Music to Help You Write Better

One of my favourite things to do when writing my blog posts is to pop on a relaxing Spotify playlist. I find it much easier to concentrate with a little music on low than sitting in complete silence. As someone who has issues with anxiety, I think listening to music distracts my brain just enough to allow me to write. I decided to do a little more research to find out how music helps us write!

While some studies suggest that we perform better in silence, the advantages of listening to the right kind of music are well documented. Exposure to music improves our cognitive performance; we write better when we listen to music. Music gets your brain firing on all cylinders: all regions of the brain get involved, particularly the regions associated with movement, attention, planning and memory.

So how exactly does music help us write?

And what kinds should we listen to?


Music Brings Us Happiness

When your brain hears something it likes, the brain striatum releases a rush of dopamine; the same rush of excitement we can get from food, drugs or sex. This dopamine is released in small amounts throughout the duration of a song, and surges at the climax. And what better time to write than when you are feeling good? Music may just get you out of a funk that has been preventing you from sitting and writing down your brilliant ideas.

Did you know that the rhythm, beat and tempo of a song are often designed by producers to build towards this climax, in order to provide the listener with the best experience?

My happiest songs are Earth, Wind and Fire’s September, Five’s Keep on Movin’ or Rupert Holmes’s Escape (The Pina Colada Song). Also, the entire Team America soundtrack.


Music Will Help You Focus on Writing

Studies have also found that our focussed attention increases the more fond we are of the background music we are listening to, though there is a limit; if we love the song we are listening to we may well stop writing and listen to the song instead, diverting our attention away from our work towards the music.

So finding the right mix of songs can help you to concentrate on writing your story, blog or essay if you have been finding yourself a bit distracted lately.

Volume plays a crucial role in determining how well we can write while listening to music. Keep it to a moderate volume for optimum performance; studies suggest that there is a huge drop in cognitive performance when we crank up the music or turn it down too low.

Music is Calming

Your state of mind greatly affects your cognitive performance; I can’t write when I’m feeling particularly anxious or stressed. Neuroimaging technology has shown that listening to music leads to increased activity in the hypothalamus (maintains your stress hormones) and the hippocampus (regulates your emotions). This explains why music is so widely used as a therapeutic treatment for a range of mental disorders including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and dementia; listening to soothing, pleasant music regulates your stress levels.

If listening to music is so closely linked with your emotions, why not try listening to music that matches the emotion of the scene or chapter you are writing about? If you are trying to convey sadness, grief, loneliness for example, it may help to listen to songs that you know invoke those same feelings for you. For this type of scene my go-to songs would be Imogen Heap’s Hide and Seek or Sarah McLachlan’s Full of Grace.

And how about creating a playlist completely set in the era you are writing about for a little extra inspiration?

Music also has a direct physiological effect on the body. This means that the type of music you listen to, and your reaction to it, could affect whether it helps you write or not. Studies have shown that listening to slower songs encourages your body to slow its breathing rate in order to synchronise with the music; in turn our respiratory system responds by lowering our heart rate and blood pressure.

People are different however, and so are their tastes in music. Plenty of people are super productive listening to thrash metal or exploring brand new music, so don’t worry too much about following the rules: find your own beat.

Music Will Stimulate Your Writing Creativity

Listening to music competes for our brain’s attention, meaning the brain struggles to process more than one thing at a time. The brain looks for alternative, more creative ways of processing all of this information, helping to get our creative juices flowing.

This means that if you are experiencing writers block, now is the time to research what music will work for you when writing.

Studies have proved however, that listening to music with lyrics is more likely to have a negative effect on productivity, than if you were to listen to music without lyrics. This is because it distracts your attention, a little like listening to someone have a conversation with you whilst you work: your brain would rather concentrate on one thing at a time. If you really must listen to music with lyrics, make sure they are familiar, songs you already know well, so your brain doesn’t have to work as hard.


Some Recommendations

So, some key things to remember about listening to music:

  • Keep the volume moderate
  • Choose songs without lyrics
  • Listen to ambient music
  • Find songs you are already familiar with

You can find the right sort of music by searching keywords like ambient, essay writing music, relaxing music, nature sounds or even just classical music.

If you’d like a recommendation though, I would offer Spotify playlist WRITING by Mikey Murphy. This is my favourite playlist to listen to when writing blog posts or otherwise: I could listen to this to help me drop off to sleep, it’s THAT chilled.

Failing that, I’ve also been listening to this 3 HOUR focus playlist by Yellow Brick Cinema:

Over to you

How do you write best? Have you got some playlists you could recommend? Let me know in the comments!

3 thoughts on “Music to Help You Write Better

  1. A very interesting post; I don’t usually write to music and I think it’s important not to use music that is too emotionally arousing or distracting. But knowing that there are these ambient/calming playlists is really worthwhile. I’ll search out a few that may get the alpha brainwaves going while I finish my novel! Many thanks for a very helpful post.

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