!


Make that change.

#7 ) “Change” by Wide Mouth Mason (2000)

Most people don’t know this little band from the little town of Saskatoon… but these guys have a big sound.  The message here is about maintaining authenticity throughout the change process.  We might start thinking of the analogy of the Ship of Theseus, which retained its identity despite having all of its parts replaced over time… or we might just shake our booty to the groove and revel in the lead singer’s moment of ecstasy…

Do you go with what you know and feel just fine?
Or do you try, on the fly, to be fresh?
A bed of nails, a night in jail
That’s the hard way to learn
Doing what you’re told makes no sense

Change, but be yourself now
Change, but be yourself now
Change, but be yourself now
Change, but be your real self…


#8) “A Change Would Do You Good” by Sheryl Crow (1997)

This song also deals with the idea of change and authenticity, except here it’s a specific critique of superficiality in stardom. With its clever wordplay and cryptic references, we can only guess who Sheryl is actually talking to.


God’s little gift is on the rag
Poster girl, posin’ in a fashion mag
Canine, feline, Jekyll and Hyde
Wear your fake fur on the inside

Queen of South Beach, aging blues
Dinner’s at six, wear your cement shoes
I thought you were singin’ your heart out to me
Your lips were syncing, and now I see

A change would do you good…

I think a change would do you good…

#9) “Change” by Taylor Swift

Once we’ve gone into Sheryl Crow country, we might as well stick around and listen to Taylor Swift. True, this is not my kind of music, but sometimes it’s not about what I like — or what Kanye likes — it’s about what the people (or at least the people’s kids) want…


So we’ve been outnumbered
Raided and now cornered
It’s hard to fight when the fight ain’t fair
We’re getting stronger now
Find things they never found
They might be bigger
But we’re faster and never scared
You can walk away, say we don’t need this
But there’s something in your eyes
Says we can beat this

Because these things will change
Can you feel it now?
These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down
This revolution, the time will come
For us to finally win
And we’ll sing hallelujah, well sing hallelujah


#10) “Changes” by A Cursive Memory (2008)

..and while we’re feeling bright and effervescent, we can continue our playlist with this pop rock ditty by a band from California.  This song reminds me of a saying my dad has, which he picked up from his dad:  “Different ages, different stages.”


Changes changes
We’ll always change in life
Goes in stages
Changes changes
Nobody knows life
Jumps and goes…


#11) “Changes” by 3 Doors Down (2002)

Okay, enough with the light fare, time to starting bringing on the darkness. I’d rarely play metal in a training room, but when doing weights at the gym it makes for an excellent cadence. Hard rock and heavy metal songs often reference a kind of testosterone-imbued idea of Change, addressing the physical and emotional changes and transformation of young men who are growing up.  This song presents a relatively mild-mannered example of what is often a much harder-edged genre:

I’m not supposed to be scared of anything, but I don’t know where I am
I wish that I could move but I’m exhausted and nobody understands (how I feel)
I’m trying hard to breathe now but there’s no air in my lungs
There’s no one here to talk to and the pain inside is making me numb

I try to hold this Under control
They can’t help me ‘Cause no one knows

Now I’m going through changes, changes
God, I feel so frustrated lately
When I get suffocated, save me
Now I’m going through changes, changes…


#12)  “Changes” by Godsmack (2004)

…and here is a harder edged example, where the protagonist addresses an antagonist, and speaks of emerging from the fire of rejection and betrayal, stronger than before… and ready for revenge.


Bow down to me
Taken your pride and stuff it down inside
Vows are ruined
Losing my faith, losing time
Better off you than me
I just can’t stand another day when you’re in my way
A long time brewing
It’s time you kiss your ass goodbye

I’ll never be the same
I’m moving back onto my ways
I’m looking for changes to better my way…

Once ignited, vengeance is hard to control, so I’ll just pile on some bonus lyrics from the even harder-edgedDown with the Sickness by Disturbed, along the same lines as the above…

(…)  It seems you’re having some trouble
In dealing with these changes
Living with these changes (oh no)
The world is a scary place
Now that you’ve woken up the demon in me…


#13) “Change” by Tears for Fears (1983)

Yes, the needle of the record suddenly scratched and we’re in a cheesy 80’s dance club.  Seriously, I didn’t know where to put this song on the list.  Well there IS a protagonist who is addressing an antagonist here (as in the previous song), but here the conflict is long over, the parties have drifted apart, and the mood is wistful.


And something on your mind
Became a point of view
I lost your honesty
You lost the life in you

When it’s all too late
It’s all too late
We walk and talk in time
I walk and talk in two
Where does the end of me
Become the start of you

When it’s all too late
It’s all too late
What has happened to
The friend that I once knew
Has he gone away

However, lest you take this song too seriously, the band’s songwriter Roland Orzaba has this to say about it:

“It’s not really about much. It’s just one of those cheap pop lyrics.”

..and on that note about cheap pop lyrics , we can wrap up this playlist with one last item…

#14) “Changes” by Ziggy Marley

At the end of the day — yeah, literally at the end of the day — people enjoy some good, safe, scrubbed, uncontroversial reggae music. With its trite lyrics and obvious rhymes,  you can just relax and stay focused on the learning lesson. Peace out, ordinary people.

Let’s plant a new tree, make a change
Need it for you and me, brighter days
Will come and you’ll see, make the change
Necessary for ordinary people

There’s so much beauty in every breath that we take
Oh, tell me, can you relate?
Needs of the many and the wants of the few
You can find religion in the freedom you choose

There’s so much hurt all over the place
And I can tell by the look on your face
And there’s one thing that we’ve got to say

Changes, changes
(Danny man say, brighten up your day and never feel no weight)
For ordinary people now…

How to Have More Engaging Conference Calls -::- Four Lessons from Morning Radio Shows

For the past five days this viral video by Tripp and Tyler, “A Conference Call in Real Life” has been bouncing around my social media circles, and day by day, it’s spreading faster:

Yes, I am one of those people… or more accurately, I am one of those people that does those sorts of things, often with (ironically) the goal of helping other people like that do a better job at doing those sorts of things.

..and yes, it is hard to keep a straight face on conference calls sometimes.  Especially now that they’ve nailed it with that video.

Conference calls are brutal, but they are a fact of business life… and a continuously growing fact at that.  As the workforce spreads itself out across wider distances, “virtual teams” become the norm rather than the exception.

Virtual teams have to contend with relentless, energy-sucking entropy that diffuses the impact of their verbal communication, primarily through the reduction of non-verbal cues. The long, boring conference call with half-listening multi-taskers – the calls where the question “Any questions?” is answered by a field of sleepy crickets – epitomizes that entropy.

If we’re going to succeed in the virtual team environment, it’s crucial that we inject greater vitality, engagement and focus into our conference calls.

Get Your Morning Jolt of Acoustic Variety

When it comes to improving the quality of a conference call, one of the best analogies I’ve found is the morning radio talk show. The morning radio talk show demonstrates (often, to an extreme) the importance of maintaining acoustic variety in an audio-only medium.  Never mind the old radio rule of “no dead air.”  On a raucous morning show there is no stable air… no one sound pattern that lasts longer than 20-30 seconds.

On a typical radio talk show, acoustic variety begins with the voice of the hosts. Individually, a radio talk show host will have a great voice, with strong vocal modulation and emotive power.

But any one voice is still not enough:  Our ears tune out almost any speaker after just a few minutes (or for some, seconds), especially when the listener is multi-tasking, such as eating breakfast and reading emails/social media updates, all while navigating the morning commute. So that’s why radio talk shows typically have a pair of co-hosts,  often male and female, usually with varying demographic/regional accents, in order to raise the level of vocal variety.

In addition to the voices of the hosts, radio shows feature music, media clips, sound effects, guest interviews, and listeners calling in by phone. Put it all together and you’ve got a veritable non-stop varying stream of acoustic madness.  While we don’t need to go that far in our corporate conference calls, there are certainly a few useful lessons we can apply from radio.

Four Easy Listening Lessons from Radio

Here are four things you need to start doing – and continuously improving upon – if you’re a person whose days are spent on the phone with far-flung groups of people who barely know each other:


It ain’t so much about the words you speak… it’s about how you speak the words. Put some effort, energy and practice into the quality of your voice. The key thing is to get a good combination of self-calibration and coaching/feedback from others. Start by recording yourself speaking and then playing it back to yourself. Do this until it no longer feels uncomfortable to hear yourself played back from a recording device, i.e., you’ll want to reach the point where you have an accurate understanding of what your voice sounds like to others, and be satisfied with it.  We tend sound a lot more dynamic to ourselves, in our own head, than we do to others.  Hire a speech coach, too.  A few lessons can go a long way… Lorde knows.


Great communicators are, first and foremost, great listeners.  Make sure that your conference calls have a strong element of dialogue. Plan a series of two-way discussions into your presentation. The earlier you do this in the call the better, as it sets the tone and expectation with the participants that they are just that — participants in the call. Pepper the discussion with questions and call on people in advance to let them know you expect them to contribute to the conversation.  Rule of thumb: No one person speaks for more than 3 minutes straight… and for higher-energy results, reduce the limit to 90 seconds.

iPhone Headphones


What are you wearing?  How are you sitting, or better yet, standing?  Did you know that your appearance, facial expression, posture and gestures translate into the quality of your voice?  Good.   Now put a mirror in front of yourself on your next conference call and be prepared to experience your best call ever.


When leading discussion, make your words explode with sensory language, aka,  the Invisible Visual Aid.  Use words that trigger the imagination and/or memory — sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings.

Brilliant storytelling and gripping analogies will hijack your listener’s brain, painting pictures in their mind and carrying them off to faraway places.

..and say it with feeling, too.

Because if you’re gonna be on, then you gotta be on.

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