You don’t have to be a writer to understand music’s power to move you emotionally. For many writers, music is an integral part of the writing process, in fact, many create soundtracks for their books.
Generally, I enjoy silence when I’m writing, but music has still played a huge role in my creative process. Music sparks my imagination. Each of my novels has been sparked by a different song. Just one song. The book is rarely about what the lyrics convey. There’s something about the timbre, the rhythm, the groove of the music that kicks my story telling brain into high gear.
I picked up, This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin in the hopes of answering those questions.
Music triggers our emotions. Certain songs make us smile, get us amped up, make us sad or sentimental. Music is employed in movies to set the tone of a scene. Would Darth Vader have been nearly as imposing without The Imperial March? Change the music to Send in the Clowns and Darth Vader becomes a joke.
Levitin pointed out that the amygdala region of the brain is the seat of our emotions. He writes, “Every neuroimaging study that my laboratory has done has shown amygdala activation to music, but not to random collections of sounds or musical over tones.”
With writing being such an emotional endeavour, it’s clear that music can invoke the very feeling we are trying to convey and set the tone for our scenes.
Music stimulates nearly every part of the brain—from areas that process sound to those that consider rhythm and timbre to those that store memories to those that make prediction about what will come next in the song.
In Levitin’s words, “The story of your brain on music is the story of an exquisite orchestration of brain regions, involving both the oldest and newest parts of the human brain, and regions as far apart as the cerebellum in the back of the head and the frontal lobes just behind your eyes. It involves a precision choreography of neurochemical release and uptake between logical prediction systems and emotional reward systems. When we love a piece of music, it reminds us of other music we have heard, and it activates memory traces of emotional times in our lives. Your brain on music is all about…connections.”
Is it any wonder that our creativity soars when our brain is stimulated?
While music in the short term awakens various areas of the brain, music has longer term effects as well. I’d be interested to know if those who use music religiously in their writing, are also musicians or music lovers. Levitin reports that long term music listening actually improves neural connections. “Music listening enhances or changes certain neural circuits, including the density of dendritic connections in the primary auditory cortex.” He goes on to site a study by Harvard’s Gottfried Schlaug who reported the mass of fibres connecting the two cerebral hemispheres is significantly larger in musicians than nonmusicians. They enjoy an increased number and density of synapses and they tend to have larger cerebellums.
For those that use music in their writing, they know its magic. Music opens up a world of emotion and can stimulate our imaginations. Music captures us. We are vulnerable to it and as the writer surrenders to its power, new worlds are created.
Do you use music in your writing? Are there certain types of music that really get you going? Or do you love the sound of silence? I’d love to hear about it .
Melinda Friesen writes novels and short stories for teens and adults. She resides in Winnipeg with her husband and four children. She often writes to the cacophony of her children practicing trumpet, saxophone, trombone, guitar, and piano. She just wishes she could sing on key.