music_brain_and_creativity

Use Your Music Playlist to Stimulate the Brain and Unleash Creativity

Cause sometimes you just feel tired, feel weak.
And when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up.
But you gotta search within you.
And gotta find that inner strength, and just pull that sh*t out of you.
And get that motivation to not give up and not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face, and collapse.

Something comes over me when Eminem so eloquently delivers these words through my Beats headphones. The melody starts off slow, then that hand-clap beat drops hard and Eminem just loses it with a lyrical assault of rhymes full of rage and passion. I start to lose it too. Chills go down my spine. A shot of musical adrenaline rushes throughout my body.

Busta Rhymes feels it too.

Busta “accidentally” put his head through a bus window listening to Eminem. He said:

There was no thought that went into the way I reacted; it was just so powerfully compelling that I just bugged out. And there are very few moments like that, for me, that made me feel like that. When I first heard him, I didn’t know if he was white or black or where he came from. All I knew is what he was making me feel like.

Your brain on music is a symphony of neurons and brain regions all working together to improve your mood, increase your adrenaline and provide a rewarding and pleasurable experience. That’s unless of course you happen to be stuck in an elevator forced to listen to Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” with 20 floors to go.

There’s a science that lies behind the emotional highs and spine chills felt when listening to music that moves you. Recent brain research explains the raw power that exists in that tiny iPod of yours.

Instead of bashing your head through a bus window, what if you can harness the energy and emotion that is generated from your song favorites and use it to your creative advantage?

Use 100% of your brain through the sweet sounds of music

Action flicks Limitless and Lucy share a common plot featuring two individuals given special brain powers after ingesting a drug. The drug allows their brains to operate at a full 100% capacity. While no such drug exists, listening to music may be the closest we get to a brain wonder drug.

Daniel Levitin, a prominent psychologist who studies the neuroscience of music and the brain and author of This is Your Brain on Music  states that listening to music involves nearly every region and neural subsystem in the brain. Many dimensions of sound have to be analyzed which involves several independent neural processes that need to come together in order for us to understand the music we are listening to.

Levitin explains:

Rhythm stirs our bodies. Tonality and melody stir our brains. The coming together of rhythm and melody bridges our cerebellum (the motor control, primitive little brain) and our cerebral cortex (the most evolved, most human part of our brain). This is how Ravel’s Bolero, Charles Parker’s “Koko,” or the Rolling Stones’ “Honkey Tonk Women” inspires us and moves us, both metaphorically and physically, exquisite unions of time and melodic space. It is why rock, metal, and hip-hop music are the most popular musical genres in the world and have been for the past twenty years.

So instead of searching for a mysterious nootropic brain wonder drug from the neighborhood crack dealer, consider that simply listening to your favorite band can ignite nearly every neuron in your brain to fire all at once.

Get doped up

With dopamine.

Music increases dopamine levels which are responsible for improving moods and providing positive rewarding experiences. These “feel good” emotions are associated with the same response received from drugs, certain foods, sex, and caffeine. The intense pleasure felt is a result of the dopamine being released into your system. It’s why a sense of euphoria rushes over your body whenever a good tune comes on.

Along with increased dopamine levels, Levitin claims there is reason to believe our brain state matches that of the musician who is serenading us. We are all expert listeners with musical brains forming a telepathic mind connection with the musician. We feel what the musician is feeling. So stay away from those depressing sad country love songs and that gangsta rap that your mom warned you about.

Turn down for what

While blasting your music gets all brain cylinders to fire simultaneously, it’s actually best to throttle back on the volume dial when it comes time to get creative.

A 2012 Journal of Consumer Research study concluded that a low ambient noise level of approximately 50 decibels can enhance performance on creative tasks. At a steady room noise level, we are able to interpret and comprehend the world around us at a higher level through greater abstract thinking which leads to higher creativity. Higher noise levels will do just the opposite and can hinder creative performance.

The research also suggests that if you find yourself in isolation stuck on an idea or experiencing a creative block, it’s best to come out of your cave and head to a moderately noisy environment such as the neighborhood coffee shop which can stimulate the brain to think abstractly and set in motion an originative waterfall of ideas.

Go back in time

There’s a reason why Huey Lewis’s “The Power of Love” makes me want to hitch a ride to work in the morning with my skateboard holding onto the back of a moving Jeep. The song takes me back to 1985 when I thought Marty Mcfly was the coolest kid on the planet. The music is the flux capacitor powering the DeLorean time machine taking me back in time to reconnect with the emotional high I felt as a kid watching Back to the Future for the first time.

Daniel Levitin writes:

The story of your brain on music is the story of an exquisite orchestration of brain regions, involving both the oldest and newest parts of the human brain, and regions as far apart as the cerebellum in the back of the head and the frontal lobes just behind your eyes. It involves a precision choreography of neuron chemical release and uptake between logical prediction systems and emotional reward systems. When we love a piece of music, it reminds us of other music we have heard, and it activates memory traces of emotional times in our lives. Your brain on music is all about connections.

Emotionally charged connections in the brain are established from our nostalgic music favorites growing up. The brain amygdala and neurotransmitters work together to “tag” these memories as being important.

So what do the music invoked emotional connections of your past have to do with creativity?

We were all highly imaginative creatures in our younger years. Our imaginations unfortunately wane as we age and grow into responsible adults. Now your imagination may be limited to coming up with innovative ways to tackle your chores like how to remove the moles in your front yard with a stick of Wrigley Doublemint gum (I have a neighbor that swears by this method).

As kids, our imaginations were used to create fantasy worlds and we were perpetual dreamers. Music can take us back to our peak imaginative years and allow us to become dreamers yet again. Allow the nostalgic music to trigger memories from your imaginative past that could spark a creative breakthrough and reignite a passion that’s been buried away since childhood.

Imagination ignites creativity.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand. – Albert Einstein

Nurture your playlist

Music stimulates the entire brain, arouses emotions and feelings, triggers memories and enhances creativity.

We all have different music genres that appeal to us. Certain music choices can relax us, make us cry, give us strength, or turn us into headbanging window breaking lunatics.

Do not underestimate the power of what a carefully constructed playlist can do for your brain when seeking motivation and creative inspiration. These are the songs that do it for me:

What’s on your playlist?

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