How does music make you feel?

How does music make you feel? Inspired? Happy? Contemplative?

Whatever the feeling, it is based on emotion. Music has an impact on our mood, our memory, performance and wellbeing.

Who hasn’t found it easier to run a little further, or work a little faster to keep up with the tempo of the music we are listening to? All that jumping around and moving to music – that we call dance, boosts our level of alertness, the release of endorphins and helps burn off stress.

Sometimes though we question the value of music to academic and work performance. Is there a parent who hasn’t had the conversation with their teenager about whether they should attempt to study while listening to music?  The research has shown that kids who learn a musical instrument often do academically better at school, especially in science, mathematics and literature, are more focused, have greater self esteem and coordination.

Music forms a big part of our lives. We listen to it on the way to and from work, while exercising and while relaxing. It becomes part of our identity. Our musical preferences as teenagers stay with us as we age.

So does music enhance or hinder performance?

It depends.

While noise is a stressor to the brain, music that we like will boost our mood, keeping the brain in a more relaxed state that is open to learning, new ideas and greater insight.

Music connects us at a deeper level with each other, which is why we love going to concerts, dance parties and singing together. We collectively synchronise our beating hearts and brain waves. That’s great for enhancing collaboration and relatedness.

The impact of music and how the brain works is being investigated in those areas where the brain has been damaged through injury or disease. Many thanks to all those who brought to my attention the recent Catalyst program that explored this beautifully in relation to those with dementia or Parkinson’s disease.

Elsewhere “Singing for the Brain” groups have been running for a while in a number of countries. Here those living with dementia and their carers come together for a sing-along – and while the power of conversation and speech may have been lost, the memories of songs instantly come flooding back.

The Catalyst program on the ABC revealed how personalised playlists are being trialed to assist those with dementia to reconnect with themselves and how music can assist to unlock bodies frozen by movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Music also helps those afflicted by stuttering as brilliantly portrayed in the film “The King’s speech.”

The impact of music on the brain.

When we listen to music, multiple areas of the brain are activated including those associated with movement, planning, attention and memory. It changes our brain chemistry as well. Listening to music we enjoy stimulates the release of dopamine that makes us feel rewarded.

If music can influence your mood, your ability to concentrate and stay on task, should we all be working while listening to it?

Personally the thought of having to work in a place such as retail/hairdressers salons or supermarkets where music that you have no control over the selection of is playing makes me want to run for the hills. Others may not mind so much or “tune out” from actively listening.

Research from the University of Windsor Canada showed that for software developers, people working in a highly creative environment worked more effectively and faster when listening to music. They were more perceptive to what was going on around them, more highly engaged and curious. Conversely performance then dropped if the music was turned off.

Another study by Mindlab in the UK showed that 88% or participants were more accurate in their work and 81% worked faster when listening to music. According to Dr. David Lewis neuropsychologist and chairman of Mindlab International…

 “The take-home message is that music is a very powerful management tool if you want to increase not only the efficiency of your workforce but also their mental state, their emotional state – they’re going to become more positive about the work.”


Chilling out to calm, soothing quieter music can help to alleviate anxiety, which for stressed out students or high intensity operatives could prove advantageous to reduce stress levels and emotion to improve concentration and focus.

What matters is recognising how you can consciously choose to use music to improve your mood and level of happiness. Not surprisingly, choosing to listen to happy music boosts our own level of happiness.

Which music is recommended?

Classical Music: If you are doing work with numbers or which requires a lot of attention to detail.

Pop music: For data entry or working to deadlines. It speeds up the rate of work and helps to reduce mistakes.

Ambient music: What I call boring restaurant or airport music. It’s in the background and no one’s really listening to it. It has been shown to be THE best for accuracy if you’re into solving equations. (That counts me out then.)

Dance music: Problem solving or proofreading. This genre was linked to the highest overall accuracy and fastest performance

So should you study/work in quiet or is it OK to listen to music?

The answer as indicated above is – it depends, on our mood, our personality, our musical preferences and our emotional state.

For students if the music is in the background only, not being actively listened to and is without lyrics, it may help focus by eliminating other potential distractors in the environment.

Perhaps it is up to us to experiment and see what works best.

Or we could follow the advice of the Seven Dwarves and just give a little whistle while we work.

Meanwhile I shall continue to celebrate my quiet work and reserve my happy songs to get me up and moving in-between work time slots. Like Hugh Grant, there’s nothing I love better than a little bit of “Dancing in the Street” or Pharrell’s “Happy” to get me up and grooving around the office.

How does music impact your performance?

Do you use music to boost your mood, to feel happier and more relaxed?

Which genres have you found useful?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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