Writers, Music, and Inspiration

Most of the writers I know tend to write with some sort of music.  Very few don’t.  I know that without my MP3s, it’s incredibly hard for me to concentrate.  The NaNoWriMo writers have even organized a yearly MP3 exchange, which comprises well over a dozen public Box.net accounts.

I never gave much thought as to why the link between music and writing, until recently.  I accepted an in-depth assignment to write an article on the benefits of music therapy to victims of stroke and dementia, and unearthed some very interesting data concerning the effects of musical rhythm on the brain.  It may explain why so many writers are so attached to their playlists.

In 2006, researchers at Stanford University presented some of their research on music therapy (you can read their press release).  Studies using electroencephalographs — wacky sci-fi looking devices that measure electrical impulses in your brain — showed that brainwaves tend to sync with musical rhythms:

Music with a strong beat stimulates the brain and ultimately causes brainwaves to resonate in time with the rhythm, research has shown. Slow beats encourage the slow brainwaves that are associated with hypnotic or meditative states. Faster beats may encourage more alert and concentrated thinking.

They also found that musical stimuli can increase blood flow to the brain.  Anatomy and Physiology 101, blood flow is usually good.  Blood helps heal injured body parts (which is why they tend to swell up), good news for those recovering from damaging strokes or degenerative dementia.  For writers, increased blood flow to the brain helps keep it closer to that springy, limber state we feel when the Muse comes.

I imagine it like this, though in reality it's probably less dramatic.

To me, this is all incredibly fascinating — I love the human brain, with all its intricacies and nuances, and how we study so much about it but can’t completely understand it.  Although the written word will always be first in my heart, of course, the undeniable effect music has on humans amazes me.  The brain truly is a wondrous commodity (my personal best, I believe).

Now, next time I lose my headphones and fall into a panic, I can throw this information back at whoever tells me it’s not a big deal (coughDevincoughcough).  How about you?  What’re your feelings on music and writing?

This blog is brought to you by:

Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked (Cage the Elephant)

Hey, Soul Sister (Train)

The Man In Me (Bob Dylan)

Sweet Emotion (Aerosmith)


4 thoughts on “Writers, Music, and Inspiration

  1. This information was very interesting. The use of music as a therapy for stroke and dementia is something that makes so much sense.

    As far as writing is concerned, I prefer to have peace and quiet while I work, but would never finish anything if I always had to wait for the house to empty. So, when hubby has the TV blasting, I often use various styles of instrumental pieces to cover the distractions.

    Music with vocals will not help and, in fact, stops all my forward progress. I do listen to a lot of favorite, mood-setting tunes between writing sessions though. I also occasionally strum a guitar (which I can’t play worth a darn) since switching tracks to make music (or the closest I can come to it) stimulates a different part of my brain, and gets creative juices flowing.

    Thanks for a great topic of discussion!

    1. I’ve tried listening to instrumentals, but usually I end up paying more attention to the music than what I’m writing, since I used to play flute and like to test my listening skills still XD

      It’s interesting that you play around with a guitar to get going again. I tend to get up from the computer and go cook, crochet, or mess with my crafts stuff. Switching track helps a lot, especially when the replacement is something less involved psychologically — I think it helps our imaginations relax and work through things without the consciousness interfering.

  2. I’ve found that it’s just too much of a hassle to find music that doesn’t distract me or throw my natural mental rhythms off. Sweet silence is all I need for writing.

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