Boost Cognitive Power and Creativity with Your Playlist

Music can change the world because it can change people. – Bono

Music is the universal language for a reason. More than any other type of stimulus, music evokes feelings and heightens the emotions associated with them. It fires up our emotional center, engages our motor region, and evokes deep significant memories.

Music physically changes the brain, and now neuroscience proves that certain types of music impact our emotional state of mind, perceptions, and cognitive capacity. In fact, there is power in music.

Over the last decade, neuroscientists have been using technology to learn more about the impact of music on brain function. The characteristics that make up a given piece of music – wave length, tone, hertz, timber, pitch, etc. – affect us in a variety of ways. We are aware of some and unaware of others. Beyond the way it makes us feel about the presidential hopefuls, a basic understanding of how the brain processes certain types of music can have a real impact on our lives.

Pump up the Power with Queen

Research shows that rock music, especially songs with heavy bass, can infuse a sense of power-related thoughts and behaviors. A recent study examined the effect of “power tunes” like Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.” They found that power music elicited higher abstract thinking, visionary (big picture) thinking, and an increased sense of illusory control – all traits associated with intellectual power. Before you head in to the next big presentation, ask your boss for a raise or sit down at the negotiation table, crank up a little Queen and pump up your power.

Enhance Focus, Memory, and Concentration with Vivaldi

The clarity and elegance of classical music has been shown to improve focus, memory and concentration. Slower Baroque music creates a mentally stimulating environment conducive to tap into higher cognitive tasks. However, if you’re not a big fan of Mozart or Vivaldi, soft instrumental ambient music can induce relaxed alertness. While whole-brain thinking is essential for creativity and deeper insight, lyrics are found to compete for the brain’s attention and decrease one’s ability to concentrate and focus. For the intellectual tasks, stick with soft instrumentals.

Get Creative with Clair de Lune

Music is one of the greatest ways to unlock creativity. Every single brainstorming session should begin with sensory, free-flowing music. Every single one. Impressionist music like Debussy and Ravel can stimulate the imagination and tap into your unconscious where many of your creative impulses live. Unfamiliar music triggers abstract thinking and helps generate creative ideas. Jazz and “new age” music with no dominant rhythm can also promote a sense of relaxed alertness and inspire creativity. Volume is the key here. If it’s too soft, your brain will work hard to try to tune it in; if it’s too loud your brain will work hard to try to tune it out. Moderate volume is the most effective to tap into your creative center.

 De-stress with Sinatra

While we typically associate soothing tunes with relaxation, stress-reducing music really depends on the person and sometimes changes depending upon the day or task. Classic rock releases tension for some, while reggae, jazz, top-40 and big band can be emotionally uplifting for others. Identify the genre that works for you.  However, slower tempo samba music is unique in that it can be soothing and energizing, relaxing and inspiring.  And, let’s face it… Frank’s smooth croon can even make Crankshaft feel better.

[Insert Your Favorite Song Here]  for Higher Brain Function

There is a wealth of research showing the impact of music on higher brain function. The caveat is that it since music is so personal and subjective, the music you enjoy will be more effective for the cognitive boost. Studies show that performance on cognitive tests after listening to music is higher if the subjects like the music that was played. Conversely, when they heard music they didn’t like, the effect disappeared. If you’re a U2 fan, Mozart won’t give you a brain boost as much as U2 will. Any music that puts you in a positive frame of mind and increases your arousal levels will produce cognitive benefits almost immediately. The next time you feel yourself dragging or struggling to meet a deadline, fire up your favorite song, close your eyes, and let your brain do its thing.

Shuffle your Songs

For a quick dopamine hit, mix things up.   The brain thrives on making predictions, so a random shuffle play once in awhile is a good thing. Spotify and Pandora must be pretty happy about this.

Now that you know the science behind music, you know how to use it to your advantage. Experiment with your playlists and load them up with the tunes that speak to you. Let the music take you where you want to be – where you need to be. Rock on!

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You might also enjoy: The Irony of the Neurosurgeon and the Donald

Dr. Melissa Hughes is the founder and principal of The Andrick Group. Our mission is to engage, inspire, and educate people who are looking for ways to more effectively teach and learn. We deliver tailored, dynamic workshops to help organizations improve their work by learning about learning and thinking about thinking.


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