There is substantial scientific evidence regarding the effects of music on mind and body.
Music influences our emotions, performance, health and group behaviour. In fact, we are so saturated with music in our daily lives that we may take for granted, the power it can have if used strategically.
Don’t believe me? Then take a moment to close your eyes, breathe deeply and imagine a few bars of your favourite song. How does it make you feel? What memories come to mind? What physical sensations and what kind of energy does it create in your body? What does it motivate you to do?
Now ask yourself the same questions while thinking about music you really don’t like …
Even just this simple exercise in our imaginations, illustrates the significant effects of music on mind and body!
Music in our Society
Music is used to influence society; it brings people together under common goals and ideas, and can be central to identity formation and sense of cultural belonging. It’s not surprising therefore that it is an integral part of advertising and our built environment.
It is used in spiritual practice to enhance the experience in every religion; and in movies, it communicates how we should be feeling, for example, building suspense or helping us empathise.
We get the urge to listen to music because we feel like hearing something that suits the mood of the situation. In a sense, we pick music as architects of our emotional environment.
7 Ways Music can Improve Your Performance
Once you understand the effects of music on mind and body, you can use it to improve your life. According to scientific research and also through anecdotal evidence (did you know, for example, that Michael Phelps – the most decorated Olympian – listens to music before races?), here are 7 ways music can improve your performance:
1. Emotion Regulation
Whether it is to pump up or to relax, feel happy or angry, music is one of the most potent forms of emotion regulation on the planet, comparable to some chemical agents. At a primal level the beat of a drum will attract our heartbeat and breathing to match it, and at a modern level the lyrics of a song may convey a deep meaningful message that strikes several emotional chords.
This can be particularly useful in setting a new mood if we are not “feeling it” or to process what we are feeling, if ignoring it is not the right choice. There are three channels we can use to improve or amplify the effect music has on our emotions:
- Visual channel (tune into visual imagery when listening to music);
- Physical channel (tune into bodily signals/sensations when listening);
- Lyrical channel (tune into words and meaning, and how they make you feel).
2. Expression and Communication
Music therapy is used to improve communication between therapist and client when it is too hard to put things into words. Through either making or listening to music, the individual is able to express and communicate what they have been dwelling on, in ways that words alone cannot afford. The individual can take things that have been bottled up or pushed down, and let them go through music, both writing and listening. This is an important part of healing when we are experiencing emotional suffering.
3. Sports and Exercise
Music can enhance our performance and motivation in sport and exercise. The effects on endurance and performance are surprising; many athletes and trainers can attest to the value of music before, during and after sport and exercise activities.
At the simplest level, music enhances our enjoyment of exercise; and at the more technical level when music is synchronised to exercise pace, our abilities are enhanced by up to 15%, including our efficiency of oxygen use. Music is used to dissociate from pain and fatigue, and to increase or decrease arousal, depending on what the sporting task requires.
Sports people also use music to zone out of what is going on around them before competing, to improve focus and to regulate their arousal to achieve success.
4. Improve Productivity and Brain Functioning
Music can improve concentration, memory, motivation, creativity, cognitive functioning and performance – a phenomenon known as the Mozart effect. We can sit down to some types of music and they have a calming contemplative focussing effect. Everyone is different and genre depends on personal choice, but generally classical and relaxing music is associated with improved mental functioning.
When we are in a positive mood we tend to perform better at skills and challenges – and music can do wonders to improve our mood. This is especially true in cases where anxiety is resulting in avoidance, procrastination, and work issues. Music in the work space can calm the nerves and make it easier to approach important tasks.
5. Enhance Activities and Celebrate Life
Whether it is while doing the dishes, taking a long drive, enjoying time outside, hitting the gym or eating a healthy meal, music can add to any context, to improve our experience and mood.
When we are down and out and need to remember that life isn’t that bad, music can lift us up and make us see the silver lining. At the other end of the spectrum, at times when life is to be celebrated, music can get the party started!
6. Personal Development and Creative Outlet
When we feel we are stuck in life, or have sacrificed our free/family time and no longer have personal pursuits and passions, both listening and learning to play music can give us space for growth and personal development. Music is also a great creative outlet.
Both of these human needs are important to achieve a well-balanced lifestyle. Fine-tuning your music collection or picking up a guitar for the first time in years, can be a challenging and gratifying way to revive growth and creativity in your world.
7. Identity Formation and Social Relatedness
Music plays a role in identity formation and social identification in adolescence.
Remember when you were a teenager – the first albums, bands and genres you listened to – and how they affected your clothing, speech, hair, etc? Music taste gives us a forum and community to identify with all over the world. This is also a basic human need, to connect and feel we are part of something bigger.
When we feel alone or isolated, our music can connect us with friends, family or a lover. When we are not sure who we are or what we stand for, talented artists can speak to us for hours about the pain and joy in life and help us connect with the human condition and our common motivations. We can actively explore our identity and social role through the world of music.
If you want to learn more about the ways music can improve your performance, and how to make it part of your strategy for success – I welcome you to make an appointment with me.