German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said it best: ‘Without music, life would be a mistake.’ It would be difficult to find a single person on the planet who thinks otherwise. Music is everything. But while many of us consider it pure enjoyment, there’s a growing belief that certain types of music are great for productivity, concentration, and focus.
We’ve decided to take a closer look to see if there’s any merit to those claims. However, before we get to that, let’s check out some examples of music being used for focus in real-world scenarios.
Watch your favorite athletes arriving at the stadium on the team coach and you’ll notice they all have one thing in common. No, we’re not talking about their bling or even their training kits. Take a closer look and you’ll see that they’re all wearing headphones.
Now, it doesn’t matter what they’re listening to, they’re all trying to get their head in the game by zoning out any distractions and easing their pre-game nerves. NFL legend Tom Brady says that music is the one thing that helps him relax and maintain focus more than anything else.
Head to any major live tournament that takes place in Vegas every year and you’ll see scores of plugged-in players. In fact, one of the world’s most successful poker players, Phil Ivey, regularly wears headphones at the tables. He has ten World Series of Poker bracelets, so he’s onto something.
But it’s not just the pros. Even people who host home games know that the background music at a poker party is just as important as the food and drinks. It’s what sets the tone and helps people relax so they can find their groove. In such a quiet and intimate setting, this could be the difference between a good game with plenty of action and a stop-start game where no one is really paying attention.
Of course, there are other examples such as the busy office or even the shop floor of a factory, so there’s no doubt that people everywhere understand that music has its benefits. But what exactly are those benefits in relation to focus?
Music blocks out distractions
Background noise can be a real distraction, especially when one is facing a tough decision. And believe it or not, music can help engage the part of your brain that allows you to pay more attention.
Of course, this can depend a great deal on the vibes you choose. Instrumental music is often found to boost concentration while music that you can sing along to can help you relax and work on autopilot.
Music boosts productivity
As we mentioned earlier, music can boost productivity whether it’s on a busy factory floor or at home. Studies by music therapists have found that, according to the Iso principle, music can be used for mood management. So, what does this have to do with productivity?
Well, the simple answer is that the happier you are, the more productive you tend to be. A playlist with cheerful tunes would be the ultimate productivity booster. Perhaps leave albums like Nick Cave’s Ghosteen for another time then and find some cheerful playlists on Spotify.
Music inspires creativity
Nothing gets the creative juices flowing quite like a good playlist, but does that help with focus too? Yes, it does indeed. You see, while certain jobs or tasks may require minimal thought processing — you work on autopilot — others require a great deal of lateral thinking. They demand both focus and the ability to plan and think ahead. In other words, they require just a smidgeon of creativity.
That creative thought process will bring your mind to the task at hand and nothing else as you look to find a solution to a given problem. It all sounds very complex and a little contradictory, but it’s quite true. Creative people are laser-focused on their goals.
What is the best type of music for maintaining focus?
The most common assumption is that your favorite music will be the one that gets you the most focused. However, this isn’t strictly true. If you love your hip hop and listen to it all the time, then you might find that your mind is more focused on rapping along with the track.
The same can be said for any genre of music you truly love. As you listen, you may become more and more immersed, particularly if there are lyrics involved.
That’s where classical or instrumental music really comes into its own. Now, we know what you’re thinking; what if I don’t love classical music? Here it might be ideal for you to opt for another genre that you’re unfamiliar with.
Whatever you choose, instrumental music is often the best. The music quickly becomes background noise that drowns out everything else and allows you to focus on the task at hand with no distractions. The tempo of the music can also have an effect. Higher tempo music might be better for tactile productivity, while slower tempo music may be better for more creative pursuits.
Of course, this is all down to personal tastes too. If you can’t stand a certain genre or even a specific instrument like the clarinet, then you’ll never be able to focus as long as you can hear it. The best thing to do is to try on a few genres for size and see how they feel as you’re working. Remember the best genres for maintaining your focus as you work may be the ones with songs and tracks that you can’t recall much of.
As you can see, music certainly has the potential to help us focus more on our work or studies, but it all really depends on your choice.