Boosting Brain Power With Classical and Baroque Music

Monday Mar 3, 2014 | BY |
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I was lucky enough to spend three years of my life in a music college, right after high school, where I dedicated most of my waking hours to the study of music and classical guitar.

After graduating, I decided to do something different with my life. I felt that, although I loved the classical guitar, music wasn’t my true talent. I wanted to become involved in the natural health field instead. Even though I never took my music studies to the next level, music has been a big part of my life ever since. And lately, I’ve been interested in the use of music to boost creativity, enhance brain power, and more.

When working on the computer, half the time I blast classical music to bring me to a state of enhanced productivity and creativity. I use music to enhance my workouts, and to relax my mind before going to sleep.

Why Classical Music?

Studies have shown that baroque music has potent brain-enhancing qualities by affecting brain waves. Classical music in general has been used to:

- Improve performance
– Temporarily boost IQ score results
– Lower stress and anxiety
- Help with post-traumatic stress disorder 

One study even used a Mozart Sonata (K448) to help patients suffering from epilepsy. During the test, while listening to this particular piece by Mozart, EEG data showed less epileptic activity. Other studies showed that music had beneficial long-term effects for epileptic patients.

The benefits of classical music have been since then referred to as the “Mozart Effect.”

Can Classical Music Make Kids Smarter?

You probably heard the popular idea that if children listen to Mozart’s music, or other classical music, they will grow up more intelligent. This is not actually true. In fact, the original studies were done on students, not children. They found was that the students listening to a Mozart’s piece before a test did better at certain types of tasks where they had to create shapes in their mind. But the effects only lasted about 10 to 15 minutes.

I also think that generally, parents who play classical music to their children probably also have a well-stocked bookshelf and will care a lot about the education of their children. So it may not be as easy as popping a CD and turning your child into a genius, but I’m sure that developing an interest for music early on helps the brain in some ways we don’t understand just yet.

So merely listening to classical music won’t make you or your children smarter, but it does affect your brain waves and can probably  enhance your creativity and help reduce stress.

Specific Benefits to Baroque Music

When I was in music school, my favorite music to play on the guitar was Bach. Bach is considered by some as the greatest composer who ever lived, and he certainly had a huge influence over the development of music. I always found that playing Bach relaxed my mind, creating a state of inner peace. I didn’t know completely why, but I felt like Bach’s music was true music for the soul.

Now that I make my living writing, I often use Bach and other music of the Baroque genre to boost my creativity (Baroque is style of Western music composed in Europe from approximately 1600 to around 1750. The composers that are the most famously associated with this genre are Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Corelli, and Telemann.)

Why Baroque?

Baroque is my favorite genre of classical music, and I have my own theory as to why it’s so appropriate to boost your brain’s creativity. Let’s first take a look at the research.

Some researchers found that Baroque music was best for to stabilize “mental, physical and emotional rhythms to attain a state of deep concentration and focus in which large amounts of content information can be processed and learned.”

“Baroque music, such as that composed by Bach, Handel or Telemann, that is 50 to 80 beats per minute creates an atmosphere of focus that leads students into deep concentration in the alpha brain wave state. Learning vocabulary, memorizing facts or reading to this music is highly effective.”

In one study, students found that students enjoyed the class better when baroque music was playing in the background, and found math classes less challenging.

Some say that baroque music seems to be particularly better than other genres of classical music because it generally pulses between 50 and 80 beats per minute, which is close to the human heart. I don’t think that’s necessarily the reason, because most of the movements in the works of Baroque composers are played faster than this.

So why Baroque?

Baroque music is light and lively. Yet, it can be very expressive and soulful, but never falling into the melodramatic. It doesn’t try to hook you with a ton of “hummable melodies” that stick in your head, like those composed by Mozart. It’s often a flow of delicious notes taking you on a melodic journey.

Baroque musicians improvised a lot, and at the time baroque music was considered a bit wild. After that period, starting around the death of Bach in 1750, music became more regimented, with the classical period of Mozart, Haydn, and early Beethoven works.

After the classical period comes the Romantics, with later Beethoven works, Wagner, Berlioz, Chopin, Brahms, Mahler, and many others. Music during this period became very emotional, with grand and dramatic symphonies and concertos and wild piano sonatas, often taking you through a torrent of emotions.

Why Not Other Kinds of Music?

The response to music is individual, and can vary at different times in your life.

I’ve been into rock, pop, alternative, bossa nova, and many other genres. At some point I was even into death metal! (I still listen to some occasionally…) But classical music is what has has the biggest effect on me.

You can listen to any music you’d like, but if you want to specifically enhance your creativity and “boost your brainpower,” you should give Baroque music a try.

I can’t get anything done if I listen to music with words. Songs are too distracting and the lyrics just bring a lot of nonsense that I don’t want in my brain if I want to focus on something.

I think the second best thing to baroque would be music from the classical era (from Mozart and Haydn, for example), because it’s very beautiful and structured. Maybe it’s a question of taste. But when you get to the romantics, things get a bit wild and out of control! It’s too emotional to use as a music for focus, at least for me.

Maybe you’ve found that something else works for you. But my recommendation to you is to give Baroque music a try, if you want to:

- Study for an exam
– Enhance your mood
– Boost your creativity

And who knows… maybe it will even make you smarter, at least temporarily!

If you’d like to try a few Baroque CDs here are some recommendations I think you will love, from my own collection:

- Bach: Brandenburg Concertos (English Concert): This is the pinnacle of Baroque music. I keep discovering new things every time I listen to  it.
- Bach: Goldberg Variations (Pierre Hentai). Some say it’s the most beautiful keyboard music ever written. I prefer the harpsichord version, but you should also listen to the classic recording by pianist Glenn Gould.
- Marin Marais: Pieces de viole des cinq livres, by Jordi Savall. This is true meditative music, and Savall, played on an ancient instrument by a master.
- Mass in B Minor: Some say it’s the best work of music ever written, in any genre.
- Corelli Violin Sonatas: Some of favorite soothing “background” music.
- Handel: 12 Concerti Grossi. You can’t go wrong with that one.
- Handel: Water Music: For some reason I never get tired of hearing Handel’s Water Music.
- Julian Bream Plays Bach: This has been a favorite CD of mine for the past 20 years solid!

Question of the day: Have you ever found that some kinds of music help your concentration, creativity, or offer other health benefits?

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998. He is the author of several books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies.

He was named Best Health Blogger of the year in 2011 by Renegade Health. Frederic has experimented with many diets and specializes in raw food, vegetarian and vegan topics, as well as how to balance a healthy diet in the real world. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

12 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. IH says:

    Hi Frederic,

    Love your article. As a professional pianist I can only attest to everything you are saying. I absolutely love baroque music because it is so pure even with all its embellishments and as you probably know you can’t cheat when you perform it. There is a wonderful ensemble in Montreal “Les voix baroques” that I heard in concert last summer here in Ottawa and I’m sure you are familiar with “Tafelmusik”

  2. jodi says:

    i’ve found that in my line of work-working in the bakery at whole foods- i really enjoy what is called “whole foods radio.” it is on through the whole store so wherever you go you can hear it. even in the freezer! -i feel that it reduces stress and makes me very happy because it is “my music.”

  3. Natasa says:

    Very interesting article. Thank you.

    I used to do a lot of computer programming with Mozart in the background. It help me focus. It would stop me from thinking about many different things, and it would help me block out other office noises.

    Mozart’s work has a “cheerful” effect on me. Most other classical music is too emotional, dramatic, and frequently “dark.”

    I also cannot focus with music with words.

  4. Trifany says:

    Always loved Baroque & harpsichord! Thanks Frederic!!

  5. Lotte says:

    Listen at least 15 minutes every night
    when in bed- meditating – to Chopin,
    Liszt and Vivaldi – it gives a soothing
    relaxed state

  6. Cassie says:

    I love listening to instrumental music when I am working and really trying to focus on a certain task. I think it helps quite the ‘chatter’ in my head so my thoughts about what I am working on can flow more freely. I first began listening to classical music when in college and was desperate to find something to help me study. Thanks for the list of suggestions!!

  7. frances says:

    Hi Fred
    Thank you for a great article : ). I especially appreciate your personally sharing some recommendations. I’d be interested to know your thoughts about so-called ‘sacred’ (binaural beat?) music, too.
    Frances

  8. les ingram says:

    In addition to most classical music I find that trad Jazz and opera do wonders for me if I am in need of inspiration. It works every time. Unfortunately, there are not enough hours in the day that I can dedicate to listening to what really floats my boat.

  9. timothy gaar says:

    check out the music of sandy bull, especially the early recordings, and, hamza el din…

  10. Pamela says:

    Who knew??? Brandenburg Concertos is one of my all time favorites! Thank you for a wonderful article.

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