How to use music to focus, lift your mood and build teams while working from home - ABC News

How to use music to focus, lift your mood and build teams while working from home – ABC News

When soprano Greta Bradman wants to improve her focus to help her achieve a goal, she turns up the high energy electronic music of Daft Punk.

While the beat of One More Time, the group’s catchy tune from 2000, might not be to everyone’s taste, for her it stimulates the reward pathways in her brain and promotes positive energy.

The practising psychologist and host of ABC Classic’s weekend mornings program believes music has the power to motivate, focus attention and regulate emotion.

In times of uncertainty, like the pandemic, Bradman says it’s important to focus on micro-achievements when “big ones are a little thin on the ground” — and music can help us to get in the zone to do just that.

“Daft Punk is my go-to music when I want to really regulate and be in sync with my emotions when … I want to achieve something,” she tells ABC RN’s This Working Life.

Woman with brown hair smiles at the camera

Supplied: Greta Bradman 

It’s not just any tune that can help to encourage that state of mind. 

“When it comes to really promoting positive emotions and celebrating achievement moments, you want to look for that high energy music that really gets you going,” she says.

“It might be a little bit of a quicker tempo. It might have more percussive and buzzy sounds.” 

So with her unique perspective as both a soprano and a psychologist, we asked Bradman for her tips on music to lift the spirits, get into the zone for deep thinking at work and connect with others while in lockdown.

What mood do you want to evoke? 

Music is known for its ability to unlock memories and transport us to happier times or places.

According to This Working Life host Lisa Leong, radio station programmers are encouraged to play tracks from their target audience’s late teens and early 20s in order to tap into their “emotional connection to the music”.

She knows what works for her. “For me, 80s music absolutely hits the spot … the energising music takes me back to a good free time,” Leong says.

This is backed up by science. According to researchers at McGill University in Montreal, pleasurable music releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is key to being in a good mood. 

Bradman points to other research that shows chemicals like oxytocin, serotonin and norepinephrine are also released in the brain when we play music,  evoking “some fantastic positive emotions”.

Can music help us bond while WFH?

Absolutely. Just as music at a concert brings strangers together, a playlist created by workmates can foster togetherness and boost team morale.

Bradman suggests team members set up a playlist, hit play at the same time to share the experience and then send messages or chat about the music.

“[There’s a] sense of being all together around a piece of music [or] around a playlist together as a team [which] can be an extraordinary experience for people when they’re working from home.” 

She warns the group must genuinely want to connect with each other and it also needs to be a safe space for diverse and personal musical choices. Storytelling can help to create that environment and foster connections.

For her, for example, listening to the late Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti singing Puccini arias conjures up happy memories of growing up on a farm in the Adelaide Hills.

“Mum would always pop that on when she was about to start spring cleaning … She loved it. It was her motivational music. It takes me back. I can smell the spring flowers. All the doors are thrown open, Mum’s in a happy mood.”

Stories like this can help workmates learn more about each other, she says, even if they don’t particularly like the music.

“It’s a beautiful thing to be able to share moments of your life in quite a safe way with the help of a piece of music that takes you somewhere.” 

Greta Bradman’s top songs for focus

What types of music help with focus?

Music is particularly valuable in the workplace when it helps us focus.

“Music can actually stimulate certain brainwaves that are associated with being in flow,” Bradman says.

But not everything will get you in the zone.

“We do know that music that is between 50 to 80 beats per minute, that is tonal, that is fairly repetitive … [and] without lyrics is sensational for focus,” she says.

“There is really interesting research that would show that Baroque music in particular — so the music of JS Bach, Handel and Corelli and others — is particularly effective at allowing us to meet the world in flow, at allowing us to find focus so that we can really attend to the task at hand for a prolonged period of time.”

Bradman says to unlock the music’s potential, you may have to listen to it several times.

“If music is unfamiliar, you just don’t light up the same reward pathways [in the brain] as happens for music that’s familiar.

“Once you have that familiarity, particularly with Baroque music, what it is shown to do is stimulate alpha waves particularly well. So, brainwaves that are associated with being in the moment where you’re really able to pay attention to the task at hand.”  

What about binaural beats?

Some people swear using binaural beats — listening to two tones with slightly different frequencies at the same time — helps them focus.

Leong, who often uses bio hacks to help her body and brain function better, says binaural beats have been really effective for her.

“I don’t know whether it’s because I’m wearing headphones [so] I basically zone everyone else out. But I have found that it really enhances my focus when I have to do some really deep hard work,” she says.

Although Bradman wasn’t sure initially, she says she also found binaural beats to be “incredibly powerful”. 

Are lyrics distracting?

The short answer is yes.

“Lyrics tend to distract us, they tend to tether us, take our brain into a realm that allows us not to focus in the same way,” Bradman says.

So singing the chorus of your all-time favourite tune will distract you from meeting a looming work deadline.

“Steer clear of lyrics and words and just really get into something that is repetitious, predictable, enjoyable and … meet the world in flow.”

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