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How Music Can Help Your Web Development Skills

Jackrabbit Design October 13, 2011 Web Design & Development 5 Comments

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“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” – Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus was one of the most accomplished jazz bassists and composers in the twentieth century.  His music has inspired many of today’s most successful musical acts, and continues to influence aspiring musicians world-wide.  By now you may be saying ‘But Lucas, what does this accomplished musician have anything to do with programming?’  To that I would say, read on and you will see.

To start, let me give you a better understanding of my background.  For many years now I have been living a dual life.  By day I am a humble web developer, but by night I transform into a bass guitar toting renegade of rock!  My love for all things music has influenced all aspects of my life, including my web development life.  It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to see the connections between music and web development.  I’ll bring these connections to light in this post by illustrating them through four key principals of music – rhythm, timing, melody, and finesse.

Rhythm

In music, rhythm is generally expressed as the pulse of the piece.  The rhythm is what ties the piece together, and gives it motion.  Rhythm in web development may not be as immediately apparent as it is in music, but it is there nonetheless.  With it, the resulting web application feels cohesive and complete.  Without it, the application will feel flat and uninspired.  Imagine if you will, a search results page having a very fast rhythm.  All of the results would be very tightly displayed, with very little space between each result.  This would be very confusing to the user, and most people probably would not be able to find the information they were looking for quickly.  Now take that same search results page, but give it a very slow rhythm.  The results would be very spaced out, with a lot of distance between each result.  This would also be very confusing for a user.

Having the correct rhythm is just as important to any web application as it is to any piece of music.  When the rhythm is properly used, the web application can be more appealing and cohesive for users, and more easily maintained by the developer.

To see this concept in action, check out the song Crucial by the artist K-Os and The Black Dog website, which uses great rhythm for their search engine page.

Timing

Timing, when it comes to music, can often be overlooked by the listener.  The timing is the part of music that keeps everything progressing, and when used appropriately can be the most dynamic aspect of a composition.  The same holds true when it comes to web development.  Most users, and developers, don’t think about timing as an aspect to be considered during the development process, but they should.  If implemented effectively, timing can be the difference between losing or retaining users.

When a web application is timed appropriately, everything will flow smoothly from one thing to the other.  Imagine a site with a slide show on the home page that has the slides displaying at random intervals.  This would be jarring to users, and would render this slide show essentially useless.  The same can be said for applications that display messages to users but remove them too quickly.  Have you ever used an application that took more than one minute to load all the pages?  How long did you stay on that page for? I’d be willing to guess not more than a minute.

Keep in mind that a web application that is appropriately timed will not get stellar reviews from users, but a poorly timed application will get negative user reactions.

A great piece that uses timing is Bryn by Vampire Weekend.  This main header banner on the Braver website is also a great example of some perfectly spaced timing.

Melody

Often seen as the forefront of a piece of music, melody is what gives music its groove and feel.  This groove and feel can be directly connected to a web applications look and feel.  When used correctly, melody for a web application can keep users engaged and interested, just as it does with music.  I won’t go too much into detail with melody in web development, so I’ll let the Mayflower Brewing site do the talking for me.  The site has a great melody all around from the tone of the language to the detailed graphics.

Finesse

Finesse is what gives each piece of music a voice and really makes it come to life.  Each musician has their own unique way of using finesse, and this is also true in web development. For the most part, a user can determine the developer, or musician, simply by the way that their finesse is used.  Finesse in music would be the way that the musician transitions between two part in one piece of music, or the way they create a feeling by playing a certain progression of notes.  In web development, finesse can be seen as the way that particular parts of the design work together, or the way that images transition together, or even the way that a form submits.  Finesse can be seen as abstract pieces of the whole, but without these pieces the whole would be lacking.

To check out some of my own personal finesse, you can take a free listen here.  To check out my web development finesse you can view the most recent site I worked on, Koo de Monde.

Combining the Elements

Rhythm, timing, melody, and finesse are all things that I learned from music, but influence the way that I develop.  With these four pieces used appropriately, I believe that anyone can create successful web applications.  As Charles Mingus said, ultimately the person who can create a seemingly complicated application using these four aspects in a simple and understandable way is the person who will always succeed in their endeavors.

Let me finish by saying, go pick up some music by Charles Mingus and pop it in.  Be inspired to take these four aspects of music and integrate them into your own life and work, and you will be amazed by how relevant they truly are.

5 Comments

  • Ed Orsini October 14, 2011

    Great job Lucas! I find this connection to music and web development very interesting. I tend to think that in order to produce high quality one must contain elements of both technical and creative mastery. With that said, I wish I could play the bass as good as you! ;)

  • Chelsey Velozo October 18, 2011

    Great Article Lucas. We at Koo had no idea you played Bass. Thank you for all your hard work and dedication to our project! :-)

  • Stephond October 21, 2011

    Great job Lucas!

  • Brian Walsh October 21, 2011

    Well said my friend, I never knew you knew so much about music ;)
    You’re a great bass player and a great writer as well. Keep up the good work!

  • Michael Plemmons August 2, 2015

    Great article. One thing I was wondering about is I play guitar and piano. not great at either one. Taking music classes in the fall to improve my knowledge of theory and technique. I also just picked up Web Development through teamtreehouse. There’s a lot to web development (HTML, CSS, Javascript, JQuery, etc.) and it’s sucking up all my time for practicing my instruments. I love music and want to pursue it to get better, but I also need to start making a decent paycheck. Is it possible to be good at both? I don’t want to throw all my eggs in one basket. If I had to choose, I’d pick music, but it’s very competitive and difficult to make any good money with it. Therefore, Web Development is my fallback plan for a career. Maybe any input for budgeting my time to spread it out between the 2 fields so I could be good at both. I also work full time so that’s another setback that’s digging into my time.

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