Is Music Mind Food?

Posted on May 27, 2014

Ripples Who is the invisible conductor that makes our heart beat? How did the ten thousand heart cells agree to a rhythm? From the simple beat of our hearts to complex symphonies of sound we hear from an orchestra, why does music help us think?

Our brain is a gorgeous instrument and the more I learn about how it works the more amazed I am at what we can do.  How can an acoustic pattern help us to learn and grow? When the weight of my thoughts or the resistance of a problem gets too much for me, I put the music on. I’ve written annual plans, corporate policy, briefing notes, articles and blog posts while listening to music and I think the work has been better for it.  There is something about music that allows me to focus in on my topic, narrow my thoughts until I get the things I need down on paper.  Of course the music I’m listening to matters.  Acoustic guitar is okay for some things, and clashing symbols and soaring horns are required for others.

I can sing along to old R&B or familiar pop tunes while writing, depends on the project and the mood.  What varies little is the ability of music to make the words flow. My husband says that music stops him from getting tunnel vision, because as each new tune or melody starts, his creative perspective is redefined. Do you remember learning things from songs? For those of us of a certain age and living in North America, we had the joys of School House Rock to teach us everything from how legislation works (I’m Just a Bill) to how adverbs work (Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here). I still hum some of these songs to myself when I need to remember the rules of grammar.

Music Is In The Air

Music Is In The Air (Photo credit: drp)

We love patterns. The natural world is full of patterns, from the shape of shells, to the patterns we see on leaves. We establish patterns in our body and with our body and we are drawn to patterns in our social lives. Have you ever watched the pattern of traffic? We all slow down and speed up for real or imagined reasons together. We will walk in step in a crowd. We comment on it in birds but we also like to flock. Rhythms are sound patterns, they are an audio pattern that we can connect to at a deep level and we not only relate we can relay that pattern. Go listen to Steve Reich.

Music stimulates multiple parts of the brain, bringing them online while we listen.  If you start singing even more pieces come onboard. Our connection to music and its ability to create new neurological patterns may help us to think deeper.  Scientists have been looking at music to see if it could help adults with Alzheimer’s disease.  The question they are asking is essentially, can we rewire the brain to work around the areas affected by the disease by using music?

Yet, as much as I adore music while I work, I have friends and colleagues who have said they want no music at all while they work. I can appreciate that people need different things, but for me, more often than not silence seems to mock me, creating diminishing echoes that go nowhere instead of ever evolving patterns of thought. When we work together, how can we find a happy medium? The folks at say they have done just that.

At all of the music you hear has been re-mastered to be heard without you actually listening to it. Huh?? It’s essentially combining the benefits we get from listening to music but getting rid of the distracting bits that make others want to turn the music off. These are the sounds, like the human voice, that prompt our brains to pay closer attention, therefore distracting us from our work. I’ll be honest, I’m not convinced that’s it’s always the way I want to go, sometimes I need to sing along, particularly if the task is a tedious one, but I found the music soothing. I used it while writing part of this post and it’s an interesting approach. I think their solution might be particularly useful if you work somewhere where you can’t block out your colleagues with headphones but music is menace for some of your co-workers.

What do you think? Is silence golden or where words fail does music speak?

Ripples (Photo credit: Bill Gracey)