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The famous quote by William Shakespeare – “If music be the food of love, play on.” Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent. I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.

Some say music is the universal language of mankind. Being a musician, I have had the privilege of travelling to a few countries and have experienced music on different levels and I have to concur that it is certainly the link that connects us to each other. Something happens in the atmosphere of music that exposes our vulnerability as humans.

I have often pondered why is it that music exists in churches, temples, mosques and most religious houses? Why is it that even presidential events and the biggest of sporting events often begin with music? Why is it so important to choose the right song to walk down the aisle to? Why is it that all countries have a national anthem fully upheld by music or fused with rhythm and beat that uniquely gives identity?

Being a South African, I cannot deny the beat I feel within my bones. It is the distinct natural element of being African. Why such an emphasis on music? Humanity in itself is driven by the explosive factors of rhythm – our heart beat, systematic blinking of the eyelids, paced footsteps etc. Any of those stop involuntarily and life slowly vanishes. I have researched some interesting effects of music on our brains.

  1. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical that is released whilst listening to music;
  2. There are a few activities that utilize the entire brain and music is one of them;
  3. Playing music regularly will physically alter your brain;
  4. Listening to music while exercising can significantly improve your workout performance.

With this rather convincing introduction, I bring music to the workplace. Is it as easily accepted in the workplace as it is in religious and social broadcasts? For some parts of the world, there have even been laws in place that banned music from different corporate settings. There is an association that if a worker is seen with headphones on and zoomed into his screen, that he/she is not really working and managed by the suspicion that music, movies etc. could be downloaded.

Amid growing evidence that music in the workplace can boost worker productivity and reduce job-related stress and conflict, managers are increasingly reversing policies that banned or discouraged listening to music on the job. With the advent of open working environments, it is rare to find someone who doesn’t have a pair of ear buds at their desk. Which brings us to the next question. Does listening to music really make you more productive? There is no straightforward answer to this. A variety of studies have proven that music helps make repetitive tasks easier. And while a beat might help you gain momentum, there’s more to it. Music improves your mood, and being happy increases your efficiency and effectively which are the key elements to being productive.

Many people, including myself, listen to music on headphones as it drones out distracting noises in the office. Co-workers aren’t as likely to approach you if they see you tuning out and leaning into your screen with intention. Music helps me create personal space, something that many employees struggle with in open working environments.  However, not everyone will agree with this. Music is personal, and people are wired differently – so what works for one, might not necessarily work for another. Communication barriers between working colleagues could be built if one is constantly plugged in to a personal device, it can demotivate the creative surges between team members. On the other hand, if you’re having a creative block, music can inspire a new sense of imagination and spark.

The other dependent is what type of work is being performed. For repetitive tasks in a noisy factory setting, music could be a way of helping you concentrate. There has been studies that have proven that background music played in factories have increased the productivity of production lines. For more complex tasks that require a lot more thought and calculation it is recommended that ambient music without lyrics are played, as it is less distracting. Also playing music that is well known is a good idea, as it requires less attention. Work should be the focus; if there is a new song with some surprising riffs and lyrics, your attention is more likely to be divided.

Then there is also the aspect of white noise. White noise also called white sound is an electronically produced sound that maintains a consistent, pleasing spectrum of frequencies. It is not musical in nature. Some workers say this has a calming effect on them and allows them to focus on the tasks at hand while this can be an annoyance to others and play music to silence the nagging white sound.

In conclusion, music undoubtedly has a positive effect on humans and their work but one must be cautioned as to the type of music being played. Not all types of music create happy creative moods. In technical terms, there is major and minor scales. Major modes are described as being bright, happy, and energetic while minor modes tend to be dull, sad and sleepy. In the workplace, major modes should be played to keep staff motivated and inspired.

Where words fail, music speaks. Music can change the world – because it changes people.

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