Does Music Improve Your Creativity?




I love music. All kinds of music. I have to agree with Plato, who said,

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.

Sometimes I want to listen to music when working on a project that requires creativity. Other times I want quiet.  Anyway, this got me thinking about whether music really does boost creativity. Clearly, some people believe it does. In my research for this post, I found a Pandora user with a stream that purports to stimulate his creativity.

Additionally, I asked my Twitter followers about listening to music when working on projects that require creativity.



Beyond the anecdotal tales of Twitter followers, there is some evidence that listening to music can improve your performance on cognitive tests. A few years back, there was a study suggesting that listening to Mozart could improve your creativity. The media narrative became “if you listen to Mozart 20 minutes a day, it could raise your IQ.” As usual, the media narrative was skewed, but that’s another post.

According to the Huffington Post,

Unfortunately, the theory has been debunked. It’s not Mozart that makes you more apt to solve visual problems — any music you like can have this effect. The experiment has since been replicated using a wide range of different recordings. Each time, those who preferred a type of music — whether it’s classical, pop or jazz — performed better on cognitive tests after hearing that type. The tempo of a given song, as well as its major or minor tonality, also had an effect on how happy and alert listeners felt (what researchers call “arousal”), which in turn influenced their performance.

Huffington goes on to say,

If music is a universal language, then we’re born fluent speakers. When we hear a song, our brain springs into action, as the music fires up our emotional, memory and motor centers. It’s no wonder music has been linked to creative individuals since (practically) the beginning of time.

Daniel J. Levitin explained that the field of neuroscience has identified two primary modes of brain operation: Either you’re paying attention to something very closely and you’re deeply engaged in a task, or you’re in “mind-wandering mode,” which involves daydreaming and flitting from thought to thought. As Levitin put it, “It’s a flood of different thoughts that feel unconnected and loose.”

It’s in this mode where almost all of our creativity happens, and where we’re able to come up with innovative solutions to problems.

For your thinking pleasure, here’s a little Mozart.

Some other research indicates that any ambient noise can make you more creative. An article in The American Genius tells us,

A Journal of Consumer Research (JCR) study found that ambient noise actually benefits and improves creative cognition. This means that it can be easier for you to focus and increase your productivity when you have that noise in the background, but not just any noise. The average, busy coffee househas a noise level of about seventy decibels, which happens to be the perfect noise level for reaching optimum levels of creativity and professional production.

Ambient noises get our creative juices flowing because moderate noise leves imcrease processing difficulty, promoting abstract processing, leading to higher creativity (and more creative problem solving, of course). When noise levels increase, creative thinking is reduced, and the brain cannot process information as efficiently.

A 2009 Lifehacker article asked the question: Does music really make you more productive?

The answer falls somewhere between “Listening to Mozart makes you a genius” and “Just be quiet and work.”

The most often cited study into the question of music’s effect on the mind involves the so-calledMozart effect, which suggests that listening to certain kinds of music—Amadeus Wolfgang’s classical works, in particular—impacts and boosts one’sspatial-temporal reasoning, or the ability to think out long-term, more abstract solutions to logical problems that arise. The Mozart effect has been overblown and over-promised, and even outright refuted as having “bupkiss” effect, but that doesn’t mean a great mind-juicing playlist can’t be created.

The Workplace Doctors site details both sides of the question. In one study, University of Illinois researchers found that listening to music in “all types of work” increased work output 6.3% over a control group. In another study (dissected at MetaFilter), 56 employees working on basic computer tasks were found to be more productive when there was no music playing over the same period tested with music.

So the real answer turns out to be, unfortunately, “it depends.” It depends on whether your office or workspace is noisy enough that a good kind of noise or music is preferable to the natural cacophony.

In the end, listening to music to improve creativity or productivity is a personal choice. So, listen to Slayer, Grace Potter or nothing at all, if that works for you. But right now, I am cranking some Led Zeppelin.


  1. Yes, agree with you. Sometimes I listen to some music while working, and used to write in the evening as I’m not a morning person. Most of the days in the week, I find myself listening to music before starting to write. That helps me a lot.

    Some sounds of nature, waves and birds help a lot to calm the mind, quickly. The more you can keep your mind calm, more power you have to think. Well, it’s just the way my mind works, may be others will have different say to this.

  2. In my point of view, yes, music can improve my creativity most especially whenever I’m listening to lively/fun music. There are different kinds of people and not all will react the same way whenever they are on a project while listening to music. The reaction of our mind and emotions differs on different kinds of music, I must say.

    There are times too that it’s better to have a quiet and solemn place to work to concentrate on a project. That doesn’t mean you will hear nothing, but the nature, your surroundings is just fine.
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  3. Hey Harry,

    I was once told in college that listening to classical music helps with studying because of the way the music is in sink with your brain waves. I tried it back then, but I didn’t see a difference.

    Like you said, I think it’s based on preference. When I listen to Reggae music or good neo soul hip hop, I feel like it brings everything together to make sense. It’s as if it understands me and makes everything so clear. Whenever I go to Starbucks and they play this type of music I feel like my creative juices start to flow better.

    Great topic Harry!
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  4. Hi Harry,
    Listening to music does improve creativity and productivity. I have had breakthroughs with Jazz, gospel and reggae. The tempo defines the moment. I also work with Celine Dion, Mozart, R. Kelly, Yanni, Enya, and kenny G.

    Psychological balance from music is purely needed for productivity and creativity!
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  5. Hi Harry,

    Personally if I want to improve my creativity, I need to unplug from the reality and immerse myself into the topic.

    I understand well that for some people having a background music may increase their receptivity. For me it always worked rather distracting. I tried it that many times.

    We are not all the same.

    Thanks anyway
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  6. Hi Harry,
    First of all A Warm Welcome to the family of KIngged. 🙂

    Very interesting post with an interesting question!
    Yes, it all depends on the person. My younger son
    always wants to listen music even when he study
    his college subjects his mobile is on that job! 🙂
    and the interesting thing is that when he goes to
    toilets too he listen this! I sometimes feel that, is
    that a kind of addiction! But later found that it is and at the same time it is not too!! LOL

    Any ways, i think it gives some kind of creativity! 🙂

    With that nature he himself learned guitar without
    anybody’s guidance, but only he depended on
    YouTube videos for this purpose. But watching his
    nature after this addiction?? some kind of creativity
    i could find in him! 🙂

    But as far as i am concerned when doing something
    any kind of music irritates me!! 🙂 But while sleeping
    a smooth music or some kind of nature sounds boost my sleep!
    I don’t think we can call that creativity LOL

    Harry, anyway this is a very debatable subject and it depends on each one! nice that you brought this in! 🙂 let us discuss.

    Thanks for sharing this here. 🙂

    May you have a wonderful and musical weekend!! 🙂
    Best Regards
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  7. Harry,

    Throughout your article I was wondering what side you were going to take if it does or doesn’t then I reached the end of “it depends”, and that resonated the most with me, and agree with.

    There are so many factors I think that go into this. For me some days certain types of music do and other days the same type of music they don’t. It depends on your mood that day overall.


  8. Hello Harry,

    Yes, I find music definitely improves your creativity. At least it does for me. Regardless of what scientific studies say. I just go by what works for myself.

    Ironically get a lot more work done when I’m listening to music. All of sudden ideas come popping into my mind. I think music relaxes me, and allows more natural thinking reflexes to occur, instead of me forcing the issue.