In their new book, Your Playlist Can Change Your Life, Galina Mindlin, director of the Brain Music Treatment Center, and co-authors Don DuRousseau and Joseph Cardillo advise that repeated listening to carefully selected songs on an iPod or other device can help train your mind and make you more productive, calmer or more affectionate. Mindlin spoke with Erica R. Hendry.
Who should be doing this?
I think playlists will benefit everybody, especially people who want to relieve their anxiety, sharpen memory, increase concentration, improve their mood or even relieve pain. Also, shift workers can use the playlist after a sleepless night to increase their alertness when they have to drive home, or to calm themselves down. We can actually enhance relationships to switch people from confrontational mode to understanding. For example, after a disagreement with his wife, one gentleman played their wedding song.
It instantly brought him into a more sympathetic mood.
How do you tap into that without formal therapy and figure out what works for you in different scenarios?
It’s very important to choose something you already like and feel excited about. And then you have to play and replay the piece and learn that the piece makes you feel either calmer or more energized. Once you do that and tune into it, you see the effect on your mood and thinking in a matter of days or weeks.
How long does it take to put together a playlist that’s actually effective? Where should people start?
It really depends, and, I’ll add, we see this as fun. The brain usually likes things that are fun and are pleasurable. You can do this in your leisure time and we don’t think it’s that long -- If you know your genre, you know you like electronic or classical music, it doesn’t take that long, you just need to put it together. This is something that doesn’t work instantly, you need to practice it and see what works and adjust accordingly.
The process you describe isn’t really a passive exercise -- you even recommend using visualization, movement, scent with songs on your playlist. What do these elements do to your brain?
It’s important to combine the musical stimuli with imagery because when you do you activate more areas in the brain. When you’re feeling down you can recall a positive, exciting memory and connect that imagery with a strong, positive musical piece to “energize” your brain.
A lot of us fall into the habit of listening to the same songs over and over again. Can a playlist ever becomes less effective over time, or is this good for life, so to speak?
You have to update your playlist constantly, and you can really upgrade your list to stay current -- not using the most modern songs, which you could of course, but really checking in with what state of mind you’re in right now. Because you can get even more stressed out in life, or you can go through a major life event, so you might need a more calming, stronger effect and then have to update your playlist.
Creativity tends to be one of those things we think we’re either born with or not, but in the book you argue it’s something you can enhance or learn with music with a technique called scaffolding.
If you use musical stimuli in brain training you increase the amount of neuroconnections in your brain. The more connections you have the sharper your brain is and the more creative you get.
What about someone who feels anxious?
For relieving anxiety, we recommend you choose a piece of music you really like that will calm you down and soothe you. You pay attention and ingrain that piece in your brain. Now you can use the piece any time you get stressed out.
A lot of us assume faster songs mean happy, slower songs mean calm or sad. Is that always true?
Not always. A fast song with a high beats per minute can calm you down. That’s something we use a lot with people with attention deficit disorder, children and adults. It’s what we recommend to people who are striving for high concentration and focus.
There are a lot of musically challenged people out there
You don’t have to be Rachmaninoff to do a playlist. Everyone’s brain knows what kind of music it likes, if it makes you calmer or more excited or less anxious.
You just replay the piece and practice listening to it. Research confirms that the practice actually makes the change in the brain, not musical talent or ability.