Music, as medicine, is a long-playing record. Over the last decade, we’ve encountered several scientific studies that suggest listening to music reduces stress, improves memory and helps people battle pain.
A 2005 Swedish study of 75 patients having surgery saw those with music playing during the operation reporting less pain afterwards. British and German research in 2008 found 50 minutes of dance music raising the listener’s antibodies level. A 2011 study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, said patients who listened to ‘joyful’ singers like Louis Armstrong while having a hip replacement needed less anaesthetic. Recently, dementia patients exposed to a live performance by a singer, followed by songs on MP3 players, were found to be both communicating and remembering better afterwards.
Music, as therapy, is also an old song, which Austin Atteberry, of Nashville, renders in a novel fashion. Five years ago, looking to impress a girl, the songwriter volunteered to help out at the children’s hospital where she worked. Not knowing the new numbers demanded by the kids, he started making up songs from their stories. His musician friends heard the songs, on subjects like ‘A monster in the closet’, and joined the band. In time, Atteberry started the ‘Sing me a Story Foundation’ connecting songwriters across the US with kids in need. Today, the network has over 1,500 songwriters working with 50 organisations that help ailing children. Michael Jackson can rest happy knowing that there are others working (singing?) to heal the world.
But music is not just about defeating disease. It’s also about increasing efficiency. You read that right. Your kids know what they’re doing when they finish their homework with Calvin Harris. It turns out that people listening to dance music produce the most accurate results while checking spellings, solving mathematical problems, reading proofs and performing abstract reasoning tasks. At least that’s what a study conducted in England by neuro-marketing agency Mindlab International found.
Listening to music at work improves performance for almost nine out of every 10 persons, it said. Some 88 per cent of the participants produced their most accurate test results and 81 per cent completed their fastest work while listening to music. More crucially, participants made the most mistakes when they worked in silence.
Which is not to say that all genres work for everyone. Having Brahms on the brain counts most for mathematicians.
For those solving equations, ambient music was the answer. That’s Kraftwerk, if you’re old gen; The Orb, if you’re a Millennial. Ambient pioneer Brian Eno once described the genre as “music that can accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it’s as ignorable as it is interesting”. Maybe the ‘accommodation’ is behind the accuracy seen in ambient lovers while completing tasks that involve equations.
During the Mindlab study, participants listening to Taylor Swift completed their data entry tasks 58 per cent faster than when they worked in silence. Pop singers also helped along spell-checkers, and, alongside dance musicians, saw the fastest overall performance. Those not listening to their pop made 14 per cent more mistakes.
After matching these learnings with my own school experience (when The Doors got me through hours of algebra), I whispered my thanks to Jim Morrison and shared my new knowledge with my boss. He lifted a sceptical eyebrow but was seen overseeing the installation of a new sound system this morning. I expect to enter the office on Monday to find Avicii blasting.