The Best Music to Boost the Brain

Over the last decade, neuroscientists have been using sophisticated technology to learn more about how music is processed in the brain. The characteristics that make up a given piece of music – wave length, tone, hertz, timber, pitch, etc. – affect us in a variety of ways. We are aware of some and unaware of others.

It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to know that listening music is a great way to relax and restoring emotional balance. But, now we have science to back it up. Neuroscientists out of the UK have identified not just the type of music best for reducing anxiety and stress, but also specific songs. They found that one song in particular produced a greater state of relaxation than any other music tested to date. Which makes sense because this particular song was created by sound therapists with the specific intention of decreasing cortisol, blood pressure and heart rate.  Check out the Neuro Nugget below to find out what it is. 

There is a wealth of research that tells us how different types of music affect cognition, focus, concentration, creativity, and even confidence.  Once you know how music influences brain function, you can use it to your advantage. 

We Will Rock You - Queen– for Power

Rock music is shown to infuse a sense of power-related thoughts and behaviors. A recent study examined the effect of “power tunes” like Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.” They found that power music elicited higher abstract thinking, visionary (big picture) thinking, and an increased sense of illusory control – all traits associated with intellectual power. Before you head in to the next big presentation, ask your boss for a raise or sit down at the negotiation table, crank up a little Queen and pump up your power.

Four Seasons - Vivaldi– for Focus, Memory and Concentration

The clarity and elegance of classical music has been shown to improve focus, memory and concentration. Slower Baroque music creates a mentally stimulating environment conducive to tap into higher cognitive tasks. However, if you’re not a big fan of Mozart or Vivaldi, soft instrumental ambient music can induce relaxed alertness. While whole-brain thinking is essential for creativity and deeper insight, lyrics are found to compete for the brain’s attention and decrease one’s ability to concentrate and focus. For the intellectual tasks, stick with instrumentals.

Clair de Lune – Claude Debussy– for Creativity

Unfamiliar music triggers abstract thinking and helps generate creative ideas. Sensory, free-flowing melodies like Impressionist music like Debussy and Ravel can stimulate the imagination and tap into your unconscious where many of your creative impulses live. Jazz and “new age” music with no dominant rhythm can also promote a sense of relaxed alertness and inspire creativity. Volume is the key here. If it’s too soft, your brain will work hard to try to tune it in; if it’s too loud your brain will work hard to try to tune it out. Moderate volume is the most effective to tap into your creative center.

The Girl from Ipanema – Frank Sinatra– for Mental Health/Stress

While we typically associate soothing tunes with relaxation, stress-reducing music really depends on the person and sometimes changes depending upon the day or task. Classic rock releases tension for some, while reggae, jazz, top-40 and big band can be emotionally uplifting for others. However, slower tempo samba music can be both soothing and energizing. And, let’s face it… a little Frank can make anyone smile.

[Insert Your Favorite Song Here] – for Higher Brain Function

There is a wealth of research showing the impact of music on higher brain function. The caveat is that it since music is so personal and subjective, the music you enjoy will be more effective for the cognitive boost. Studies show that performance on cognitive tests after listening to music is higher if the subjects like the music that was played. Conversely, when they heard music they didn’t like, the effect disappeared. If you’re a U2 fan, Mozart won’t give you a brain boost as much as U2 will. Any music that puts you in a positive frame of mind and increases your arousal levels will produce cognitive benefits almost immediately. The next time you feel yourself dragging or struggling to meet a deadline, fire up your favorite song and let the music move you.

Now that you know the science behind music, you know how to use it to your advantage. Experiment with your playlists and load them up with the tunes that speak to you. Let the music take you where you want to be. Identify the type of music that relaxes your mind, body, and spirit and all three will thank you.