Here’s How Music Affects the Brain for the Better

Guy listening to music, going to work

Guy listening to music on way to work | Source: Thinkstock

Music is many different things to many different people. For some of us, it’s merely a background fixture; something we use to fill the dead air. For others, it’s whatever is coming across the airwaves and spilling out of our car’s entertainment system whenever we’re commuting. Other people adopt it as a hobby or profession, becoming vinyl collectors, developing encyclopedic knowledge about one or many musical talents, or even starting a band or solo act of their own.

Music is a part of our lives in a number of ways. But there’s more to it than we might realize. In fact, music can be used as a tool — a tool to hard-wire our brains for productivity, and help you squeeze more out of every activity.

As headphones have become a ubiquitous feature in many workplaces, there is definitely something more to pumping up the tunes than just drowning out the water cooler chatter, or incessant fantasy football talk every Monday morning. Research has found that listening to music can help us concentrate, retain more information, and ultimately be more productive. While some might refer to this as getting in ‘the zone’, scientists have found that it’s actually a physical, biological response to tunes that put us in the right frame of mind.

According to a 2012 article from the New York Times, our bodies respond to music that we like with an uptick in dopamine, which is a similar biological response to other stimuli like eating a favorite food. That dopamine helps our brains narrow our focus, complete our set tasks, and keep ourselves on track. It all comes back to our specific frame of mind, too. Researchers say dopamine puts us in a better mood, and when we’re in a better mood, we can slow down, take in our options, and make better decisions.

In aggregate, that ends up with a more productive day than we would have had otherwise.

With psychology and biology on your side, getting into the specifics of your music selection is rather easy. In fact, it doesn’t really matter if you prefer Illmatic or Ride The Lightning — what really matters is that you tailor a playlist that gets you that dopamine hit. Or, puts you in ‘the zone’, if you will.

Many people have found that listening to a handful of songs on repeat, or even one single song, is what gets them in the right frame of mind. Many tremendously successful people have adopted this into their workflows, and have reaped the benefits of it. From authors Ryan Holiday and Michael Lewis to software prodigies like WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, short, repeated musical playlists are one of the secrets that help them tap into their creativity, sit down, and bang out some work.

Aside from professionals, you may have noticed that glossy-eyed, yet intense stare gamers get when smashing their enemies in virtual worlds on PC, Xbox, or Playstation. These people are definitely in another frame of mind, and there’s one big thing that helps keep them there: the music.

Video game music is specifically engineered to keep you focused. It can be uplifting, atmospheric, and yet have a steady beat that keeps your foot tapping and your fingers typing. There are entire websites dedicated to playing music from certain video games, over and over, just so you can tune in and have your mind tap into it.

People have been building Spotify and iTunes playlists comprised of video game tunes for just this reason. Also, the gaming industry is pretty underrated when it comes to music — some of the most famous compositions from games like Halo, Metroid, and others are instantly recognizable by many people right off the bat.

If you don’t already work with headphones, you may want to give it a shot — assuming your workplace allows it. And if you’re sick of listening to the same old stuff, why not give something new a try — or something completely unorthodox? Try firing up the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack, and see where it takes you.

Follow Sam on Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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