Last month, I wrote the first of what I intended to be a series of articles on creativity. Continuing on the theme of learning how to channel your creativity, I’d like to explore how one of my biggest creative inspirations – music – affects my work.
When I sit down at my laptop to work, write, or just check my email, I plug in my headphones and find the perfect playlist in my iTunes library. The music I choose is almost always something that has been running in my head throughout the day, but I have a few other stipulations for finding the perfect playlist:
1. It should be familiar. When I listen to new music, I tend to focus most of my attention on the music itself, because I want to learn as much about it as possible. Thus, in order to focus on the work in front of me, I find music that I know well enough to not distract me.
2. It must fit my mood. Sometimes, I just need some mellow guitars and echoing lyrics to set my mind on a smooth path. Other times, I need the driving rhythms and energetic instrumentals to match my mental energy.
3. It needs to last. A playlist less than 30 minutes in total listening time is just too short. With the Internet at my fingertips, it’s difficult enough to stay focused, so refreshing or updating my playlist should not be a distraction; just hit play and go!
How Music Affects Creativity
I prefer not to delve too deeply into the physiological affects of music on the brain and every other part of the body, mainly because I am not much of a scientist. However, it is interesting to see which regions of the brain are directly involved in the reception, interpretation, enjoyment, and playing of music:
> Prefrontal Cortex: creation, violation, and satisfaction of expectations
> Motor Cortex: movement, such as foot tapping, dancing, or playing an instrument
> Sensory Cortex: “tactile feedback from playing an instrument and dancing”
> Auditory Cortex: where the perception and analysis of sounds and tones begins
> Visual Cortex: reading music or watching a performer
> Cerebellum: also involved in movement, and emotional reactions to music
With so many regions of the brain involved in the enjoyment of music, it should be no surprise that music can play an important role in creative development. In fact, merely listening to music can cause our moods to match the emotional tone of the music. Depending on what we’re working on, the emotional tone of the music can positively or negatively affect our work ethic and focus.
The volume of the music we listen to can also affect our creativity. Ideally, music should be listened to at a moderate level, so as to act as ambient noise. Rather than impairing focus, as loud music can, ambient music can help increase processing difficulty, which increases our levels of abstract processing, thus increasing our capacity for creative thinking.
Music can also stimulate alpha and theta brain waves. Alpha brain waves are associated with creative thinking, while theta brain waves are associated with dreaming and states of enhanced creativity, learning, or relaxation.
Music and Writing
It should be fairly clear by now that music can have positive affects on mood, brain activity, focus, and creativity. I personally experience noticeably higher levels of creative and abstract thinking in a particular circumstance, one in which my mind is loosely focused on a motor-based task, but still left to wander: long road trips.
I enjoy driving long distances, and I have had more than a few personal and creative revelations while letting my mind lose itself to a familiar soundtrack and the freeing environment of an open highway. Because of this, I have been known to keep a notebook in my car, and asked my co-pilot/passenger to write something down for me. I have also literally pulled over to the side of the road solely to write something down!
Understanding which types of environmental factors — such as music — act as the best stimuli can go a long way towards unlocking and channeling your creativity.
And Just for Fun…
Here are 5 full-length albums I have used recently as creative backdrops to my writing. Note the variety of genres and stylistic tones. It all depends on my mood!
- …Like Clockwork, by Queens of the Stone Age
- My Head is an Animal, by Of Monsters and Men
- Pure Heroine, by Lorde
- A Thousand Suns, by Linkin Park
- The Hunting Party, by Linkin Park