May Music
Hi there,

We all have that one friend who claims they “can’t sing” but can hit every high note like Mariah Carey circa 1991. We also all have that one friend who claims they “can’t sing” and, well… bless their hearts for trying. 🙊  

Whether you sing like an angel or make the dogs howl, one thing remains true: music is innately human. We love it! From the sappy tunes that get us in our feels to the bangers that turn your commute into carpool karaoke, songs have this magical way of bringing us all together.

The best part is, beyond being an essential part of our lives, music is actually good for us. It’s good for our brains, good for our bodies—and, believe it or not, can help us make better decisions, too!

How, exactly? This week, we’re cranking up the volume on how we can make the most out of music (even if we aren’t Mozart).

Until next time,

Gabrielle and the choir kids @ TDL

📧 Sound catchy to you? Tune in to our newsletter for fresh besci insights here. (Tune in… get it?)

Today’s topics 👀
🧠 Deep Dive: Your Brain on Music
🔊 Field Notes: Keeping (Track of) Time
🥁 Viewpoints: March to Your Own Drum
🧠 Your Brain on Music

Why is music so good for your brain? Let’s find out what the science has to say.

  • It improves memory. Turns out, the throwbacks you jammed to as a teen can literally throw you back into snapshot memories by enhancing neural connectivity—specifically the gateway between your auditory and reward systems. This time travel effect especially comes into play in helping Alzheimer’s patients conjure up forgotten memories.
  • It enhances learning. Calling all students! Numerous studies have found classical music to “prime” your mind for focused attention and memorization. This isn't just a “study hack”—participating in after-school music groups has also been shown to help foster social-emotional skills preparing students for overall academic success.
  • It helps us feel emotions. Not only can songs tug on our heartstrings, but they can get our neurons firing, too! Music increases blood flow to the limbic system or the “emotional center” of our brains. This triggers the release of feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine—which also help us regulate our feelings so that we can reach a zen-like state.
  • It inspires creativity. Music engages what we call “divergent thinking” or coming up with original and innovative ideas. In experimental settings, this has helped participants figure out creative solutions to tasks—such as how to attach a candle to a wall and light it without dripping any wax on the ground with only a box of matches and some thumbtacks. (Any ideas on how?)

  • It alleviates stress. An abundance of research has found music helps us chill out by lowering our cortisol levels, releasing endorphins, and perhaps most importantly, distracting us. So if you’re freaking out about the state of the world, throwing on some tunes may (at least temporarily) do the trick.

  • It even helps us sleep. Music has recently been discovered to be an important pillar of sleep hygiene—alleviating insomnia just as much as some sleep medications. This is all about entrainment: your body synchronizing with the tempo, such as your breathing and heartbeat slowing down. Seems like lullabies work after all.

Across the board, the healing potential of music rings true. Perhaps this is why music therapy has become so popular for helping patients with various neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease or strokes in improving motor function, mood, and overall quality of life.

FIELD NOTES: 🔊 Keeping (Track of) Time
We spend a lot of time waiting—in line, on the phone, in the elevator, you name it! In all of these scenarios, there is usually some sort of cheerful music playing through the speakers, easing the blow of us missing out on our very busy days.

But why do we like these background beats? To find out, we partnered with Made Music Studio, who designs soundscapes to enhance customer experiences for big names like Disney and Amazon. Together, we discovered that music influences our perception of how fast time is moving—and thus, our trust in the companies we’re waiting for. Read more on our website.
Neon sign on gray wall that says “waiting, waiting, waiting… waiting…”

🥁 March to Your Own Drum 

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the research, it’s tempting to want to start playing classical music in the background of everything we do. And sure, Bach can be a helpful study buddy or coworker—but he’s not going to solve all of our problems. Here are three reasons why. 

  1. Music isn’t always helpful. In some cases, it may make things worse. Think of the unwelcome wave of feelings when your ex’s favorite song starts playing at the grocery store. This may turn the typical "calming effect" of music into anything but.

  2. This research isn’t always replicable in real-life scenarios. Most of these studies are conducted in “controlled environments.” So although music may help promote solving cognitive tasks in a white lab room, it might be the ultimate distractor in a crowded cafe.

  3. Individual differences matter! Of course, what we’re extracting from these experiments is what worked for the “average” participant—meaning for some people, music really helped, but for others, music really didn’t do anything at all.

With all of these caveats in mind, how can we still make the most out of our sonic experiences?

  1. Figure out what works best for you. Although we can consider the above research as a general “rule of thumb,” only through trial and error can we figure out an approach that works best for us! 

  2. Connect to others through sound. Musical traditions are the glue holding many communities and cultures together. Recent neuroscience has found this might be aided by oxytocin—or the brain’s “bonding” hormone—being released while listening. So if you're looking to connect with others, some background music might just do the trick!

  3. Embrace silence where it counts. With the oversaturation from being exposed to auditory stimuli pretty much 24/7, sometimes even soft music can be too much. Remember to recharge your brain with the sound of silence so you’ll be ready to delve back into your favorite songs with a newfound appreciation

  4. No matter what, make music meaningful. Whether this means listening by yourself or with others, picking up an instrument or being an active listener, or discovering new genres or embracing your trusty tunes, don’t be afraid to keep finding new ways to appreciate the sounds life has to offer.
Bar graph titled, “Which kind of noise helps you get your best work done?” The graph reveals that 35% prefer complete silence, 15% prefer white noise, 42% prefer music without words, and 9% prefer music with words.
From our LinkedIn survey with over 250 respondents, we found that there was a wide range of preferences when it comes to listening to music while working—with “music without words” and “complete silence” being the top two choices. 
Where Do Earworms Come From? 👂

When listening to a song for the first time, it usually grabs your attention then fades away. But after hearing that song ten more times, it can quickly become your favorite tune.

This is thanks to the mere exposure effect: our tendency to develop a liking for things simply because we are familiar with them. Learn more on our website

What’s new at TDL

TDL is hiring! We’re looking to fill a number of remote positions, including:

Find out more by visiting our careers portal.

Want to have your voice heard? We'd love to hear from you. Reply to this email to share your thoughts, feedback, and questions with the TDL team.

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