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Alpha State: Boost Creativity and Reduce Depression

by Liz Larin

Alpha brain waves states have been shown to boost creativity and reduce depression because of technological advancements in neuroscience, audio recording and listening, and worldwide interest in mindfulness and meditation.


Recent breakthrough in technology, including the use of the fMRI, have increased our understanding of how music and sound effect the brain. Neuroplasticity, the idea that we can rewire our brain, and the positive effects of mindfulness and meditation, have made us more aware of how our thoughts effect our health. Entrainment, used in music therapy, in movement, breathing, heart rate and brain wave activity. In sound technology, composers and producers have access to higher quality samples and recording techniques, as search algorithms continue to connect niche content to audience. Music created for passive listening to increase alpha brain waves can work as a non-invasive, chemical free, mental health support to boost creativity and reduce depression. Although there are many different ways to observe brain activity, we will be discussing the effects of alpha waves on mood, and advances in technology, recording techniques that lead to better sounding music for passive listening, and why we can now choose specific audio to achieve our goals.

Using EEG and fMRI technology, brain waves detected in humans fall into five categories as delta (1-4 Hz) and theta (4-8 Hz). Alpha can be divided into alpha 1 (8-10 Hz) and alpha 2 (11-13 Hz) and beta (more than 13 Hz.) There is one other category known as gamma waves, which are very high (30-40 Hz.) (1) Brain wave frequencies represent certain states, with low frequencies of the delta state in deep sleep, and high frequencies of gamma waves shown in times of intense focus or engaged problem solving. Though brain waves are known to be spontaneous, they can be affected by various external stimuli. Music has been shown to have a profound effect on the brain. According to the famed British neurologist and best-selling author, Oliver Sacks, “our auditory systems, our nervous systems are tuned for music. Perhaps we are a musical species no less than a linguistic one.” (2) But it is the alpha state, accessible through mindfulness, mediation, and biofeedback, a feeling of relaxation and recharging, which has been shown to reduce depression symptoms and increase creativity. This is where music comes in.

Through advances in audio recording, composers and producers are able to analyze frequencies more precisely, and by using slower beats of between 60 and 80 BPM (beats per minute) can use entrainment to effectively slow the heart and breathing rate of the listener. Using specific tones and slow chordal movement, listeners have reported feeling relaxed, focused, and alert, while slipping into a trance like state. This is the alpha state. Adding binaural beats in the alpha frequency of 8-13 Hz have been shown to decrease anxiety, encourage relaxation and promote positivity, and are felt as lightly audible oscillations or pulse. Higher sampling rate provided by the latest digital audio workstations (DAW) can produce sounds which are quite melodious, angelic and smooth. Listeners have heightened the effect of the music using high quality headphones, like the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones, for a transformative experience. Wearables, such as headbands or wristbands, give us neurofeedback by measuring brain waves and mental states giving us information to reinforce certain patterns and behavior. This is why music and mindfulness, meditation, and yoga are such a natural fit.

Passive listening is where you experience the music at a lower amplitude, where it is felt rather than actively listen to, producing a pleasant sensation. Active listening excites the brain and does not necessarily promote a relaxed state. At Brown University neuroscientists have been doing research on “optimal inattention,” and published their study in 2015 in the Journal of Neuroscience. This study is being used to teach people to create alpha waves through mindfulness using the “power to ignore”, thereby reducing perceptions of chronic pain, depression and anxiety. The health and wellness movement has embraced mood music because mindfulness training and meditation produce measurably more alpha waves without the use of technological machinery.

Conclusion: While some studies in music and neuroscience have shown that positive effects on mood can be achieved by listening to music that one enjoys, these studies often emphasize the relationship between music and memory. While scientist such as Don Campbell, author of The Mozart Effect, have proposed that classical music can be used to make you smarter. The interest in the findings around the spectral analysis of brain wave activity that happens while listening to music continues. Advances in technology along with a growing movement toward a more mindful, holistic approach to health, will continue to unlock the benefits of using music to increase alpha waves to reduce depression and boost creativity.

Copyright 2021 Liz Larin - All Rights Reserved


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