If you’re ever struggling to get motivated, try doing exercise to music. Your mindset changes and you’re suddenly ready to start. This is a neat phenomenon but can be hard to comprehend. Why does a good bass line make us want to get up and move?
Using music for survival.
There is a theory that this extends back to our primitive ancestors. Since survival was based on instincts, they had to learn how to react to patterns for safety. Think about how caves looked if they were safe or already housing a predator, or what non-poisonous plants looked like.
They also had to be able to hear the cues of danger as reactionary responses. They had to immediately recognize the sounds of a large animal rustling in the bushes or of water flowing nearby.
While we have evolved since then, the need to use sound patterns as cues is still prevalent.
The moment you hear the siren an emergency vehicle, you immediately become alert. Parents can often tell their baby’s mood by the cries it makes. A window shattering immediately sets off your internal alarms.
Listening to someone create music, however, allows you to relax. This is because you know that they couldn’t be playing if there was danger nearby.
Patterns within music unconsciously affect you.
Many of us have a favourite song that we are constantly listening to, because the repetition of the pattern gives us satisfaction in knowing the outcome. It allows us to relax, since we understand what is happening, we don’t have to be on alert for something new.
When you listen to a new genre of music or to the music of a different culture, your mind may initially begin to reject it. Take the stylings of jazz, for example. If you’ve never heard jazz music before, it can sound quite different from what you're used to. Once you start listening, though, and begin to recognize the patterns, you can see why jazz is said to be soul music.
While there are patterns in the basic form of each song and a typical chord structure, the tonality it uses is distinct from several other styles of music, and it leaves a lot of room for musician interpretation and improvisation. Evolving out of the black communities in New Orleans, this genre uses a lot of brass and rhythm. Want to experience some good jazz? Click here to listen to John Coltrane’s album Blue Train.
Our minds are constantly trying to process what we hear.
Since our minds are always subconsciously trying to identify the sounds and patterns around us, there is a phenomenon called “entrainment” when we start listening to music. Entrainment is when your body syncs up with the sounds around you.
Have you ever noticed in a spa or a calming video game how you feel at peace due to the effects of the music? The slow tempo and the repetitive nature of the songs allows your body to relax and your breathing to deepen.
On the opposite side, if you’ve ever been to a gym where they have the music pumping, you feel yourself vibrating with all the energy and your focus seems to change. This happens because your heartbeat has sped up to match the music tempo, which tells your body to be on guard and to perform its best.
Listening to high-paced workout songs as you exercise has been proven to improve your overall performance, from how fast you move and to being able to push yourself longer. It can even improve your perspective on working out and how you feel afterwards!
Typically, music around the 120 beats per minute (or BPM) mark is best for exercise, though, that will fluctuate with what activity you’re doing. Your heartrate will speed up, and your body will try to match the pace set by the music. Listen to these three songs and notice how your body responds:
This is why you don’t want to listen to high-energy music before going to bed and you don’t listen to slow music on your run. Your body takes in the stimulus it is given and converts it into what it believes is best for your body.
Since music is designed for enjoyment, listening to it releases dopamine and serotonin. A workout with music is much more enjoyable and you can maintain focus since your body wants you to continue feeling good.
Here are our top suggestions on how to make the most of your listening experience!
Listen to faster-paced music when you exercise to perform your best.
When cooling down after exercise, listen to slower music. This helps your body to calm down and recover faster than silence!
When stretching, choose your music specifically for your activity. Energetic music is best if you’re stretching as a warm-up or as a wake-up. If you’re stretching as a meditative process or before bed, finding a soothing spa playlist to allow your mind and body to relax.
When you need to focus, find instrumental covers or video game tracks which are designed to enhance focus. This is why people can sit immobile for hours at a time while playing a game.
Whenever you listen to music with words, be it to relax or to get pumped up, the lyrics themselves will affect your mood. Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” is a fantastic song to listen to, but it may affect your empathy going into a situation.
The songs that will provide you with the most mental satisfaction are ones that are mostly predictable but with an unexpected positive twist. The best example of this is Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” While a there are several little twists in the song, each segment is patterned and predictable enough for it to be pleasing, plus the transitions flow seamlessly throughout the entire song.
Want songs to stretch to?
Whether you like faster or slower paced, WeStretch has two different playlists of songs to stretch to on Spotify. Want calm and soothing music? Here is a relaxing playlist full of slow songs to stretch to.
If you're looking for something a little more up-tempo and fun that is full of good songs to stretch to, check out this playlist. Want to see any songs added to this playlist? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll add them for you!
Music can be an effective tool in our lives once we learn to use it properly!
(As a fun little side note, if you don’t get anything out of listening to music at all, you might have what is called musical anhedonia. While general anhedonia itself is the inability to feel pleasure, studies show that people with specific musical anhedonia respond positively to everything else, with the exception of music!)