Music is an element of many people’s lives, whether it’s working out, driving, cooking, cleaning or even studying. Music tends to give that morale boost that somehow keeps us going. Many people claim that music enhances their focus and overall concentration for the task at hand.
But when you think about it, that doesn’t really make much sense, does it? How can music enhance one’s concentration? Why would having two things to pay attention to make you more focused? Some people even go so far as to say that not having music on is more distracting. How strange is that?!
It’s unclear why the brain likes music so much. Interestingly, there’s a specific spectrum of musical properties that the brain prefers. Apparently, there needs to be a medium level of syncopation in music to prompt a pleasure response and allied body movement in people. Translation in layman’s terms? Music needs to be rhythmic, but not too rhythmic, for people to like it enough to make them want to dance.
Why would music help us concentrate? One argument is to do with attention. For all its fantastic abilities, the brain hasn’t really developed to absorb abstract information or spend prolonged periods thinking about one thing. We seem to have two attention systems:
– a conscious one – which enables us to direct our focus towards things we know we want to concentrate on
– an unconscious one – which shifts attention towards anything our senses pick up that might be significant.
The unconscious one is simpler, more fundamental, and linked to emotional processing rather than higher reasoning. It also operates faster. So, when you hear a noise when you’re alone at home, you’re paying attention to it long before you’re able to work out what it might have been.
The trouble is, while our conscious attention is focused on the task at hand, the unconscious attention system doesn’t shut down; it’s still very much active, scanning for anything important in your peripheral senses. And if what we’re doing is unpleasant or boring, the unconscious attention system is even more powerful. This means that a distraction doesn’t need to be as stimulating to divert your attention on to something else.
Types of music
It’s not just a matter of providing any old background noise to keep distractions at bay. A lot of companies have tried using pink noise which is a less invasive version of white noise – broadcasting it around the workplace to decrease distractions and increase productivity. But views on the effectiveness of this approach are mixed.
It seems clear that the type of noise, or music, is important: someone listening to classical music while working wouldn’t seem that unusual, but if they were listening to thrash metal it would be thought as rather strange.
While the nature and style of the music can cause specific responses in the brain, some studies suggest that it really boils down to personal taste. Music you like increases focus, while music you don’t hinders it. So while one music genre would work well will one person, it might have adverse effects on another.
Video game soundtracks
Since video game music tends to be simplistic in its melodies (think on the lines of Tetris or Mario), in a somewhat Darwinian way, music in video games has been created to be pleasant, entertaining, yet not distracting. The composers have (probably unintentionally) been manipulating the attention systems in the brains of players.
When you consider the purpose of the video game music: to help create an immersive and simulated environment to facilitate but not distract from you from a task that requires constant concentration and a great deal of focus.
Music. It’s a beautiful element of life, isn’t it? Funky music compels you to dance, sad music makes you melancholic, motivational music makes you want to keep fit. That said, the challenge is to maintain the delicate balance of stimulation without distraction.
Here at Olimpus we’re experts at using music to enhance our concentration because we believe that music should be considered as an important component in our lives. If you love listening to music or creating it, come visit our outlet in Mosta, where we have a range of top-quality musical instruments that will make you want to start jamming the minute you arrive home!