Use music to be more productive and creative

Music can make us more creative, improve memory, and do some other wonderful things. We feel it, we understand it, and yet we do not really know how to use it. So I present a cool overview with practical tips. More information here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Multiple levels of music involvement

So, you want to use music to be more creative, now what? The first question I would love to ask: how deep are you into music?

  • Composition. Some of the best mathematicians in the world like Pythagoras and Euler were deeply involved in theoretical and practical aspects of musical composition.  Pythagoras introduced musical interval and Euler introduced Tonnetz. One of the creators of spread-spectrum used in all mobile devices was George Antheil, a professional composer. Math and music can be deeply connected as a synesthetic process, activating the brain areas that deal with logic and patterns. Platon and Aristotle called astronomy “music of the spheres“.
  • Instruments. If you happen to play guitar, piano, or drums, you have a cognitive advantage. Studies show better working memory, coordination, and creativity. There are fewer studies on other instruments, but at least some of them should have similar positive effects. This is not very surprising: musical instruments develop coordinations, and musicians need to remember a lot of information. People with perfect pitch also have a high IQ score and linguistic skills.
  • Listening. Focused listening to complex music genres (Classical, Jazz, Progressive Rock) improves the ability to focus and recognize complex patterns. There are also health benefits like reduced stressed and lowered blood pressure. Additionally, people who love complex music tend to be more emotionally expressive and empathic. They even sleep better and experience lower stress levels.  Why? I can only guess. Musical intervals deal with anticipation: the longer the anticipation the stronger the dissonance. When we hear lots of consonances, it’s like getting positive self-talk.
  • Hearing. When we do not really focus on the music but feel it. Usually, this happens with relatively simple music rich with bass frequencies. We get into a rhythm and synchronize our actions to the music. This way our endurance improves, together with motivation and productivity. Many ancient armies used to motivate their soldiers with simple music. Today we often get “elevator music” when we are asked to wait.
  • Transcendence. Certain complex music may generate physical chill (frisson). Simple music may induce hypnotic trans. Religious activities are often supplemented by music, like chanting. Even when we hear music in our sleep there is a deep effect. Possibly this hypnotic effect is caused by some synchronization of brain processes resulting in better connectivity of brain neurons. The studies are inconclusive.

Choosing musical track per task

Below are my notes from this article:

  • Problem-solving tasks often benefit from alternative music: 50-80 bpm, minimal lyrics syncing alpha waves in brain.
  • Simple, repetitive tasks tend to become more productive with favorite tracks (simple rhythmic music).  Favorite tracks activate dopamine release and lower perception of tension
  • Learning something new may work with no music at all. (The subjects did not suppress subvocalization)
  • Jam out when you are doing the job you like
  • Those who sang together were more cooperative in helping in a game

Another article states measured bpm best for different activities:

  • Cycling 180 bpm
  • Yoga 160 bpm
  • Running 145 bpm
  • Walking 120 bpm
  • Study 80 bpm
  • Sleeping 60 bpm

Personally I find this statement too artificial. If this rhythm is connected to neural oscillation, the bands are as following:

The first discovered and best-known frequency band is alpha activity (8–12 Hz) during relaxed wakefulness. Other frequency bands are: delta (1–4 Hz)[NREM sleep], theta (4–8 Hz), beta (13–30 Hz) [waking], low gamma (30–70 Hz), and high gamma (70–150 Hz) frequency bands, where faster rhythms such as gamma activity have been linked to cognitive processing.

When is it the best time to start musical activities?

Educators used to believe that hearing music in the mother’s womb will be helpful, but the studies were inconclusive. If the baby is lucky to be in the 25% that can learn the perfect pitch, the first 10 months of life are critical for acquiring the perfect pitch. Then there are contradicting studies in early childhood, as the lack of feedback and communication with playing devices and screen can be worse than the advantages of music. All this time babies are supposed to hear complex music.

As a child starts to talk, simple songs with simple lyrics may result in better phonological awareness and dictionary acquisition.

From the age of 6+-2, a child may start musical education. Pianos and violins are better to start in younger ages, guitars are more suitable for teenagers. Students who participate in music-related activities between grades 7-12 achieve significantly higher scores on science, math, and English exams in high school than non-musical classmates. These exam-based statistics were consistent regardless of socioeconomic background, gender, ethnicity, or prior learning in science, math, and English.

Can it be too late to start loving music?

The most popular music is written for teens. We form our musical preferences in teens and then modify them slightly to dance music or sophisticated music. We tend to prefer the music that we are most familiar with, in the context where the music is appropriate.

As we get old, we are not as good at distinguishing harmonic elements in music and less likely to get new themes. Moreover, the music that was popular when we were teens is a part of our identity, and it is associated with nostalgic elements. Being around mostly with people of our age, we are also more likely to be exposed to the music that was popular in our teens.

In one study, elderly people were tested after Mozart, Mahler, white noise, and no music, I quote this interesting article:

  • Processing speed performance was faster while listening to Mozart than with the Mahler or white noise conditions.
  • Episodic memory performance was better when listening to either type of music than while hearing white noise or no music.
  • Semantic memory was better for both kinds of music than with white noise and better with Mozart than with no music.
  • Mozart generated higher happiness indicators than did Mahler or white noise. Mahler was rated more sad than Mozart and comparable to white noise.

This means that music can enhance cognitive therapy above age 70.

How can we use music for sports?

I love dancing, but I hate sports since I remember myself. Intense physical activity may be unpleasant, especially if there were no positive sport-related experiences during childhood. Maybe I could do better if I used the right music?

I quote:

“Music is typically used as a dissociative strategy. This means that it can draw your attention away from the body’s physiological responses to exercise such as increased heart rate or sore muscles. But with high-intensity exercise, it seems that music is most effective when it has a fast tempo and is highly motivational. 

The top choice for each genre was (1) “Let’s Go” by Calvin Harris and Ne-Yo for pop music; (2) “Bleed It Out” by Linkin Park for rock music; and (3) “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Ray Dalton for hip-hop.  it is ideal to match high-intensity exercise with fast tempo music 135–140 bpm“. 

There are more songs in the quoted article and the author used to run marathons. One of the interesting things he briefly mentions: after hearing a song too many times it tended to lose its effect on him. E.g. after overexposure the song is not different from white noise.

This does not mean I will run, even if it means living 10 years longer. I honestly prefer to swim and listen to white noise. However, if you do run, you may enjoy this advice.

Sleep and music

Sleep is one of the most creative periods in our timeline. Some of the best songs were born from sleep or from insomnia. People who sleep more tend to be creative during the day and produce better results. If however, it is hard to fall asleep, the brain can create wonderful music. From my personal experience, a burning creative idea may cause insomnia. It is best to write it down and then enjoy a well-deserved sleep.

Children often need music to fall asleep. Somehow grownups do not use lullabies. This does not mean we can’t try. For example, this playlist was created as lullabies for grown-ups. Music may help you fall asleep, provided your spouse does not mind. To be honest, making a baby sleep is the best way for a grownup to fall asleep himself…

 Vibrations and movement

Music does not have to involve sound. We feel vibrations by our entire body. With newly invented haptic suits, even deaf people can feel music and can definitely experience rhythm in their bodies. It is even easier to feel basses from a wooden dance floor and this is well-tested low-tech.

Dancing activates sensor and motor circuits in the brain, making music more rewarding. For example, dance reduces risk of dementia in elderly adults more than cycling, golf, swimming, and tennis. Fast dance improves visual recognition and decision making.

Bottom line

So, if you can dance, dance. If you can play an instrument, do it. Choose the music that corresponds to your activity. Do not experiment too much and make sure you enjoy your music.


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