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Music, Mood and Work Efficiency

Image Credit: Bloomberg
Rhonda Davidson-Irwin
| October 23, 2018

We are all aware of the power of music which can enrich our emotional experiences. Neuroscience and advanced medical imaging can track the brain’s response when listening to a variety of musical genres and how this affects our mood or emotions. We know that music can uplift our spirits when we want to celebrate or calm our minds when we need to relax. With positive education and mindfulness being a large component in modern life, music plays a large role in enriching the whole person.

Life experience anecdotally gives evidence that listeners attach mood labels to music compositions. When closing your eyes, I am sure you can name categories of music that are calm, mournful, exhilarating, compassionate, aggressive or romantic etc.

Psychologists have used music to alter or enhance moods in classrooms and work places. All music can be expressed strongly or softly with certain emotions and mixture of moods. We now have evidence that listeners brains, through MRI imaging, ignite when they experience some of these affective responses.

If music can alter mood it can also be used as a powerful management tool in workplaces. Walk into any office today and many staff are listening to music through their headphones. Management often support these initiatives as it assists with motivation and engagement in the workplace.

Nine out of ten workers perform better when listening to music according to a study that found 88% of participants produced their most accurate test results and 81% completed their fastest work when music was playing.

Neuropsychologists including Dr David Lewis found that music is a powerful engagement tool if you want efficiency increased and a happy workforce, as music has the power to motivate staff and also assists with a positive attitude towards their work.

Here are some types of music and how they can improve productivity in the workplace.

Classical music: if your work involves numbers or attention to detail

Workers were better at solving mathematical problems when listening to classical music, which improved accuracy by 12% compared to listening to no music at all. Classical music was also the second best genre for general accuracy and spell-checking, the study found.

Pop music: if your work involves data entry or working to deadlines

Participants listening to pop music completed data entry tasks 58% faster than when listening to no music at all. Pop was also found to be the best music genre for spell-checking quickly, and, alongside dance music, produced the fastest overall performance for getting work done. It cut mistakes by 14%, compared to not listening to music.

Ambient music: if your work involves solving equations

Famously described by the musician Brian Eno as needing to be “as ignorable as it is interesting”, ambient music led to the highest level of accuracy for respondents completing tasks involving equations.

Dance music: if your work involves proof-reading and problem solving

This genre resulted in the highest overall accuracy and fastest performance across a range of work tasks. Participants listening to dance music produced more accurate results in spell-checking, solving equations and tackling tricky mathematical word problems, increased proof-reading speed by 20% and were able to complete abstract reasoning tasks more quickly.


For generations songs have been sung to assist working days to go faster. We have an enormous collection of folksongs from all aspects of work life including loading ships, picking corn and repetitive songs sung in factories from the pre-industrial age.

 In the 21st-century it appears it’s best to pop on some headphones to increase productivity and also assist your staff to be more relaxed and enjoy their work more.  Perhaps we have more commonalities with the past than what we realize.

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