The Ultimate Playlist for Improving Your Brainpower

The Right Playlist Can Dramatically Improve Concentration

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Consider these brain-boosting additions to your focus playlist.

Much has been said about the so-called “Mozart Effect” — the power of the composer’s music to sharpen the memory and increase productivity in children and adults.  Several studies have famously provided evidence to support the theory, among them Frances Rauscher’s 1994 report published in Nature that revealed how a group of college students listening to ten minutes of Mozart increased their IQ scores by as much as 9 points.

Undeniably intriguing, the premise still begs the question: how exactly does Mozart’s music impact so positively on the brain?  Do all of his pieces have a similarly magical effect, or are certain pieces more influential than others?

According to a 2014 Nielsen’s Music 230 study, 93% of the North American population regularly listens to music, but only 15% do so at work – an unsurprising statistic given how much of the music blasting from our headphones, radios and TVs is not just attention grabbing, but attention-robbing.  But what if there were certain types of music, or even better, specific songs that could untangle our thoughts when reading a novel as complex as something by Proust or Tolstoy, or – possibly more relevant for the digital generation – speed up our decision-making when having a go at one of those multi-table online poker tournaments we’ve had our eye on for ages).

Inspired by the idea that select pieces of music actually stimulate rather than stamp out mental activity, we have compiled songs proven to boost cerebral function (as well as a few musical recommendations from notable “brainiacs”) to create a playlist of audio nourishment for the mind.

Mozart – Piano Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major K.448

The effects of this particular piece were the focus of Rauscher’s initial study into the Mozart Effect, but Mozart’s sonatas in general have been credited as improving test results, reducing learning time and enhancing creativity, among other benefits. Their brain boosting effect has also been supported up by none other than Albert Einstein.  Einstein was aged 13 when he discovered Mozart’s sonatas and religiously played them on his violin in his spare time.

When asked how he had managed to learn them so expertly without being a professional player, Einstein replied: “love is by far a better teacher than duty.”  Rather than seeking scientific explanations for cerebral gains through music, it has been argued that music reconciles our mind and heart, aligning thoughts and feelings to create a clear mindset with which to approach tasks.  And this, of course, is not limited to the sonatas of Mozart.

Schubert – Gute Nacht

Although his pieces are lesser known, Schubert is often quoted in the same breath as Mozart as a composer whose music stimulate productivity and above all, concentration. It just takes a glance at the incredible story of Ambroz Bajec-Lapaine to see how this could be true: the Dutch National Opera tenor endured brain surgery while singing verses of Schubert’s Gute Nacht – without anaesthetic.

All Saints – Pure Shores

There is nothing to say that a playlist to benefit your brain must be limited to classical music. On the contrary, a study by BMS College of Engineering in Bangalore noticed that individuals listening to pop songs that have 60 beats per minute – such as All Saint’s hit Pure Shores–experienced an increase in physical relaxation that improved their ability to focus. The 1999 hit was the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Alex Garland’s bestseller The Beach and perfectly conveys a sense of desert island calm.

Wagner – Liebestod

Have you ever wondered what the intellectuals listen to while they pen groundbreaking theories?  Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has written extensively about how Richard Wagner’s music can transport a listener to a higher plane of consciousness and mental clarity.  The Liebestod is the final song in Wagner’s 5-hour opera Tristan and Isolde as the two eponymous lovers pass away, a moment that Žižek describes as a moment of overwhelming emotion and immersion into the void. ”I’m a mega Wagnerian,” Žižek admits. “I listen for hours every day.”

Sigur Rós – All Alright

As mentioned previously, music that does not dominate our attention can leave us free space in which to think, create and produce.  Song lyrics were shown to distract 48% of office workers, a Cambridge Sound study found, primarily because they were intelligible.  For pop diehards, a pleasing alternative comes in the form of ‘All Alright’ by Icelandic ambient pop group Sigur Rós: a gentle, rousing song with lyrics in a completely fabricated language (the band calls it “hopelandic”).  Which makes it a perfect playlist addition, but hurry – it appears that Sigur Rós as well as a number of other artists are having their music videos deleted from YouTube.

Queen – Another One Bites the Dust

Celebrated Tamil composer A.R. Rahman has often been asked what his musical influences are. Having worked on a series of high profile movies including Indian classic Lagaan and Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, fans may be surprised to know that his inspirations were decidedly pop-oriented. During an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, Rahman explained: “When I started my movie soundtracks, I was really awestruck by Freddy Mercury and Queen, and I learned to put my passion and perfection in things.”

Although there are strong grounds to suggest that certain kinds of music boost our brain activity more than others, the vast selection of genres and styles covered in this playlist demonstrate that music is forever a question of personal taste. Einstein’s belief that love, rather than reason, is the factor compelling an individual to learn and grow seems to say it all.

With that in mind, have fun exploring blogs, libraries and the musical inspirations of others to find songs that stir your own passions – and watch your productivity levels soar.


Top image by Pexels; videos from YouTube.


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