6 Types of Music for Maximum Productivity, According to Science

"Every superhero needs his theme music," says Kanye West.

Mallika Wiriyathitipirn / EyeEm / Getty Images
Mallika Wiriyathitipirn / EyeEm / Getty Images

If you haven’t explored the mood-shifting playlists on Spotify or Apple Music yet, you’re way behind the curve.

Music can be instrumental (pun intended) in helping you maintain focus, dig into your work, and get things done. But only if it’s the right type of music.

For example, a 2010 study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology states, “Absorbing and remembering new information is best done with the music off.” However, it went on to explain, “when a well-practiced expert needs to achieve the relaxed focus necessary to execute a job he’s done many times before, music can improve performance.”

So, if you’re grinding out tedious Photoshop tasks, or restructuring your Google Calendar for the week, maybe it would be best to turn on some jams and get cranking.

1. Mozart and the Mozart effect.

The Mozart effect suggests that listening to certain kinds of music — Mozart’s classical works, in particular — increase one’s ability to think out long-term, with a higher probability to find abstract solutions to logical problems.

This may be because, although Mozart (and many of his contemporaries) composed beautiful works of art, they also did so quite mathematically. Classical music is extremely logical, with concertos, fugues, themes, and variations all following various patterns and musical “rules,” layered and structured in different ways. 

2. The “right” music for you.

A 2014 study out of the Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management suggests that listening to the right type of music can have a dramatic impact on your personal mood and your willingness to take initiative.

An article based on the research of Derek Rucker and his colleagues states, “The research suggests that music’s ability to pump us up may indeed have utility outside of the stadium. ‘Just as professional athletes might put on empowering music before they take the field to get them in a powerful state of mind,’ says Rucker, ‘you might try [this] in certain situations where you want to be empowered.’ Perhaps you have a meeting scheduled with your boss or an important client. Or perhaps you have a job interview.”

3. Instrumental music.

A recent experiment conducted by Carol A. Smith and Larry W. Morris of Middle Tennessee State University states that students who listened to lyrical music during a series of exams did not perform as well as students who listened to instrumental music.

Lyrics can be extremely conflicting to the brain, especially if your task is not visual based but language-based — the words in the music conflicting with the words you are reading. For visual tasks such as editing photos, this is most likely not as distracting, but for word-based tasks, instrumental music is ideal.

4. Nature/outdoor sounds.

Is a babbling brook … music?

According to a study published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, “Office acoustics influence organizational effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction through meeting appropriate requirements for speech privacy and ambient sound levels.”

Background sounds can be tremendously helpful in keeping you immersed in whatever it is you’re working on, without being too distracting (like lyrics) to take you out of the moment.

5. “Feel good” songs.

All in all, the purpose of listening to music is to change your emotional state to something better suited for the moment. “Feel good” songs might be just the trick.

According to this study, “Music, an abstract stimulus, can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving, similar to tangible rewards that involve the striatal dopaminergic system.”

In other words, feel-good songs really can make you feel good.

6. Video game music.

If all else fails, maybe what you need is the theme music from Super Mario Brothers to put you in the zone.

This article on the music site Consequence of Sound discusses the impact music can have on a video game player.

Music for video games is a crucial element to keeping a player engaged for long periods of time. There’s no reason why it can’t do the same for those needing to work long hours.

Originally published on Inc.

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