Did You Know Music Has Powers?

Updated: May 1

Well it does – especially the power to control living organisms.

A bit like 'Ratatouille'; if you listen to a particular type of music you start doing things you can’t control – it starts to control you. Well, I don’t know how true that really is. However I do know that - depending on who you are – music can affect your concentration, performance and even your memory. Depending on what you’re listening to, it’s either for the better, or worse. Music and it's influence on performance levels has been a topic for many years. When I was in secondary school, teachers always warned against listening to music while studying. Well, were they right? Let’s find out.

There was a study released by the Imperial College London, at an Imperial Festival; where 352 volunteers played a game of 'Operation'. The study was to see the change in the performance depending on the song being played. When the volunteers listened to Mozart, neither the males or females had any problems. When they were listening to normal background noise, there was no change. However, when listening to ACDC’s 'Thunderstruck', the men fell apart but the women continued as normal [1].

That’s kind of hilarious if you ask me.

There are other factors to take into account here; for example, women had performed consistently better throughout the duration of the game, regardless of the music. This doesn’t take away from the fact that there was a sudden increase in mistakes on behalf of the men, when rock music had been played. “One explanation, they said, could be that rock music causes more auditory stress - a state triggered by loud or discordant music - in men.” We must also note that the Mozart piece had only really helped the male volunteers to relax if they had prior appreciation for the piece of music, “The scientists also asked people about their musical tastes, and found that Mozart only reduced the number of mistakes people made if they reported high levels of appreciation for the Sonata they listened to.” [2]

To me this makes quite a lot of sense. As humans, we relax when we fall back on familiarity and what is known to us. From my own experience, I’m never more distracted than when I put on a piece of music that I haven’t heard before.

Another rather interesting study focused on introverts and extroverts. One hundred and eighteen women volunteered to take a variety of tests, with different music (not of their choice) playing in the background. As it turned out, those who insisted on being introverts, did noticeably worse, than those considering themselves to be extroverts. Why? The introverts found it hard to focus with external noise – as if they couldn’t hear themselves think. The extroverts – the chatty, people-liking people – weren’t fazed in the slightest by music, outdoor traffic, etc… [3]

I consider myself an introvert. More often than not, I do listen to music when I’m trying to focus. Sometimes, I can’t focus without the music. Why? Because I use the music to drown out all external sounds (like a noisy German Shepard). Therefore, music serves as a way to help me think clearer, rather than serving as a hindrance to a quiet mind.

The research suggests, and I can back this with my personal experience, that the type of music you’re listening to is the biggest factor on this topic. For example, in attempting to focus now, I’m listening to Miserere by Gregorio Allegri (Baroque choral music), and I’m having no problems [4]. But the moment I put on 'Highway To Hell' (an amazing piece of music), nothing gets done. This idea has been proven by a 2007 study from Stanford University, stating that music can be “linked with paying attention, making predictions, and updating memory” [5]. However, the music itself matters; “According to a press release, the short symphonies of an "obscure 18th century composer," William Boyce, did the trick” in attempting to use music to help participants focus. [6]

Obviously this varies for different people - just because it works for me and plenty of others, doesn’t mean it works for everyone. Georgina Lawton words it best when she states that “In any event, plenty of people swear by having a soundtrack on in the background to help them focus when they're studying for an exam, working on their office computer, or completing household chores. Others, though, can't get their head around trying to focus on a single task whilst trying to enjoy music as well — for many, it's just distracting”. [6]

'Accelerated Learning' is a book written by Colin Rose, which mentions some work carried out by three researchers named B. Stein and C.A. Hardy and H.L. At the University of North Texas. They conducted a study consisting of three groups. Group One, heard a list of words and were asked to visualize them, while listening to Handel’s Water Music. Group Two, heard the same list of words and the same music, but weren’t asked to visualize anything. Group Three (probably the control group) were to simply read the list of words, not hear it, and with no music. When the results came through, groups One and Two did substantially better than group Three. The conclusion was “that this was consistent with the fact that ‘multi-channels’ of input stimulate more than one part of the Triune brain vertically, and also stimulated a left/right brain connected horizontally”. [7] What this basically means is that there are two areas of the brain, left and right, where left associates more with conversational and rational information, while the right is associated with musical and visual information. What the study is saying, is that to maximize the amount of information you take in, both sides of the brain be awake when you’re learning. This is only properly achieved in the wake of the 'Beta' state of mind, which we enter when we are relaxed and listening to music. It can also be achieved just before going to sleep, or when waking up. But how many of us are going to study just before going to bed, or as our first act of the morning? Not me, thanks.

From my experience, music has mostly done nothing but help me to concentrate more. However, whenever I’m stressed and I try listening to music, it turns into a massive disaster. I’ve often found that if I listen to music while reading (or something along those lines) over a long period of time, and then I don’t listen to music the next time, my focus usually increases due to the change. This also worked well when I reversed it.

Before I finish, I have to state that I do have one big problem with listening to music while I’m trying to focus on a task, and that’s the fact that I can’t appreciate the music. I have to let the music go into the background, which means that I go through albums and albums, but can’t remember any of it. That saddens me sometimes.

Down to you now; how does music effect you? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Taking that into account, how does listening to music and focusing effect you personally? Let me know what you think, and what your experiences are in relation to this topic.

Jack, at Interconnected.


[1]: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_12-12-2016-14-6-7

[2]: For both quotes in that paragraph; http://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/176470/men-should-avoid-rock-music-when/

[3]: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/acp.1692

[4]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA88AS6Wy_4

[5]: https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2007/07/music-moves-brain-to-pay-attention-stanford-study-finds.html

[6]: https://www.bustle.com/articles/199972-how-music-affects-your-concentration-according-to-science

[7]: Accelerated Learning by Colin Rose, page 97


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