by Lucy Chambers
JAM Contributing Writer
Many of us intuitively know the power music has to get our creative juices flowing and inspire art, but there’s also research to back it up. In one recent study, participants tried various creative exercises all measuring divergent thinking — the ability to come up with creative or innovative ideas. Participants who listened to happy music did significantly better than those who performed in silence. These results suggest listening to happy music can boost creativity and open you up to new ways of approaching your art. But let’s take a deeper look at how music listening promotes creative thinking by stimulating higher brain function and altering mood.
Music boosts higher brain functioning
It’s not just happy music which has a positive effect on the brain and creative abilities. When people listen to their preferred genre — whether it’s classical, rock, pop or jazz — they perform better on cognitive tests. For example, in one study, participants who listened to Franz Schubert achieved higher results than participants who sat in silence. The experiment was then performed again, but with participants listening to a Stephen King audiobook. The listening preferences of the individual were found to matter most. “The people who liked Mozart better do better after Mozart, and the people who liked the story better do better on the cognitive test after the story”, Glenn Schellenberg, psychology professor at the University of Toronto and leader of the study, explains.
The link between creativity and positivity
While it’s difficult to measure the extent to which listening to music boosts creativity, it’s been proven to inspire higher brain functioning — which is necessary to reach your full creative potential. All that matters is you like the music you’re listening to. If the music puts you in a positive mood, your art and creativity may benefit as a result. This is likely because happiness is a positive emotion which opens up the mind and awakens our desire to explore, create, and play, explains researcher Barbara Fredrickson.
Music and creative brain waves
Further research has shown the power music has on brain waves, which helps make sense of its ability to inspire creativity and art. When you’re awake, your brain produces beta waves between 14 and 20 hertz. Beta waves are stimulating; they improve focus, logical thinking, memory, and problem solving. When you’re in a creative flow, your brain heightens to alpha waves between 4 and 7 hertz. Your brain also produces alpha waves between 8 and 13 hertz when you listen to music with a pulse of 60 beats per minute. So, listening to relaxing music — like classical music, for example — can help you become more creative and inspired.
Ultimately, if music can put you in a positive frame of mind, it may benefit you cognitively and creatively. However, that’s not to downplay the potential benefits of listening to sad music either. Sad music elicits feelings of empathy, which can expose you to creative insights you wouldn’t otherwise get. So, the next time you have an art session, put on some music and unlock your full creative potential.
Lucy Chambers is a professional freelance writer with many years experience across a variety of sectors. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job, and loves the work-life balance it offers her.