Labor Harmony: The Dissonance Within

By Robert J. Harris

April 27, 2017

Trained as a jazz guitarist, I have a deep understanding of chord structures from both an aesthetic and a theoretical perspective. In jazz music, chords set the harmonic context and framework for improvisation, and melody provides its themes.

In the following blog piece, I will briefly discuss the relationships between chord tones within basic harmonic structures, and attempt to use them as a metaphor for what negotiators and employee relations specialists call labor harmony.

When three or more tones are sounded simultaneously (a chord), the result can be characterized as either consonant or dissonant. Sounding pleasing or unpleasant respectively. Although consonance and dissonance are both subjective and conceptual, there is an accepted standard within the practice of music that determines their degree of suitability to the listener’s ear.

In three-note chords (triads) there is a relationship between two of those tones described as “perfect,” as if their relationship was flawless. However, other relationships are described as “diminished,” implying that they show some defect or are of lesser quality (herein lies conceptual dissonance). The remaining relationships within a triad can be called either “major” or “minor.” The implications of these terms are rather obvious. Nevertheless, the three tones in a triad work in a concerted manner to produce harmony.

Once a composer endeavors to add more tones to this basic three-note triadic structure, the theoretical result is more dissonance. However, notwithstanding this theoretical dissonance, a skilled composer can create a lush and rich harmonic consonance which is satisfying to the human ear. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, by increasing the dissonance within the overall harmonic structure, the composer increases the potential for more beautiful music.

At the bargaining table, it requires a skilled negotiator to bring about labor harmony from the dissonance within.

Robert J. Harris (@edudexterous) is an Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources.


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