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THE POWER OF MUSIC on creativity


The power of music or voice is fascinating. Personally, nothing makes me more emotional than the Serge Gainsbourg’s repertoire. That’s the same with the deep voice of Jean-Claude Ameisen on France Inter: it literally takes me into a peaceful mood, and sometimes it is even difficult to follow his speech. We all have a similar experience to share!

Once and for all, can we put black on white the power of music or voice on our emotions? And to go further, does our emotional state influence our creativity?


The music is not a universal language

We are not experiencing music in the same way. It is influencing and affecting us in different ways. Indeed, some people cannot even stand music! It is really a matter of taste and sensitivity…

All the studies about the effects of music on concentration reach conflicting conclusions. Pierre is not able to cope with soft background music in the office, while Nina constantly wears a headset with high volume to achieve her logos! Personally, I prefer to work without music, keeping it for very special moments. Sometimes, it happens that you can see me wearing a headphone, but not for pleasure – that is to shout the voices around me. Let’s call it “listening diversion”!


A matter of style

There are absolutely no rules of good practice regarding working with music to be more effective or more focused or creative. However, in terms of music style, a large part of listeners agree on certain principles: the instrumental tracks, at a relatively low volume, allow more focus than songs with lyrics. Studies show that the way the brain is structured may correspond to certain music style. For example, to a «logic» and «analytical» brain corresponds a so-called «intellectual» music – that is why many mathematicians love Bach! On the other side, an «intuitive» or «emotional» would look for romantic music…


Take into account the type of work!

Repetitive tasks usually need few cognitive resources – these types of activities are facilitated, or even boosted, by a beloved song or an exciting radio program. In a study published by the Journal of Applied Ergonomics, in assembly lines, workers who listen to music tend to be happier and to make fewer mistakes than those who work with the noise of the machines. On the other hand, if a task requires more mental effort and concentration, listening to music can distract and cause inefficiency.


Do emotions generate creativity?

Of course, as we are not all equally sensitive to music, we are not expressing our emotions in the same way. The intensity of an emotion influences the creativity performance. An artist will be more creative if during a very intense emotional state. In general, emotions are changing the creative productivity of a person. A positive emotional state intensifies and stimulates creativity, modifying the content of creations. Listening to a song that we like makes our brain producing two hormones of happiness: dopamine and serotonin, ideal to start a creative project !


Music also has the ability to relax, slow down our heart impulses and reduce our stress level. It helps to rethink about the past, bringing old memories, hence finding new sources of inspiration and generating new ideas.

However, it is really difficult to state something about the value of the ideas and creations generated during a certain mood: an artist can produce a powerful and exceptional work in the course of a strong pain or a fragile emotional state.


Positive emotion = joyful creation?

According to the theory of Bower (1981) the mood is consistent with the creative result produced, both in the positive or negative case. For example, an individual in a positive mood would create cheerful, pleasant, and joyful music. An individual in a negative mood would rather create sad and “dark” music.

Conversely, Schwartz (1990) shows that the mood does not automatically change the contents of creative productions in the expected direction. A graphic designer in a positive mood can naturally create cheerful compositions, but the same designer in a negative state, can also develop joyful creations to decrease the intensity of the emotion and get out of negativity.


Studies contradict themselves and none of these assumptions have been universally validated. There are no reports of the relationship between the value of the creation produced and emotional state of the individual.


The relationship between music and creativity leads to contradictory conclusions, allowing any of us assert our personal preferences, habits or desires. This is about self-knowledge… and respect for others! Working without music to respect the need of a calm working environment also involves modulating our voice!

Finally, creativity is perhaps a matter of silence…

To find more about this topic: – Book: Musicophilia, Oliver Sachs – Book: L’Art d’une vie créative, Frank Berzbach – Book: Nous, notre Musique, on n’en parle pas, Par Héloïse Boullet – Radio: France Inter « La prochaine fois je vous le chanterai » – Radio France Culture: podcast « Le cerveau, la créativité artistique et la musique dans l’émission Le Sens des choses http://www.franceculture.fr/emissions/le-sens-des-choses/le-cerveau-la-creativite-artistique-et-la-musique

Tell us – Do you prefer to work with or without music? What kind of music do you like? Are you a compulsive selective or exclusive listener?

by Séverine Duprat

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