by Ana Sousa Gavin

How can you sound more interesting when you speak?
What does speech have to do with music?

Simon Gustafson

We were so fortunate to have elementary school music teacher Simon Gustafson as our guest speaker. A big thank you to Gustafson for sharing his time, skills, and passion with the Story Telling Club SAS members.
Gustafson specializes in percussion, so for him, it’s all about the beat! He told us that there is rhythm in everything—from walking to speaking. Body percussion is the best way to internalize the beat and the beat is constant, like our pulse. 
The musical challenge

Gustafson introduced a short poem and asked us to find its rhythm—the sound that changes according to the syllables in words. He asked us to find unconventional music instruments—anything that was not a musical instrument!
Gustafson gave us xylophones and asked us to use them to find the rhythm of the words. The xylophones have several keys which sound different and helped us notice how the sound goes “up” and “down,” making it easier for us to hear the rhythm in the poem.
We were ready to combine the different sounds after paying close attention to the various rhythm. Gustafson asked us to determine which arrow would match each sentence the best so that when we played it on the xylophone, it would sound harmonious.

simon gustafson

After experimenting, some of us found a musical combination that allowed everyone to play the poem. We appreciated the beauty of the poem in its “ups” and “downs.” Gustafson stressed the importance of a pause between the sound, allowing us to distinguish when there was a new sentence. A pause of about 7 seconds may feel awkward to the speaker, but it provides time for listeners to respond.
How do these music concepts apply to storytelling and speech in general?
Language is music. If you follow your natural rhythm, you will be better understood, and your speech will sound appealing. If you pause at the right place, your message will have a stronger impact on your listeners. When you speak, the sound of your words should fluctuate, so your listeners know if you are asking a question or making a statement.
We couldn’t help but notice how interesting it was to listen to Gustafson throughout the workshop, and so we asked him about his magic.
Gustafson mentioned how he enjoys being around people and connecting, so speaking to a group is fun. When it comes to talking to a more massive crowd, Gustafson uses a few techniques to help him find his center. He establishes a connection with one or two people before going on stage to talk to a large audience. It helps him feel confident.

We loved Gustafson’s workshop! Participants shared their takeaways: 
    •    It gave me the idea to combine language with music when reading a poem, to sound better.

    •    Our language has many tones, and yet we tend to speak in monotone! This workshop helped me understand how to make my speech more interesting and more fun by reminding me of the different tones.

    •    The beat, you kept, helped me to give structure to the poem and not rush through the notes.

    •    It’s so important to pace ourselves, as that affects how people understand what we say.

    •    Pauses allow the listener to picture in their mind what they just heard.


You (think!) never told a story before and would like to get started? The Storytelling Club at SAS is the perfect safe space to get started. Join like-minded people from the SAS community, to discover the storyteller within you and have fun in our workshops and meetings. 

If you’re not yet a member of the Story Telling Club at SAS, then make a request on our Facebook page or send an email to gavin.ana@gmail.com.

The Storytelling Club at SAS is organized by Ana Sousa Gavin, SAS parent, professional storyteller, and coach. We meet monthly! Just drop in and find out what we are all about.


  • language
  • music
  • rhythm
  • speech
  • story telling club



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