The Big Idea
Music has been a form of communication as far back as we can trace. From the early principles of hitting something to accompany what was being done or to send a message, music has developed in line with the manufacturing and creative abilities of man. As the repertoire of music available to us all has increased, our tastes in music have become more and more personal – so this tip is really open to your own interpretations.
Most of us will associate a piece or genre of music with significant points in our lives; it might be something you sang at school, your first dance with your partner, a favourite song of a parent, the first track of the album or mixtape you had in your first car or the song that got you over the line in a sporting event.
Whether it’s an absolute banger, a power ballad, the cheesiest disco pop possible, heavy rock, opera, classical, purely instrumental, hip hop, nature sounds or trance, we want to know what music you use to get yourself into a different zone or place. This might be to improve your productivity, increase your focus, calm down, take control, exercise more effectively or motivate yourself for a particular task.
Got it…What’s the Science
The process of listening to music is in fact a complex one. Even with the simplest melody needs a significant amount of processing by our brains as they work to process what’s going on. The neuroscience of music makes up diverse areas of study including music psychology and cognitive musicology.
To start with music involves sound being converted into electrical impulses that then travels to our brain (the auditory cortex) where it is first processed for pitch and volume before other facets of the music are then processed around the brain. For example rhythm is typically processed by the by the left frontal cortex (including a region called Broca’s), the left parietal cortex (including a region called Wernicke’s area) and right hand side of the cerebellum. Other facets of music, such as tempo, pace, melody, tonality and harmony, are similarly processed through multiple brain regions. The combination means that music is able to ‘access’ and stimulate different brain functions including memory, language, reading and emotion. This cross-processing why music can be so evocatively associated to memories of significant events in our life – such as the first dance with your partner.
Research has shown that the inter-connectivity used by our brains for musical processing can actually be used as a ‘work-around’ or backdoor way of stimulating higher brain function networks, especially when there has been damage or disorders due to disease such as neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s, or structural / processing differences related to neurodiverse conditions like dyslexia. There are even some people, called sythesthetes, where music crosses sensory modalities – such as where specific musical notes are actual perceived or ‘seen’ as specific colours.
Sound is the first sense to develop when we are in our mother’s womb. So this sense, and so we, form to a backing beat that is our mother’s heartbeat. It is not surprising then that our brain is sensitive to rhythmic beat and we associate time to our own heartbeat and subsequent pulse. It seems that by manipulating pace and beat we can also use music to manipulate our perception of time. Studies suggest shown that being able to tap to a rhythmic beat correlates with performance on reading and attention tests.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg!
During the late teenage years brains go through a process called ‘neural pruning’ where the interconnections between our brains’ neurones are / were significantly reduced to streamline and optimise to the processes and processing that best served us up to that point in a development. From an evolutionary point of view, by the time we are reproductively mature, what matters is being able to do the tasks that we have learned to do by that stage faster and more efficiently (the down side is this reduces our ability to make, but not eliminate, our ability to make creative connections and leaps – this is in part why children tend to be much better at this than adults – say in their creative and imaginary play). What this does mean is that the music that we were ‘into’ in our teens, tends to remain our default or go-to preference throughout the rest of our lives. This may also help generations to better relate within generations in distinct ‘strata’ in society – helping social cohesion and sense of belonging and tribe.
This means that we tend to have certain music that we prefer. As we know musical preferences are incredibly personal whatever your age or generation.
This is particularly noticeable when it comes to that we use ourselves to get into ‘the zone’ – like athletes preparing to compete or us wanting to challenging physical exercise. This is in part because the music we listen to is so tied to our memories and feelings as well as more the basic (basal) emotions associated with say aggression, fighting and drive. There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that beats per minute (bpm) are also very important here in helping us regulate our tempo and sense of timing and time – not just in our brain, but in our bodies too – like to get ready to fight or run.
There may well be one other set of networks that are in play here to help us: a balance between 2 major macro-circuitry networks:
The daydream and creative reflective states associated with the Default Mode Network (DMN) and it’s counter associated with focused attention called the Task Positive Network (TPN). There is a good chance that music help us zone-in, and-out, and balance and manipulate between their associated states that these networks evoke helping us better reach and hold a ‘zone’ or ‘space’ for concentration and / or the mood or ‘state’ that we are after. This could include getting into a high performance and almost euphoric state that elite athletes aspire and train so hard to reach called ‘flow’.
All in all this means you can use music and create personal playlists that can help your brain to better focus, perform, communicate, remember and recall information and tasks as well as give you a greater sense of wellbeing social connection and my even boost your immune systems as well as give you the ability to manipulate your own perception of pain and even time!
Watch our #Tip12 on the Instagram Live Recording….
With massive thanks again to Jen AKA @digi_jen for joining us on this Instagram Live
Your brain on music (University of Florida article)
Listening to the music you love will make your brain release more dopamine (PayPost: a psychology and neuroscience news website)
On an aside our brains’ love and affinity for music is why, in part, Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech was, and still is, so powerful and evocative. He so wonderfully used rhythm, cadence, tone as well as metaphor, rhetoric and imagery – from his Gospel roots – to so passionately move his audience and change our World. This is what music and songs have done for us for millennia – the oldest musical instruments known are bone flutes are dated as over 40, 000 years old.
So what are you waiting for? What soundtracks could you make up on your devices to help get you into the zone or mood? What will be your playlist for life?
Here are some of our suggestions for music with a bpm (beats per minute) of 120 – don’t forget to submit your suggestions for The 52 Project playlist on our feedback form. Categorising them is hard – don’t judge us on that bit…
- Lady Gaga – Just Dance (lots of Lady Gaga tracks are about 120bpm)
- Rhianna – Only Girl in the World
- DNCE – Cake by the Ocean
- Carole King – I Feel the Earth Move
- Tina Turner – Proud Mary
- Whitney – I Wanna Dance with Somebody
- Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want to have Fun
- As the Hammer Falls – Brian Tyler (film: Thor the Dark World)
- Climbing Up “Iknimaya – the path to Heaven” – James Horner (film: Avatar)
- Dog Tags – Fil Eisler (film: The Titan)
- Flight – Hans Zimmer (film: Man of Steel)
- Stark – Brian Tyler (film: Iron Man 3)
- Journey – Don’t Stop Believing
- Bon Jovi – It’s My Life
- AC/DC – Baby Please Don’t Go
- Queen – You’re My Best Friend
- Prince – 1999
- Theme from Rocky – Gonna Fly Now
Relaxation / Chill-Out
- One of these mornings – Moby
- Heaven (Yanou’s Candlelight Mix) – DJ Sammy
- Codex – Radiohead
- In the Beginning – Mike Oldfield
- Early – Chicane
- My Sad Captains – Elbow
- Atlas – Coldplay (film: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)
Other Genres & Moods
You can find lots of other ideas over on DigitalJen’s blog about her involvement with this tip.
Tales from our Test Partners
Darren has created us this superb Spotify playlist – do let us know if you enjoy it – and have anything else to add!
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