Friday, June 17, 2016

A Few Theories About Finding Creative Inspiration Through Music

Ever heard a song and thought, that could be part of my story soundtrack? It happens to me a lot. Shazam and I are very good friends.

I was intrigued as to how music helps me unleash my creative side--why music can inspire me. So, I did a little research and this is what I found...

Mozart Effect

The first thing I learned about was the Mozart Effect which claims listening to certain Mozart pieces can enhance our brain functions by allowing the right and left brain to work in harmony. The pieces, at a steady 60 beats per minute, help to regulate heartbeats and moods. Cool information, but not really what I was hoping for.

You've probably tried studying to classical music because you heard it helps you retain information. I'd tried this too, a long time ago in the far distance experience of high school, but I did not know it had a specific name.

Biology of Music

Trying another search, I came across studies by the neuroscientist Anne Blood, who found links between music and the body's reaction to it. It's a bit complicated and I could not say it better than her, so here is a bit from her abstract.

"Cerebral blood flow changes were measured in response to subject-selected music that elicited the highly pleasurable experience of “shivers-down-the-spine” or “chills.” Subjective reports of chills were accompanied by changes in heart rate, electromyogram, and respiration. As intensity of these chills increased, cerebral blood flow increases and decreases were observed in brain regions thought to be involved in reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal, including ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal cortex....This finding links music with biologically relevant, survival-related stimuli via their common recruitment of brain circuitry involved in pleasure and reward."

At this point I felt I was on the right track, learning more about why certain songs made me feel happy and therefore more likely to listen to and pick for my playlists. Then I came across this gem.

Developing ESP

Heck, for all I know it could be true. The ability of ESP is housed in the prefrontal cortex, and if music effects the prefrontal cortex, can you listen to the 'right' kind of music to increase ESP skills? I may not be totally on-board with this theory, but I think it may make an appearance in my new
Sci-Fi manuscript.

Thoroughly sidetracked, and inspired by an article about music, not music itself, I got back to work.

Humans are Wired for Music

Thank you, MIT, for getting me back on track. My big wows from the video below are...

1) It mentions the brain and the mind. Last year, during a unit on the brain with my students, I posed the question, "Is the brain the same as the mind?" We held a lot of discussions and ultimately decided, no, they are not the same. Which leads to ...

2) Are we born with the appreciation for music or does it develop over time? Do we respond because of the neural connections, or are the neural connections strengthened by exposure and use. Is it our brain that craves music or our mind? I'll leave you to ponder.

Things were getting a little technical, so I started over, looking for how music effects creativity.

Mind-Wandering Mode

Either you are paying close attention to your task with your brain fully engaged, or you're not and your thoughts begin to wander. It is in this state of relaxation that your creativity becomes activated. A few more researchers found that:

"You can stay in mind-wandering mode for a long time and still feel recharged and inspired to come up with imaginative ideas. You get into this mode by relaxing, letting go of the problem or task at hand, and voila — creativity ensues."

Apparently, the big key to why I pick songs is that I enjoy them. The tempos and rhythms, the instruments, the vocal sounds... all please me and therefore I relax and I can go into the right mode. Writing mode.


  1. If this intrigues you, check out Dr. Oliver Sacks' book Musicophilia. (Sacks is the Dr. that Robin Williams' character was based on in the movie Awakening.) Here's a preview:

    1. Mama Hen,

      Thanks for leaving a comment and the link. I will definitely check this out. I really do want to find out more about how sound effects our bodies.