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Does music hold a key to all of creativity?

Music, in its creation and consumption, might be one of the most consistent keys to all creativity. It runs through the very core of every living thing. As such, it fascinates me to think about the idea of all of us, the entire universe, being tied together by the simple beauty of music.

I’ve been a musician my whole life. Unofficially hitting my first snare drum at just 2 or 3 years old. Officially beginning drum lessons at 7 years old and playing ever since. I’m certainly no professor of music, and my music tastes are much like all of you, very subjective. But it fascinates me to step back and look at just how much music is a part of who I am as a person and as a creative.

Lately I find that I’m really struggling a bit creatively. Not struggling to find ideas or actually create something however. My struggle has been dealing with the fact I feel a bit directionless. I know that I’m following my instinct, letting it lead the way with what feels right, but I have no idea where it’s all leading. What am I trying to accomplish?

It’s frustrating.

But then I noticed something else.

The more frustrated I felt, the more I wanted to just disappear into music. Let the beat, the riffs, the lyrics just take me away for a while.

In fact, whenever I find myself stressed, under pressure, feeling sad or depressed, I find myself letting music run through me.

That observation, while certainly nothing ground-breaking, really allowed me to let go. Most importantly it made me step back and get curious about music and it’s role in my life. One thing I noticed is that as I’ve been feeling the anxiety creep up, the content I’ve been putting together has started to bring music into the fold.

Last week I wrote about James Hetfield and Lou Reed. Released an episode talking about how the song ‘Why I Am’ by Dave Matthews Band gives a great summary of the creative journey. You can listen to that here or in Spotify right here:

I hadn’t planned on putting a focus on music. It just sort of bubbled up into the forefront of my mind without me realizing it. And I’m thankful.

There are plenty of studies around music and the impact it has on creativity. For instance, this article from Greater Good Magazine, the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley: How Music Helps Us Be More Creative.

The quote’s that stand out to me from that article are here:

“One new study explores music as a source of creativity. Since music has been shown to improve cognition and enhance learning and memory in other studies, it makes sense that perhaps it has an impact on creative thinking, too. “

“The results suggest that listening to happy music increases performance on overall divergent thinking,” write the authors, suggesting that it enhances the cognitive flexibility needed to come up with innovative solutions—the ability to switch between different concepts and perspectives, rather than seeing the problem from a rigid point of view.

Isn’t that the key with creativity? Being able to find a way to take a little of this and a little of that and combine it in new ways to “solve a problem”? As Steve Jobs once said, and I paraphrase here, “Creativity is just connecting things… they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”.

Life experience combined with the ability to recognize patterns and connect combinations that seem obvious to you, but maybe not to anyone else. And music helps INCREASE those skills. Music is like a super charging boost that, when tapped into, helps unleash and unlock our creativity. But I think it’s more than that actually.

Not only is it a key in opening up our creativity, it’s a key component into helping to give us the ability to step back and gain perspective. To let go and release stress. And if we let it, it helps us see and FEEL that things will be okay if we follow the music of our own voice inside of us. That gut instinct that is trying to tell us where to go next.

Interestingly, whether or not the participants “liked” the music had no impact on their performance, suggesting that the benefits don’t come from simply enjoying music. And none of the types of music had an impact on convergent thinking, which requires coming up with a right answer rather than opening your mind to many potential ideas.

“The increase in divergent but not convergent thinking after listening to happy music may be explained by the fact that the convergent tasks rely less on fluency and flexibility, but on finding one correct answer,” write the authors.

The last two quotes are the ones that really make me feel like music is much more important to creativity than we may understand. How can it not be if it has an impact even if you don’t “like” the music? It carries with it enough power to influence our thinking, our ability to problem solve, our creativity, even if we don’t even like the music.

Something that can influence all of that even if we DON’T like it…

That tells me that it is something working on a much deeper, base level, and as such it has to hold a key to our creativity and creative/mental well being. Maybe not ALL of the keys, but it’s an essential ingredient.

As such, I’m going to follow my instinct and begin to share more with you guys in the coming weeks and months regarding music. Let’s open things up and really get into some specifics with the music that moves us. More importantly, I’m going to do my very best to let the music inside of me lead the way as I try to just enjoy the ride.

It IS frustrating now knowing where things are headed, but I have to trust my inner voice, my gut instinct, the music inside me that’s helping to inform and shape who I am and what I’m doing here. My song is mine to sing, so to speak, and I’m going to let it lead the way.

Until then, I’d love to hear from you about how music impacts you, your creativity, your overall mood, and how you feel in general! What music moves you the most? What is your go to album, or genre, that you find yourself playing more than anything else when you feel stuck? As the kids say, what’s your jam?

David (Usually Dave) Szweduik is a photographer, podcaster, and all around geek from the great state of Minnesota and can be found weekly on his podcast Adventures in Creativity. There you’ll find him having conversations fueled by curiosity around the amazing world of all things creativity.

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