Classical Music & the Creative Mind
For the past two weeks my top muse has been Fryderyk Chopin–Polish composer and virtuoso pianist of the Romantic era. My Chopin Pandora station has been accompanying the progression of my current project Amazing Grace. Similar to Chopin, check out Hungarian composer and virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt.
Ever hear of the Mozart Effect? It’s the idea that listening to Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s music will increase spatial-temporal reasoning. The BBC wrote a brief article on the effects of listening to Mozart/classical music/any music really on increased brainpower. Although there are skeptics, I favor those who contend ambient noise can improve creativity and stimulate the brain.
Here is the scientific article from the Journal of Consumer Research everyone keeps referencing regarding the study of ambient noise (i.e. background noise) on creativity. Although, we’re more likely to read this one from Sci-News summarizing the research & results. However, the creativity I’m talking about isn’t “getting creative” with which fruit-shaped hand soaps or bohemian prints to spruce up your home. My beef with referencing this article as an artist is that the focus is on increased creativity for consumers.
“Creativity is ubiquitous in the realm of consumption. On the one hand, we as consumers engage in everyday creative behavior such as home decor, fashion, or planning meals with limited resources.”
I’m talking about that sweet writing zone.
BUT, the research does suggest that a moderate level of ambient noise–at like 70 decibels–is enough to distract our brains from all the noise pollution, allowing for a greater possibility of higher creative thinking.
To give you a range of sound, fireworks clock in around 120 decibels, while the ticking of a watch is about 20. The sweet spot chimes in around the average radio murmur or normal street noise (70 decibels). Some might prefer the softer side of ambient noise, like the soothing sounds of a babbling brook (40 decibels) or the lulling rustling of leaves (20 decibels). Normal piano music falls between 60 and 70 decibels.
+ Noisli is a fun site (similar to A Soft Murmur) that lets you access a variety of ambient sounds and white noise, including birds chirping, rain falling, ocean waves lapping, etc, etc. In addition, you can make your own ambient playlists so to speak, customizing what sounds you want to hear in conjunction with others.
+ Here’s a site featuring 3 apps for ambient noise and an interesting anecdote about Hemingway.
+ Weird–there’s even a site/app exclusively offering the ambient sounds of a coffee shop for those who enjoy the bustle of cafes. …But isn’t that what actual coffee shops are for? Well, that and coffee.
The overriding correlation seems to be that moderate background noise is good for creative types, because you can still retain focus while allowing your mind to open abstractly. And furthermore, a little background music/ ambient noise can make repetitive tasks go by easier. Proofing tedious papers? Kick up your mood with your favorite (classical music? bird chirps? crashing waves? instrumental ballads? electronica?). Studies indicate that lyrics can be distracting, as SparringMind.com explains:
“Since listening to words activates the language center of your brain, trying to engage in other language related tasks (like writing) would be akin to trying to hold a conversation while another person talks over you… while also strumming a guitar.”
Although, sidebar, I do enjoy passively listening to french music. Foreign music can substitute as your background noise successfully, particularly if you aren’t entirely fluent. One of my faves:
This site also mentions using movie or video game soundtracks as your ambient noise.
Noise Noise Noise
Some people prefer listening to white noise in place of music, silence, or ambient noise apps while writing or working. In addition to white, other examples of colored noise are pink and brown. So what’s the difference?
White Noise – Contains sound across all frequencies. White noise is the most effective at blocking distractions because it covers the largest spectrum range. It’s great for reading, writing, studying, and anything else that requires focus.
Pink Noise – A blend of high and low frequencies that produce a mesmerizing waterfall effect. Pink noise is great for melting away stress while keeping you alert and energized. The airy pulse creates a therapeutic environment that relaxes your mind and body.
Brown Noise – Utilizes the lower sound frequencies to generate a deep ambient rumble. Brown noise is excellent for aiding sleep, pacifying children and pets, and even masking Tinnitus. It’s also great for breaking in audio equipment and soothing migraines.
…I can’t imagine writing to anything in that regard other than brown, so I better stick to the classics.
Classical Composer Lists
Here’s the top 10 most famous classical music composers:
1. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
3. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
4. Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
5. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
6. Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
7. Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
8. Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
9. George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
10. Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
[Poor Beethoven, whose early works were shadowed by Mozart. Can’t mess with Moonlight Sonata (Sonata No. 14).]
The most famous list above is similar to the top 15 greatest composers of all time, except it excludes these notable contenders:
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)
and Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Your Own Beat
So whether you prefer classical music, colored noise, ambient sounds, or even electronica, bottom line is that moderate background noise can help stimulate your creative juices. Every author has his or her own particular preference. This site talks about the daily routines of 12 prominent authors– For instance, E.B. White preferred organic background noise to music:
“I never listen to music when I’m working. I haven’t that kind of attentiveness, and I wouldn’t like it at all. On the other hand, I’m able to work fairly well among ordinary distractions.”
And for those of you who just really aren’t into classical music, check out modern instrumental pieces like Explosions in the Sky to help get you into the sweet writing zone. Or better yet, if you’re into bands like Tool or Deftones, you might prefer Isis: