Music and Performance – Is there a role for music in competition and exams ?
In 1998, the iconic Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie said he had been able to break the 2000m record by “synching his (running) cadence with the beat of the pop song Scatman” (by Scatman John), which was playing during his race at the Birmingham National Indoor Arena. At the time the benefits of using music to enhance performance was pretty new but with the growth of research in both sports science and neurology, there is now good evidence that music can effect performance both in the class room and on the sports field.
Music, Motivation and Stress
Perhaps the strongest evidence is in studies that have looked at musics ability to calm or stimulate and by doing so helping students or athletes “get into the zone”.
Listening to ‘relaxing music’ (generally considered to have slow tempo, low pitch, and no lyrics) has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety (1,2) and significantly reduce plasma levels of stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine (3). Music has also been shown to lower stress during high pressure tasks at work or school (4), to prevent stress-induced increases in heart rate or systolic blood pressure (2) and reduce the stress of commuting (5).
Music that is upbeat in tempo and stimulating, enhances exercise performance and is also found to lower feelings of sluggishness and fatigue (6). Athletes often use motivational music to increase their level of arousal before a game or competition, getting their body moving and the blood flowing (7).
Its not as simple as listening to calm music to lower anxiety and up-beat music to psych you up, the lyrics and music style are also important. One study found that basketball players prone to performing poorly under pressure performed significantly better at high-pressure free-throw shooting if they first listened to catchy, upbeat music and lyrics (in this case, the Monty Python classic “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”) before playing. The music seemed to distract the players from worrying about the audience and from thinking about the physical process of shooting (8). The lyrical content of music has also been found to be particularly important for its motivational enhancing the affect, providing positive affirmations or task-related verbal cues (9).
It works best if you like the music (10). Brunel Universities Dr Karageorghis who spent the last 15years studying the effects of music on performance says individuals need to create their own play list according to their personal music preferences and the intensity of activity in which they are engaged. Jessica Ennis is known to have favoured Monster by Kanye West when she was training for the 2012 Olympics and many of the US team, including swimmers Phelps and Lochte used the music of rapper Lil Wayne. Usain Bolt also favours Lil Wayne and is said to enjoy a mix of US hip hop and reggae whilst training. Olympic super-heavyweight champion Audley Harrison listened to Japanese classical music before a fight to calm his nerves and the rower James Cracknell, has said that listening to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ album “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” was an integral part of his pre-race preparation ahead of the 2000 Olympics.
Music, Performance and Endurance
Music has been shown to act as an ergogenic aid, improving performance by delaying fatigue and increasing work capacity resulting in higher-than-expected levels of endurance, power, productivity and strength (11) and improving performance in a wide variety of sports.
The short (2minute) video below shows an interview with Dr Karageorghis about his work with athletes. I apologise if you are watching this on an iPhone or iPad, as the interview was recorded by the BBC and needs a flash player.
Synchronous music (which allows an exerciser to consciously move in time the beat) has been shown to provide both ergogenic and psychological benefits. ‘Motivational’ synchronous music has been shown to improve performance by up to 15% (12), possibly as an increase in the rhythmicity of movement results in greater efficiency. Synchronous music has also been linked to lower relative oxygen uptake and a 12% reduction in the perception of effort and fatigue (7), possibly acting as a distraction.
Girls have been found to benefit from the use of music more quickly than boys & this may be because of greater experience through dance and aerobics, making it easier for them to synch their movement to a beat.
Music and Brain Development
Doing music practice or learning an instrument has been found to improve working memory capacity, processing speed, and non-verbal reasoning. People who play a musical instrument or have when they were a child have also been found to have more gray matter, better inter brain connectivity and better aural memory (14).
Listening to music activates areas of the brain involved in movement planning, memory and attention and this response is the same in everyone regardless of whether we have studied music as children (15).
Music, Cognition and Concentration
Many students like to listen to music when studying for a test or completing homework and there has been a lot of debate about its effect. Scientific studies that have looked at playing music during study have conclusively shown that participants perform better in silence than any music condition but that the effect varies between individuals. Extraverts have been found to cope with the distraction of music far better than introverts and this has also been found with overall background noise, such as television or talking, which can significantly impair an introverts’ performance (16). Playing music before working can be beneficial.
Research shows the effect of music is greatest when the individual has chosen the music themselves, which may be due to the familiarity of the lyrics and also the emotions and memories that are attached (17)
Listening to arousing, aggressive, and unpleasant music has been shown to severely disrupt cognitive tasks and lead to a lower level of altruistic (team) behaviour in children (18).
Singing produces slow, regular and deep breathing and triggers the coupling of heart rate and breathing (respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA)).Choir singing has been found to have a subjective as well as a biologically soothing effect and to lower levels of anxiety and cortisol (19).
Music has been proved to be beneficial for performance and its worth devising your own music play list for both training and for psyching yourself up for exams and competitions.
There are four factors thought to contribute to the motivational qualities of a musical piece; rhythm, musicality, cultural impact and personal association and its important to take each into consideration when thinking of the mindset you want to achieve. If your movements are steady and rhythmic, the music should not have fluctuations in tempo and should parallel the speed of your own movements. For example, if you are warming up on a gym bike at a pace of approximately 65 rmp, commercial dance music, typically in the range of 120 to 130 bmp, is ideal as you can take half a pedal revolution to each beat of the music. As a rough guide a tempo of 95 beats per minute (bpm) and a motivational lyric will be good for mental preparation, 103bpm good for warm up, 130bpm for Strength, 138bpm for endurance, 104bpm for cool-down and 92bpm for stretching (7). There is thought be be a performance sweet spot at between 125 and 140Bum.
There are a number of websites that can help you work out the best songs to use. SongBPM gives you the beats per minute of any track and JogTunes allows you to download playlists for running, jogging, and working out with the beats per minute and they also have apps for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, and links to iTunes Music Stores and Amazon/MP3.
Or compose your own. This 6minute video may give you an idea about how to do this. Red Bull teamed up World Champion hurdler Dai Greene, Sports Psychologist Dr Costas Karageorghis and the Music Producer Redlight to create a bespoke music track, scientifically designed to help improve his performance whilst he is training.
The Ultimate Workout playlist
Devised by Dr Costas Karageorghis, Deputy Head (Research) of the School of Sport and Education at Brunel University in conjunction with Spotify.
1. Roar – Katy Perry – 92 BPM (Mental preparation)
2. Talk Dirty – Jason Derulo ft 2 Chainz – 100 BPM (Stretching)
3. Skip To The Good Bit – Rizzle Kicks – 105 BPM (Stretching)
4. Get Lucky – Daft Punk ft Pharrel Williams – 116 BPM (Aerobic/Warm up)
5. Move – Little Mix – 120 BPM (Aerobic/Warm up)
6. Need U 100% – Duke Dumont ft A*M*E – 124 BPM (Cardio training, low intensity)
7. You Make Me – Avicii – 125 BPM (Cardio training, low intensity)
8. Feel My Rhythm – Viralites – 128 BPM (Cardio training, moderate intensity)
9. Timber – Pitbull ft Ke$ha – 130 BPM (Cardio training, moderate intensity)
10. Applause – Lady Gaga – 140 BPM (Cardio training, high intensity)
11. Can’t Hold Us – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft Ray Dalton – 147 BPM (Cardio training, very high intensity)
12. Happy – Pharrell williams – 160 BPM (Cardio training, very high intensity)
13. The Monster – Eminem ft Rihanna – 110 BPM (Stength training)
14. Love Me Again – John Newman – 126 BPM (Strength training)
15. Get Down – Groove Armada ft Stush and Red Rat – 127 BPM (Strength training)
16. #thatPOWER – will.i.am ft Justin Bieber – 128 BPM (Strength training)
(1)Dileo, C. and Bradt, J. (2007) Music therapy: applications to stress management. In Principles and Practice of Stress Management (Lehrer, P.M. et al., eds), pp. 519–544, Guilford Press
(2)Knight, W.E.J. and Rickard, N.S. (2001) Relaxing music prevents stress-induced increases in subjective anxiety, systolic blood pressure, and heart rate in healthy males and females. J. Music Ther. 38, 254–272
(3)Mockel, M. et al. (1994) Immediate physiological responses of healthy volunteers to different types of music: Cardiovascular, hormonal and mental changes. Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 68, 451–459
(4) Khalfa, S. et al. (2003) Effects of relaxing music on salivary cortisol level after psychological stress. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 999, 374–376
(5)Wresenthal, Hennessy & Totten (2000). The Influence of music on driver stress. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2000, 30, 8, pp. 1709-1719
(6)Wales, D. N. (1986). The effects of tempo and disposition in music on perceived exertion, brain waves, and moods during aerobic exercise (Master’s thesis, Pennsylvania State University, 1985).
(7) Terry P.C., Karageorghis C.I. Music in sport and exercise. In: Morris T., Terry P.C., editors. The new sport and exercise psychology companion. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology; 2011. pp. 359–380.
(8)Mesagno, Marchant & Morris (2009) Alleviating Choking: The Sounds of Distraction. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology Volume 21, Issue 2, 131-147
(9)Crust (2008) The perceived importance of components of asynchronous music in circuit training exercise. Journal of Sports Sciences. 23:1–9.
(10)Karageorghis (2012) Music in the exercise domaine:a review and synthesis (part1). Int Rev Sport Exerc Psychol. 5(1). 44-66
(11)Karageorghis, (2008) The scientific application of music in sport and exercise. In: Lane A.M., editor. Sport and exercise psychology. London: Hodder Education; 2008. pp. 109–137
(12)Karageorghis C.I., Mouzourides D., Priest D.L., Sasso T., Morrish D., Whalley C. Psychophysical and ergogenic effects of synchronous music during treadmill walking. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. 2009;31:18–36
(13)Costa, Karageorghis and Priest (2011) Music in the exercise domain: a review and synthesis (part2). Int Rev Sport and Exerc Psychol 5(1), 67-84
(14)Bergman Nutley S, Darki F, Klingberg T Music practice is associated with development of working memory during childhood and adolescence. Front Hum Neurosci 2014 Jan 7.:926.
(15)Stanford University Medical Center. (2013, April 14). “Study Shows Different Brains Have Similar Responses To Music.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/258961.
(16)Furnham, A. and Strbac, L. (2002) Music is as distracting as noise: the differential distraction of background music and noise on the cognitive test performance of introverts and extraverts. Ergonomics 45, 203– 217
(17)Smith, C.A., & Morris, L. W. (1977). Differential effects of stimulative and sedative music anxiety, concentration, and performance. Psychological Reports, 41, 1047-1053
(18)Hallman, S., Price, J., & Katsarou, G. (2002). The effects of background music on primary school’s pupils’ task performance. Educational Studies, 28(2), 111-122
(19)Vickhoff et al (2013). Music structure determines heart rate variability of singers. Front. Psychol., 09 July 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00334