How Music Fosters Creativity

What writer or creative person hasn’t experienced it?

It has many names (writer’s block, impostor syndrome, self-doubt, etc.), but let’s call it resistance. There are several ways to fight resistance when it rears its ugly head, but are you aware how powerful music is? There’s scientific research proving that listening to music while doing a creative task boosts your creativity.

How? Well…

Music puts you in “mind-wandering” mode.

Coined and studied by neurologists Marcus Raichle, mind-wandering is when the brain conjures up a series of unrelated thoughts that freely flow throughout the consciousness like daydreaming. It’s when we’re able to solve problems, generate ideas, and–ding! ding!–be creative.

But there’s a catch!

You won’t experience “mind-wandering” if you’re stressing. So worrying about that sappy dialogue you just wrote or wrestling with comparisonitis is counterproductive.

In 2011, Finnish researchers found that when our brains process the timbre of a song, our default-mode network (associated with mind-wandering mode) is activated, inspiring creativity.

Rebecca Adams

Like what you’re listening to.

Mind wandering mode won’t activate if you’re stressed or irritated. So listening to something that irritates you is counter productive (Barbie Girl *shivers*). This also means that your “music” doesn’t have to music at all! Whale sounds, rain ambience, seaside noises, and the like are valid options too.

The idea is to distract your brain, but not too much.

Our brains are horrible multi-taskers and we take advantage of this by slightly distracting it when we’re listening to music. There’s no way that it can simultaneously process music, be creative, and conjure up self-destructive thoughts effectively.

Do two or more things simultaneously, and you’ll do none at full capacity.

Brandon Keim

Unfortunately, this means it’s VERY easy to overstimulate your brain if you play music louder than you can think! The ol’ noodle will only be able to process your tunes (timbre, lyrics, and whether you agree with the lyrics) and not how your MC will escape from your villain’s latest trap. Keep your music low enough where it’s audible, but doesn’t reduce your creative output.

[…] both moderate and high noise levels lead to more abstract processing as compared to a low noise level. The higher construal level then induces greater creativity in the moderate-noise condition; however, the very high level of distraction induced by the high-noise condition, although it prompts to a higher construal level, also creates reduced information processing, thus impairing creativity.

Ravi Mehta, Rui (Juliet) Zhu and Amar Cheema, Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition

In short, listening to music while doing a creative activity exploits the brain’s weakness. Keep in mind that this won’t work all the time as we humans are adaptable, but music can give you a fighting chance against resistance.

If you’re a nerd like me who enjoys learning new things, visit the links in this post and read the articles for yourself. 

Happy listening!

Do you listen to music while you write? What genre do you listen to?

2 Replies to “How Music Fosters Creativity”

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