Most of us remember the phrase “whistle while you work.” Now researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences are trying to figure out why work seems easier when combined with music. The results may help all of us to get through a hard days work or an intense workout.
It has been assumed that the main benefit of music in regard to physical work was mainly to distract us from discomfort. However, the effect of music may be deeper than merely being a distraction. Historically, some types of music have developed from work. Gospel music, for instance, was born from the chanting of slaves while laboring in the fields. Scientist Tom Fritz believes that this connection between work and music cannot be explained simply by distraction, or as he puts it “proprioceptive reactions.”
A study was then conducted which involved two different groups. The first group worked out on regular exercise machines while just listening to music. The second group worked out on machines that were specially modified so that music would begin to play only when the participants used the machines. The key difference was that the second group was actively involved in “making” the music, while the first were merely passive listeners. Both groups had their metabolic data monitored and were questioned about their experience.
The results showed that the second group reported feeling less muscle strain during the workout than the first group. The metabolic data also showed that the muscles of those in group two were actually doing the same amount of work while using less energy. The making of music not only had an impact of how participants felt but also had a measurable, physical benefit.
These findings seem to show several important things:
Music does more to help than merely to distract us;
Music physically improves the performance of our muscles;
Contributing to the making of the music in some way is more helpful than just listening.