The Mozart Effect: How to improve concentration and creativity with classical music
The attention span of the average citizen in our culture is no better than that of a gold fish. Thoughts flash across the mind in the same way one surfs through television channels. People can’t seem to delve deep into a single idea without expending much effort. In fact, most people don’t even pay attention to the person they are speaking with, just waiting for their turn to speak. In essence, we are losing the power to use our mind to its full potential due to massive overstimulation of the senses and a constant desire for instant gratification.
In older times, a century or more ago, it was considered the norm for people to read books, discuss the latest ideas in science and listen to symphonies lasting beyond 3 hours. It is even reported that during the time of Abraham Lincoln, citizens would be in rapt attention for over 7 hours during a speech!
Any form of creative work, whether it be building a business, writing a book or composing music requires a full attention, lasting concentration and self-discipline to see the project through so the intention of this article is to give you the tools to build up your concentration like a muscle.
Practical tools to increase concentration
As a hypnotist, I began to investigate how to increase concentration because I couldn’t focus for 30 minutes to write an article. Here are some practical tips:
- Create the right environment to work in or a ‘Bubble of Concentration
- Limit reading the news to the morning and evening only
- Turn off your phone
- Cancel your cable subscription
- Use self-hypnosis regularly (A section in The Superhuman Program is designed to build your concentration)
- Stop playing video games
- Stop taking drugs and drinking alcohol
- exercise, eat well and get good sleep
- Read more books
- Have a purpose in life or a mission that’s bigger than you
- Listen to classical music while working and elsewhere
These measures have proven to be successful and the results are ongoing. What needs to be discussed though, is the power of classical music to improve focus, increase concentration and stimulate creativity.
The Mozart Effect: Reality or Media Hype?
One of the first things I uncovered was something dubbed: ‘The Mozart Effect’. Gordon Shaw and fellow researchers at the University of California at Irvine in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, attempting to computer-model the brain discovered that neurons fire in specific patterns and rhythms. Converting these firing patterns into sounds instead of the usual visual printout, they discovered auditory patterns and a musicality similar to classical music and eastern / new age.
Their next study is where they coined the term ‘The Mozart Effect’. They had three groups of 12 students take certain IQ tests. One group listened to Mozart’s Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos, K.488 before the test. The second listened to a relaxation tape. The third only silence. The first group showed significantly better results on the test, especially in the temporal-spatial component.
There have been many attempts to recreate the Mozart Effect with mixed results, but needless to say the media went absolutely wild. All sorts of claims exploded about how classical music, specifically Mozart, made people smarter, more creative and able to focus better. Certainly, many of these claims were devoid from reality and sold as a magical solution. The real role of classical music to increase concentration and improve focus has not been fully understood or investigated. In my experience listening and singing the classical compositions of Handel and Mozart helps me concentrate and stimulates my creativity, though this cannot be taken out of context from the intention to be creative. I hope to clarify what I mean by using Albert Einstein as a case study.
Einstein the Musician
Einstein started playing the violin when he was only five years old. Often, his mother Pauline would accompany him on the piano. It was when he discovered Mozart at age thirteen that his progress as a violinist began to soar. The following Albert Einstein quotes illustrate Einstein the musician.
“I took violin lessons from age six to fourteen, but had no luck with my teachers, for whom music did not transcend mechanical practicing. I really began to learn only when I was about thirteen years old, mainly after I had fallen
in love with Mozart’s sonatas. The attempt to reproduce, to some extent, their artistic content and their singular grace compelled me to improve my technique, which improvement I obtained from these sonatas without practicing systematically. I believe, on the whole, that love is a better teacher than sense of duty—with me, at least, it certainly was. It is in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this, it goes to wrack and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by coercion and a sense of duty.”
– from Peter A. Bucky, The Private Albert Einstein (1993)
It seems whenever Einstein was stuck, he would turn to music to help him relax, and help him overcome blocks in his thinking while theorizing. The following quote illustrates beautifully that Einstein saw music as more than a hobby, but as a tool to help his subconscious solve problems:
“He had his music. But this, as he would explain on occasions, was in some ways an extension of his thinking processes, a method of allowing the subconscious to solve particularly tricky problems. . . . He would often play his violin in his kitchen late at night, improvising melodies while he pondered complicated problems. Then, suddenly, in the middle of playing, he would announce excitedly, ‘I’ve got it!’ As if by inspiration, the answer to the problem would have come to him in the midst of music. . . . Whenever he felt that he had come to the end of the road or into a difficult situation in his work, he would take refuge in music, and that would usually resolve all his difficulties.”
– Hans Albert Einstein (1904-1973), the second child and first son of Albert Einstein and Mileva Maric.
Einstein told his friend Shin’ichi Suzuki:
“[My discovery of Special Relativity] occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. My discovery was the result of musical perception.”
– Shin’ichi Suzuki, Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education (1986)
Shawna Halevy wrote an excellent article on the subject called Einstein the Artist, which is highly recommended reading on Einstein’s music and his method for making discoveries.
We know from a letter Einstein wrote for the 300th anniversary of the famous astrophysicist Johannes Kepler, who discovered in the early 17th Century how the solar system works, that Einstein saw a wonderful harmony in the Universe just as in music. Did he see the same harmony in the human mind?
Read it here: Einstein on Kepler
Clearly, Kepler had a huge impact on Einstein, with Einstein building off of where Kepler and others left off. What is not mentioned in Einstein’s article is that Kepler discovered a grand musical harmony in the motions of the planets! Just liked the researchers who discovered the ‘Mozart Effect’, Kepler showed the motions of the planets, but was also curious about how those motions sounded! After all, sight is just one of our sense perceptions.
The following are photos of Kepler’s book The Harmony of the World, in which he takes the reader through how he made his discovery and how the motions of the planets are organized around a musical principle. One can only wonder at the sounds the motions of the planets make! How is this similar to the discovery of Gordon Shaw at The University of California?
Now we have evidence that the researchers at the University of California found that the brain seems to fire in musical rhythms. It seems safe to say that there is a musicality in the brain. We know that Kepler discovered that the motions of the planets exhibit a harmonic, musical principle, with the sun as a focus of the elliptical orbits acting as ‘the conductor’. After all, the sun is the motor for the motions of the planets. We’ve also just discovered that Einstein, perhaps the greatest genius mankind has seen so far, lived and breathed the classical music of the greatest composers and played the violin himself, using music to make breakthroughs in his theories.
Given this attitude by Einstein, it seems like the modern research into the effects of music on the brain are limiting. Their discovery into the musical firing patterns of neurons in the brain is interesting, but their experiment that led to the naming of the ‘Mozart Effect’ looks more like a magical pill to boost intelligence. This is exactly how the media interpreted their results and explains why subsequent researchers couldn’t always recreate The Mozart Effect. However, Einstein’s method is much less superficial and although I don’t understand fully what that method is, it is clear that he studied classical music with rigor. He delved deep and sought to understand the minds’ of the composers. Einstein thought in musical terms! To Einstein, imagination trumped any logic or mathematics.
In writing this article, I experienced much difficulty pulling the information together. The topic is so vast and overwhelming. I haven’t looked at Einstein’s theories yet and I’ve only had the chance to give Kepler a cursory glance. The topic deserves in depth study and understanding. However, I took Einstein’s advice. Listening to a performance of Handel’s Messiah and singing the first chorus ‘And the Glory of the Lord’ unblocked my thinking, brought out the required concentration and helped organize the structure of this article.
My recommendation is simple: listen to classical music to increase focus and concentration. Find the best performances of classical music, listen to it as background music while you work and sing in a chorus or play an instrument. This is more than just learning how to improve concentration, it’s about eliciting genius from within yourself.
In conclusion, I feel like I’ve just opened up Pandora’s box. What started off as an intention to give you a tool to improve focus feels much more like unlocking the secrets of the universe. Much more research has to be done on the subject of music, it’s relation to the universe and the human mind. This goes for me as well as for science itself. Fundamental questions present themselves such as: What was the harmony Kepler discovered and how did he intuit such a hypothesis? Does this harmony extend beyond the solar system? What is the relation of this musical harmony with the human mind? Perhaps the laws that govern the human mind and those that govern the universe are the same? Does the type of music you listen to have an impact of your intellect? What kind of musical culture promotes genius?
For now, I can say with certainty that listening to the right type of classical music such as the works of Mozart and Beethoven has a positive impact on your concentration and creativity. If it’s good enough for Einstein, it’s good enough for me!
- Excellent summary of the various experiments done on The Mozart Effect: http://lrs.ed.uiuc.edu/students/lerch1/edpsy/mozart_effect.html
- Letter Einstein wrote on Kepler’s 300th anniversary: Einstein on Kepler
- Article from which I took Einstein’s quotes, highly recommended!:
Einstein the Artist by Shawna Halevy (Executive Intelligence Review, May 2012)
- The Harmony of the World by Johannes Kepler, Translated into English by E.J Aiton, A.M. Duncan, J.V. Field (Copyright 1997 by the American Philosophical Society)
Music to explore:
- Mozart-Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K.488 on Youtube
- Shubert’s 9th Symphony conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler in Berlin 1953
- Beethoven’s 9th Symphony conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler in Berlin 1953