The music effect

The music we listen to impacts how we feel. In biological terms, music encourages the release of dopamine in the reward area of the brain.

In this article:
  • The influence of music on productivity
  • The influence of music on athletic performance

After the first 2 hours of the day, music plays a big part in my day. But I'm not alone. According to SXM Media, 95.6% of Americans (13 yrs+) listen to music daily (who are you 4.4%ers?). According to IFPI, the average American listens to 961 hours of music per year which roughly equates to 115 hours per month, 27 hours per week or 4 hours per day. 

The music we listen to impacts who we are as people and how we feel daily. A certain tempo and rhythm have a way of ruling over our body. People’s minds tend to wander, and we know that a wandering mind is unhappy. Similar to the practice of mindfulness, music can bring us back to the present moment. In biological terms, sound can help encourage the release of dopamine in the reward area of the brain, as would eating a delicacy, looking at something appealing, or smelling a pleasant aroma.

The influence of music on productivity

I practice deep work daily and I follow a modified Pomodoro technique (45 min vs 25 min intervals with 15 min vs 5 min short breaks). Whenever I'm in a work interval, I listen to music with headphones. The trigger of the headphones coming on is a mental signal to get in a work headspace. In the words of James Clear, this is effectively a habit trigger

Like Pavlov’s dogs, we train ourselves to react in the desired way to a specific cue. So, in the same way, that a dinging sound prompts you to check your iPhone or lying down in bed makes you feel sleepy, a song or playlist that you consistently work to may prompt you to “get in the zone” and be productive.

Let's look at some study findings on the impact of music on productivity:

  • Concentration effectiveness: Dr. Amit Sood, a physician of integrative medicine at the Mayo Clinic, said it takes just 15 minutes to a half-hour of listening time to regain concentration and that music without lyrics usually works the best.‍
  • Ambient music and studying: In a 2021 Spotify survey of 4,000 adults in the U.S. and UK, 69% of respondents chose ambient music as the best for studying, with 67% saying that the key ingredient is the slower beats.
  • The Mozart Effect study: After listening to Mozart's sonata for two pianos (K448) for 10 minutes, normal subjects showed significantly better spatial reasoning skills than after periods of listening to relaxation instructions designed to lower blood pressure or silence.
  • Personal choice is important: Dr. Teresa Lesiuk is an assistant professor at the University of Miami whose research focuses on how music affects workplace performance. Dr. Lesiuk found that personal choice in music was very important. She allowed participants in her study to select whatever music they liked and to listen as long as they wanted. She found that those who listened to music completed their tasks more quickly and came up with better ideas than those who didn’t, because the music improved their mood. In addition, those who were moderately skilled at their jobs benefited the most, while experts saw little or no effect. And some novices regarded the music as distracting.
“I’ve found again and again that you have to train or habituate yourself to whatever the music type is. People habituate the different types of music, and then the actual content of the music doesn’t matter. It’s the ritual they built up.”

Cal Newport, 'Deep Work' author

The influence of music on athletic performance

At 7:30 pm I'm usually off to the gym at which time I turn to my workout playlist. I've discovered that music can often be an integral part of a killer workout or even a pick-me-up for a productive one. In my case, it can mean the difference of 200 active calories in a 1-hour workout, 20% more weight during lifting, or 1-2 minutes faster on my 1-mile pace. When you’re struggling to catch your breath, and your muscles are on the brink of fatigue, sometimes a song is what can give you the final push to finish your workout. Listening to music while you exercise can also give you a rush of adrenaline, and get you pumped up and proud of the work you just did.

Let's look at study findings on how music influences higher levels of physical performance:

  • Music and serotonin: Many of the physical benefits experienced by listening to music, such as higher reps or farther distance traveled, are the result of psychological effects. These effects include the release of serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone. Serotonin release is often equated with music that a person finds pleasurable. ‍Psychology Today 
  • Music and workout pleasure: “Listening to music while exercising leads to a 28 percent increase in enjoyment during the walking task, compared with no auditory stimuli. Enjoyment was also 13 percent higher for those who listened to music, compared with those who listened to a podcast.”
  • Music and energy levels: When used in low-level to moderate levels of exercise, numerous studies have shown that music can increase energy levels, improve mood, and delay feelings of fatigue. 
  • Music can have these effects before or during a workout: “When music is used before an athletic activity, it has been shown to increase arousal, facilitate relevant imagery, and improve the performance of simple tasks. When music is used during activity, it has ergogenic (work-enhancing) effects and psychological effects”
  • Music and beta waves: These results were gathered using EEG scans of the brain, which determined that listening to music that one finds enjoyable causes an increase in beta waves in the frontal lobe. An increase in these waves can allow sharper use of the frontal lobe’s functions, such as concentration and voluntary movement. Medical News Today.
  • Volume and Tempo: The volume and tempo at which music is played can determine the physical and psychological impact that music will have. Music with a fast tempo that is played at a higher volume has been shown to increase the ergogenic effect on exercise (NCBI). A 2020 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that listening to high-tempo music (170-190 bpm) made exercise feel easier, and therefore, boosted performance. Find the bpm of any song here.
  • Pedaling speed: Additionally, a 2003 study presented at an annual meeting of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation found that listening to upbeat music while pedaling on a stationary bike boosted participants' exercise intensity; the faster the music, the faster they pedaled.
  • No significant benefit for high-intensity exercise: As beneficial as music can be during exercise, some factors inhibit its ability to be effective. Music is most effective when played during periods of low to moderate intensity. During a high-intensity exercise, all focus should be placed on the task at hand, rather than the music. It is also harder for the perception of fatigue to be diminished at these levels.

The 8-Minute Song Scientifically Proven to Help You Fall Asleep

Scientists have found one song is proven to reduce anxiety and help you fall asleep better than others. According to Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International, which conducted the research, "Weightless" by Marconi Union produced a greater state of relaxation than any other music tested to date. Perhaps not by chance as the song's flowing harmonies, soft chimes, and rhythms that replicate a heartbeat were crafted in collaboration with sound therapists to be relaxing. 

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