Music and creativity go hand in hand. Music is one of the world’s oldest creative endeavors, and it’s a great way to boost your own creativity and keep you in the zone.
Why is music so great for creative work? For two important reasons: it helps the brain come up with new ideas, and it makes us happy!
How does music help get creative juices flowing?
When the mind isn’t focused on solving one specific problem, it’s more free to wander and make creative connections. This state of mind allows different ideas to collide and helps us see the bigger picture in the world around us. Music helps you get into (and stay in) this creative mindset.
Music has another important effect on us: its ability to evoke emotion. Uptempo music in a major key increases happiness and decreases stress, both of which are important to creative brainstorming and exploration. And slower music in a minor key, while not as happiness-inducing, still has a powerful impact on emotions that can influence creative projects.
When I am working, some of my favorite music to listen to is Chicago-style blues, such as in the style of iconic Bill Magee. It’s hard to sit still and not dance while I am behind the camera creating my next piece of art. Another favorite, acoustic guitarist Jesse Cooke who plays flamenco, world music, ethno jazz genre allows my mind to wander in and out of different creative spaces. Mindi Abair contemporary jazz, R&B, and blues saxophonist has become a favorite while drinking wine and creating my art. The list goes on for me since I love various styles of music.
Music provides inspiration in and of itself. The composition, harmonies, and lyrics in the tunes you listen to are all creative ventures themselves. Studying different artists’ work, whether it’s music or another medium, helps you expose yourself to different types of creative energy.
How to create a good playlist for creative work
Music affects the brain in so many important ways that are key to creativity: emotions, memory, happiness, and more. Here are a few ways to harness the power of music for your creative work:
Stick to songs/artists you already know
When you listen to new music, the brain has to work harder to take it in and understand it. This can take you out of the creative mindset, where your mind is free to wander and make loose connections, and into a problem-solving mindset. I always stay with my favorites.
Listening to your favorite musicians or genre can significantly boost creativity. Studies have shown that listening to your favorite music connects a brain circuit known as the default mode network. This part of your brain drives the “wandering” state of mind — daydreaming, recalling memories, passively observing your environment — which is a prime time for creativity to strike as in the case of the artists I mentioned above.
Some of my other favorite musicians to listen to while I’m creating are Santana, Al Green, Bryan Adams, Gato Barbieri, Gerry Rafferty, TJ Welz, Van Morrison…the list just keeps going on.
Experiment with instrumental music vs. music with lyrics
For some, it is easier to stay creatively engaged when listening to instrumental music vs. music with lyrics. If you’re not sure where to start with instrumental music, try playlists like Classical Focus or a site like Music2Work2 where you can try some different things without much research.
Different types of music work best for different creative minds, so try a few different styles to see what you respond best to!
If you do prefer music with lyrics, start out with songs you know (and love)! This reduces the mental load of your brain trying to interpret lyrics for the first time, giving you more mental space for creativity.
Get started on your own creative playlist
Start pulling your favorites so you can get that creative energy flowing. And remember, stay with your favorite artists or genre while you are doing your work or exercise and see how it affects your mood!