Listening to music has the power to pump up our energy during a tough workout, or instantly throw us back to a childhood memory. It affects us on a level way beyond the auditory, that much is obvious. But did you know that music can also improve learning and cognitive function, boost productivity, induce wellbeing and happiness, and even change neural pathways in the brain?
Music activates the same areas in our brain that get stimulated by other rewarding activities, like eating chocolate or helping someone in need, but it doesn’t stop there. Music has been shown to “light up the whole brain,” activating some of its broadest and most diverse networks.
This study on the effects of music on work performance showed that people who listened to music while getting work done completed their tasks more quickly and had better ideas overall compared to those who didn't. Research has repeatedly proven that, depending on the genre of music and the tasks at hand, music can not only put us in a better mood, but can also be one of the most powerful tools to enhance our creativity and cognitive capabilities. What this means is that the right kind of music can be a fantastic way to cultivate a happier work environment while also boosting productivity and efficiency.
In this post, we’ll get into how this happens and how you can use music as a tool for boosting productivity, focus, and creativity, and of course, we won’t leave you without sharing some of our favorite music recommendations from various genres.
What exactly happens to our brains when we listen to music?
Let’s take a little peek into the science behind it. The sounds we hear are vibrations (sound waves, in other words) that travel through the air to reach our ears, where they engage with the eardrum and get transmitted into electrical signals. These signals then pass through the auditory nerve and into the brainstem, where our brains make sense of harmonies, chords, and rhythms—enabling us to perceive the sound waves as melodies.
According to a Johns Hopkins Medicine article, since music is “based on relationships between one note and the next, you may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it. Music is structural, mathematical, and architectural.”
Much like the way our muscles get stronger with physical exercise, our brains get stronger with mental exercise. One of the most effective ways to exercise nearly all parts of the brain’s various networks is by simply listening to music. Because music activates all these different parts of the brain, the act of listening to a song strengthens those very connections; this includes areas responsible for learning, well-being, memory, cognitive function, emotion, movement, and more.
How can we use music as a tool for boosting productivity?
For the most part, music that contains lyrics can be more distracting, so we recommend opting for something more instrumental and less lyric-heavy. Not only does the style of music matter, but so does the type of work you’re doing.
Different tasks require us to use different parts of the brain, which requires different types of music. Tasks that are repetitive, such as data entry, might be more enjoyable with some upbeat lo-fi (see list below). Other tasks that are more creative, like writing a blog post, would be better accompanied by simple down-tempo tunes or instrumentals.
Below are some genres (and our personal recommendations for each) that are known to significantly improve productivity:
Maybe you work remotely and have your headphones on day in and day out, or you’re managing a team and wondering how you can cultivate a more energized and productive environment. In any case, it’s important to keep in mind that using music to boost productivity is highly dependent on the genre of music as well as the nature of the tasks at hand.
For this reason, if you’re at an office, make sure you ask your co-workers if they mind having some music playing in the background. Ask what they would prefer to listen to, if anything at all. You can try switching up the genre periodically to accommodate different tastes, or only playing music at certain hours throughout the day to allow some time for silence, as well. If you find yourself getting distracted or caught up thinking about the music, consider trying ambient nature sounds or binaural beats.
As long as it makes the audience feel good, it can serve you in multiple ways. Explore what works for you or your team, observe the results, and crank up the tunes whenever necessary.
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