When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on? Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.
CAROLINE LIU for The Muse
Jul 01, 2016
You know that feeling: Friday afternoon, with only a few to-do list items between you and your weekend plans. And obviously, you know logically that all you have to do is knock out some emails and finish a task or two before you’re home free, but it’s so hard to get in the right mindset to work because you’re just not in the mood.
Or how about when you know you have a big job interview the next morning? All you want to do is get a decent night’s sleep, but your racing thoughts clearly have different plans for the evening.
In any situation, it can be really annoying—frustrating, even—to not be in the proper mental state for tackling the task at hand. And that can make all the difference between a productive 30 minutes and a terrible day.
Making your brain chill out about Facebook, buckle down, and actually cooperate is pretty essential for any kind of productivity, even if the goal you have in mind is unwinding and relaxing for a few hours.
So, I’ve been experimenting with different ambient noise tools to mold my own ideal work environment, and a notable one I came by recently was Brain.fm, a science-backed music platform that helps you sleep, focus, or relax. Here’s everything you need to know about it:
What Is Brain.fm?
Essentially, it’s smart music that’s supposed to put you in the mindset to improve any of three things: sleep, focus, or relax. With different sessions and configurations targeted to meet each of those goals (or “brain states”) accordingly, the platform has a lot of potential for helping you clear out the mind clutter and get stuff done. All you have to do is listen, and you should notice the effects in 10 minutes or less.
The Science Behind It
Brain.fm is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that composes music for the goal, tracks what works, and adjusts accordingly. The musical compositions are geared toward helping “the listener achieve certain neurological brain states” such as productivity, restfulness, or relaxation. It does so keeping two key concepts in mind: entertainment and dynamic auditory attending theory. But what do those big words really mean? The technology produces musical rhythms that sync up to your brain’s natural rhythm and affect your consciousness and energy accordingly.
Adam Hewitt, co-founder and inventor behind Brain.fm, has had a long professional history of working, experimenting, and innovating with audio. He’s done clinical research on music and the brain in the past, having produced auditory software in many branches of neuroscience. Plus, he’s not the only mastermind behind it all—he’s worked with a number of scientists to confirm that the sessions are well-designed. So, I think it’s reasonable to say that we’re in good hands.
But, does it actually help? These are my results—in order from “meh” to “yes!”
The Sleep Session
I recently was on a nine-hour train ride with unreliable Wi-Fi, and tried to pass the time by sleeping through some of it. I thought: If there were any time for Brain.fm’s sleep session to pull through for me, now would be it.
About halfway through the 45-minute nap configuration I selected, I was still wide awake and ready to give up. Between the constant movement, mechanical noise, and people chatter, I’m not sure there’s enough science in the world to help anyone nap on trains.
While Brain.fm’s sleep session didn’t do the trick for me, I don’t really blame it under those extreme conditions. While I definitely recommend looking at other resources for getting better sleep, it might still be worth it to give this tool a shot under more reasonable circumstances.
The Focus Session
The other day, I brought my work with me to a local coffee shop, and my mind was buzzing from the nice walk over and the prospect of lunch coming up. Daydreaming about what spot I’d like to eat at seemed so much more appealing than tending to all my emails from the day before. I thought, maybe I could (really) use the focus session right now.
Don’t get me wrong—I was really skeptical it would do anything for me. But after working for 30 minutes, I noticed how much time had passed and was absolutely fine with continuing. What really strikes me about the session was that it felt so meditative and soothing. And it was what I needed to carry me painlessly through the morning grind. Before I knew it, it was time for that lunch break.
The Relaxation Session
I’ll be the first to admit: I’m punctual to a fault. The saying, “If you’re not early, you’re late,” was made for people like me. And if it looks like I’m about to be late going somewhere, I all but panic about it.
But I also try to keep the mindset that if I’m already doing my best to be on my way—whether that’s on a subway car, stuck in traffic, or even walking over—stressing doesn’t help. (And it certainly doesn’t speed up the process.) So, why not at least try to enjoy the commute? I plugged into the relaxation session with hopes to calm down and pass the time, and that’s just what happened.
As with introducing any kind of new music to your workflow, the first time listening will require finding your footing, since you don’t know at all what to expect. And, because it tracks your progress and keeps record of works best for you individually, Brain.fm has plenty of room to adapt and become more effective with consistent use.
The platform is free for the first seven sessions, so why not try it out? Give it a shot and see for yourself if it’s worth keeping up.
This article originally published at The Muse here
Awesome article on how music is profoundly important to healing. Our auditory systems, our nervous systems, are tuned for music. Perhaps we are a musical species no less than a linguistic one. Check out this article from Oxford University Press