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How Music Feeds and Steers Your Imagination

Using music to boost your imagination and energy levels

Some people have auditory daydreams, in other words, instead of primarily visualizing a scene or creation, they hear the "sounds of music." Both Mozart and Tchaikovsky wrote about how they would "hear" compositions as they took long walks or rides in the countryside.

Even for those of us who are more visual in our imaginings, music remains one of the most powerful daydream launchers. In fact, it's so powerful, I sometimes avoid listening to it at certain times because I know it has the power to send my thoughts in a very particular direction. Think about it. When you hear a driving, rebellious, in-your-face rock song, don't you immediately vault to either a scene or an emotion that corresponds to the mood of the music? Perhaps the old classic "Born to Be Wild" comes on the radio and you're suddenly zooming down the highway on an escape-your-life road trip. Or you hear the opening chords of "Amazing Grace" and you're swept up in visions of loss and sorrow.

I know a number of writers who listen to music while they write, but they're very particular about what they select. For example, one friend prefers classical; another, the familiar echoes of classic rock, the kind of music that's so ingrained in your psyche you just slip right into it. In both cases, the music helps them enter their creative worlds. Once they're completely in the flow of writing, the music is relegated to the background and they don't even notice it anymore. In that way, music functions as a gentle ramp that helps glide them into their zone.

In other cases, music is more like a rocket launcher of creativity. Motivational speaker Melissa Borghorst was particularly struck by the suddenness and clarity of the insights she had while listening to Taylor Swift's song "White Horse" while on a long-distance drive. She had been struggling with a particular teen workshop, and then out of the blue, while listening to "White Horse," she realized that she needed to create a song for the event. "I don't know the first thing about writing songs," she said, "but suddenly song lyrics started popping in my head. It was like fireworks going off. . . . By the end of the drive, I had written two songs, started a children's book, and left about twenty messages for myself."

Music not only affects your creative musings but also your energy levels. Think of music and exercise: lots of people, including my daughters, have to listen to upbeat, fast-paced music to keep them going in their workouts. This definitely works for me as well, but because I'm conscious of how music affects my imagination and not just my physical energy, I don't always like to use it when I workout because I prefer to use those times to let my daydreams go off in whatever direction they want to. If I was listening to a particular song, my daydreams would tend to follow in whatever direction the music sent me. In other words, if the music was melancholy, I might become morose. If it's rebellious rock, then I'm off on a rock-and-roll fantasy. That's all well and good when I'm just looking for diversion and entertainment, but when I'm brainstorming a project, I want my mind to brainstorm on that and not necessarily go to Asbury Park or wherever Bruce Springsteen's songs might take me at any given moment. But that's just me--someone else may get completely original visions listening to even well-worn songs.

Many people tap into music both to inspire their imagination and boost their energy levels. In my book [amazon 1933102691], I talk about the case of a pro football player who listened to hard-driving rock before a game not just for the typical energy jolt it produced but because the music prompted him to fantasize about being a bad-ass rock star and that gave him the confidence, courage, and crazy arrogance required to stomp the opposition. Likewise, Lance Armstrong frequently tweets about the music he's listening to pre-race to help him get psyched up and after the race to help him calm down. Recently he posted the following: "Relaxing in the room, listening to the Stones. I love my life but wouldn't mind being Mick Jagger for a day. Know what I mean?" Sure--the power, the glory, the "world is my oyster," kind of life, which Lance probably already has, but which shows that even celebs daydream about the lives of other celebs and use music and music-plus-daydreams to alter energy levels.

Take note of how music affects you:

  • What kind of daydreams does a particular piece of music launch?
  • Do you tune music in to help you get in a creative zone? Or do you tune it out so it doesn't distract you?
  • Does music help you be more creative or does it take you places you'd rather not go when working on a particular project?
  • Next time you're feeling low on energy or creatively blocked, try experimenting with different music and see where it leads you.

© Amy Fries
Photo: Govorushchenko
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About the Author
Amy Fries

Amy Fries is a writer and editor. She is the author of Daydreams at Work: Wake Up Your Creative Powers.

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