All That Jazz: People Who Listen To Jazz Are Smarter And More Creative
By Dan Scotti
From one end of my iTunes library to the other, there is generally a different type of music for every occasion, so to speak.
For example, rainy days, full of storm clouds and grey skies, I make sure to play James Blake’s Overgrown – in full – to at least set the proper score, for the mood.
When I’m driving around Long Island in the summer, with my windows down, you can rest assured Billy Joel is blazing through my stereo.
In the fall months, when I’m lonely, I typically fancy Drake (or Nick Drake, when I’m extra lonely).
In the spring, I tend to be more Grateful Dead heavy. And regardless of the mood – or the weather, for that matter – I’ve got my Travi$ Scott sh*t on deck, for whenever I need a boost.
As you can probably see – wherever I go – it’s a pretty safe assumption that I have music playing. Even during those times when music, or any type of sound, is typically frowned upon – like in the library, while studying, for instance.
As counterintuitive as it may sound – listening to jazz music, while studying for an exam or writing a thesis paper, usually helps block out any wandering thoughts that might be floating around my head.
There’s something about that mid-20th century bebop jazz, whether it be Charlie “The Bird” Parker or Thelonious Monk, that just puts any apprehension I might be harboring to bed. For me, no other music could duplicate this effect.
I mean, put it this way. If I’m listening to Young Thug while driving, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that I’ll soon hit double the speed limit, without even being conscious of it – I doubt bumping “Thugger,” while face down in a textbook, would improve my final grade.
Yet, with jazz music, there’s something about the lack of words (even though Miles Davis’ trumpet, Harmon mute and all, does all the speaking necessary), which has always enabled me to focus better on my studies – despite the “background noise.”
As it appears, science supports my impression of the improv-based music form.
According to Dr. William Klemm, of Psychology Today, there are a multitude of different cognitive benefits that enrich your mind while listening to jazz music.
It relieves stress.
It’s always been somewhat of a cliché that jazz music is for “cool” people – you know, sitting carefree on a barstool off in the corner, wearing sunglasses and a Kangol beret. As Dr. Klemm writes, however, there’s also a great deal of truth behind that understanding.
According to the University of Nevada, Reno’s counseling services, music and stress levels go hand in hand. While faster tempos can get you up and going, slower ones – such as the standard tempo of jazz music – will soothe both the mind and body.
Klemm makes a powerful connection between stress level and one’s ability to study, too, noting how stress is the “arch-enemy of memory ability.”
Following this logic, by listening to jazz music while studying – and lowering your stress levels in the process – you’ll also find yourself much more likely to retain the information that you’re attempting to learn.
It stimulates the mind.
There’s almost like a “monkey see, monkey do,” relationship that your brain will follow under the influence of jazz. Because of jazz’s, at times, herky jerky, pulsating, rhythmic patterns – your brain tends to mimic this improvisation, and we’ll see that through increased neural stimulation.
In a separate study, conducted by Dr. Charles Limb of Johns Hopkins University, brain scans of jazz players show the impact of this style of music on the brain.
As Lauran Neergaard of the Associated Press writes, new research now shows that the back-and-forth playing style of music affects the brain, much in the way that spoken language does.
This characteristic of jazz music activated the regions of the brain correlated with the syntax of language, which acted almost as exercise for this feature of cognition.
It boosts creativity.
According to Beth Belle Cooper, on the blog buffer social, ambient noise improves creativity. As explained further by Cooper, not only the type of music you listen to – but also the volume at which you listen to it – is critical.
Cooper states that moderate volume levels are the most optimal for mental function, saying “moderate noise levels increase processing difficulty, which promotes abstract processing, leading to higher creativity.”
In short, by forcing our brain to do extra “work,” but not too much work, we will ultimately find our brains working at maximum efficiency – and think further outside of the box, while doing so. This is where the creativity portion of the relationship comes into play.
Another report, done by Katrina Schwartz of Mind/Shift, provides additional ways to boost creativity through jazz music. According to Schwartz, creativity is not a black or white, rigid, character trait – in fact, it can be developed over time.
She uses a practice-based analogy to describe the attribute, crediting how “the more you do it, the better you’ll become at it,” school of thought.
Schwartz also makes mention of the JHU study conducted by Dr. Limb, citing his suggestion that jazz music – and art in general – is the best way to train our brains to think creatively.
If you guys have a test coming up, or just want to be more creative – and more inspired – I recommend all of you download Coltrane’s entire discography, and start there. I have a feeling you’ll enjoy studying a lot more.