- On June 27, 2017
Music can have a powerful impact on our ability to get things done, including focus and creativity.
I attended the Kennedy Center’s Music and the Mind production last week, a fascinating collaboration between the National Symphony Orchestra and prominent neuroscientists. It enticed me to take a deeper dive into some of the research around music and the mind.
I came away realizing that I need to add more music in my life– to spark creativity and boost my motivation!
Researchers have found that listening to music we enjoy releases Dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a conduit that transmits information between neuron cells. It is known as the ‘pleasure chemical’ and is often associated with why we have pleasurable feelings after sex.
Dopamine also has a ‘dark side’ and can stimulate the addiction cycle—gambling, drugs, drinking, overeating. Here’s the challenge: Not enough dopamine in our system can manifest as lethargy, disinterest. Too much and we can feel hyper-active, overwhelmed, and craving more. The ‘just right’ amount can give us energy and engagement.
Research has found that when we listen to music we enjoy, Dopamine is released in the moments of anticipation before a crescendo or very moving part of the music that we know is coming. It is the anticipation of a favorite part which creates the conditions for the Dopamine release. Is there any classic music fan that doesn’t get a jolt of satisfaction from the motif in Beethoven’s Fifth or a class rock fan that doesn’t find a pulse of energy from the entre guitar riff in Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”?
From my personal experience in doing marathons and strenuous treks, when I felt my energy lagging and my strength depleting, I turned on my iPod playlist of “Energy” music and I was almost instantly back in the zone of enjoyment and power. Little did I know I was stimulating a ‘Dopamine jolt.’
Scientists have also found that listening to a style of music we enjoy can spark creativity by activating our Default Mode Network (DMN). The DMN is a network of connections in our brain which allows our mind to wander. When we are in this state, we can often make those seemingly ‘off the wall’ connections that are the hallmark of creativity. Ever had a great idea in the shower? That’s your DMN at work!
While this is still a very emerging area, Dr. Charles Limb has shown that different regions of the brain activate when it processes ‘memorized’ music versus when it is involved with the creation of new music. He talks about some of his work in this TED Talk. I love the part about the intersection of neuroscience, rap, and creativity!
I am going to do my own personal experiment over the next month, using music to spark a motivation or creativity boost.
1) When I need a motivation boost, I’ll listen to some upbeat music I like, conscious that I’m releasing Dopamine in anticipation of those favorite parts.
2) When I need some creativity, I’ll listen to something unpredictable, something I’m not familiar with.
Right now, I’m looking for a boost of creativity as I launch into several writing projects. I’m listening to Lenita Gentil, a Portuguese Fado singer. She’s singing in Portuguese so I have no idea what she’s saying, yet it feels very emotional, heartfelt, and personal. I am just allowing it to bathe my brain in creative emotional vibes.
Just at first blush, my writing process seems a little less stressful while the music is going in the background. We’ll see what I notice after a few weeks…
What kind of music gives you a spark of energy or makes you feel creative?
Photo credit: © Saniphoto | Dreamstime.com – Butterfly music grunge