Man peacefully listening to music on his mobile device. Composing

Music for Creativity

If you’ve suspected that music and creativity are tied – you’re right. Tuning in, especially to certain types of music, can affect your brain in a way that helps to boost your creativity and make you more productive.

What impact does listening to music have on your brain?

Certain brain cells and chemicals are stimulated during listening to music, in particular, Dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is affectionately referred to as the brain’s “motivation molecule” and is involved in sending reward signals to our brains. In essence, listening to music increases the brain’s level of dopamine and dopamine makes us feel happier and instill a “go-getter” attitude within us.

Listening to music with or without words can be just what a tired creative needs to get back on their A-game. On this front, instrumental music strikes a chord. It opens up new worlds, languages, tugs at emotion, sets the mood and acts as a powerful catalyst for releasing creativity.

How Music Affects the Brain and Increases Creativity

Modern science suggests that every person has the cognitive ability to come up with creative and original ideas – a concept referred to as divergent thinking. And we all have the capability to choose from a list of ideas, which one is most likely to be successful, which is called convergent thinking. Though we may all have different levels in the different types of thinking, we can all become more skillful in being creative problem-solvers.

How can we become more skillful?

It has been suggested that people who listen to music while performing a task have significantly higher scores in divergent thinking than those who perform the same tasks in silence and those who listened to music, were able to produce a longer list of creative ideas.

Another study by the Goethe-Universitat Frankfurt, Germany, brings scientific evidence to the connection between creativity and music – in particular – the effect of happy music on creativity. Classical music tends to rank highly for positive and energetic qualities, such as pieces composed by Antonio Vivaldi, were most likely to encourage creative thinking, researchers found.

Here are other ways in which music can benefit the overall quality of your day and potentially help boost your moods:

Music is Engaging – Playing music and creating music are highly engaging processes that active more than one area of the brain – allowing for a greater creative capacity.

Music is Relaxing – When we listen to music, we often find our minds wandering to other thoughts and places. While this may be distracting for some people, for others it allows them to take their focus elsewhere and relax – it’s in those moments of pure relaxation that creative insights can be gleaned. Jonah Lehrer, a neuroscientist, told the Huffington Post that music is the oldest and most widely available resource to help the mind relax. “Music can alter the state of our brain waves, as well as trigger neurotransmitters, like dopamine, that alter our mood and reward us for creative breakthroughs,” says Lehrer.

What Music Genres Are Best For Creativity?

If you want to experience the effect of music on your creativity, you may be wondering if there are certain types of music that stimulate creative thoughts better than others.

While the best genre may differ from person to person and is in fact subjective, there are particular genres that come out on top in scientific studies as being the most helpful in aiding creative thoughts and productivity.

Nature Sounds

Playing natural sounds can improve a workers’ mood and concentrating. The sound of flowing water tends to be the most soothing nature sound and can help impact your mood in a positive manner for the whole day and tend to be less distracting than other types of music.

Classical Music

Music by classical composers such as Bach or Mozart, can be beneficial to listen to when you need extra help focusing on a project. In a study published in Scientific Reports, participants were asked to perform a task three times – first while listening to classical music, second while listening to a modified version of the classical tune and lastly in silence. Participants performed better while listening to Mozart as opposed to the other two instances.

Instrumental Music

To some people, music with lyrics can be very distracting, particularly when a complex task or project needs to be completed. However if you need to simply answer a few emails or read over a few tasks, instrumental music can provide a calming and relaxing background noise.

Here are four great examples of instrumental tunes:

1.  “Awake” by Tycho

This song is upbeat enough to keep you from falling asleep but not too fast tempo that it will distract you from the tasks at hand.

2. “Black Sands” by Bonobo

This is such a beautiful piece of instrumental music that builds from a quiet classical tune to a more jazz-inspired tune, enough to keep your mind flowing and active.

3. “Your Hand in Mine” by Explosions in the Sky

4. “Sunset Lover” by Petit Biscuit

Relaxing yet upbeat, this song has the bonus effects of getting you ready to work yet also calming your mind. Although there are a few lyrics throughout the song, it is repetitive enough to not be too much of a distractor.

Music You Enjoy

Maybe classical music is not something you enjoy – in this case, Mozart and Bach will not provide you with the boost of creative thoughts and inspiration that you need. There is nothing wrong with listening to music you enjoy – whether that be Pop, Country or Rock. The Psychology of Music, a study conducted by, Dr. Teresa Lesiuk, shows that people perform tasks better when they listen to their favorite hits – in her study, she allowed participants to choose the music they wanted to listen to themselves, while performing a task.

Music to Inspire

At the end of the day, the music you listen to in order to get into a productive mindset depends on what you feel like listening to that day and what type of music puts you in the best mood. Look for playlists on streaming services like Spotify or YouTube that you can put on and let play while you refresh or do some light admin work.

This article is just a start – there is a plethora of research available that discusses what types of music are the best for creativity.

Whether it is writer’s block or you’re feeling deprived of inspirational oxygen, sometimes the best cure is a good playlist.  

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  • Avatar for nik harron
    nik harron
    February 16, 2017, 1:09 am

    I’m not big on classical, but find a little light EDM, or techno gets me going. A lot of the time I’ll listen to video game soundtracks (No Man’s Sky, Minecraft, Proteus, Geometry Wars: Dimensions, Test Drive Unlimited 2 are some of my favourite work jams.)

  • Avatar for Alexander
    June 1, 2017, 12:19 pm

    In deed. I’m programmer and a plenty of instrumental music is very supportive for me while I’m thinking on stuff. It replaces all the background noises and really puts me into a creative stream! 🙂
    I really enjoy: Jean Michel Jarre, Mike Oldfield, Cobat, Animals As Leaders (when I need to force some more energey 🙂 ) and so on.

  • Avatar for Daniel Barber
    Daniel Barber
    February 13, 2022, 12:21 pm

    Thanks so much for this post. We are for sure profoundly affected by music. And there is so much complexity between different songs and even parts of songs that it can be problematic to try to generalize among genres or styles. Mozart may be great for some people at some times in some ways, and for others it could be ineffectual or even disturbing. But it’s super helpful to notice that music is a powerful influence on/in us. Cheers!